Seed Sharing Snafu

This article first appeared as an editorial on Mother Earth News Did you know that in some states informally sharing seeds with your fellow gardeners is illegal? Hard to believe, but it’s true.

To ensure that seeds sold to farmers and gardeners are of good quality, every state has laws that require people who sell seeds to buy a permit and label their seeds with the variety name, germination percentage, presence of weed seeds, name and address of supplier, and more. Sounds OK, right? You’ve seen all of that information on the seed packets you buy. But in some states, seed-labeling laws define “sell” to include give away, transport, and even “possess with intent to … give away, or transport.” That’s right — you need a permit from the state to legally give away seeds.

Minnesota’s seed law, for example, is so broad that it basically prohibits gardeners from sharing or giving away seeds unless they buy an annual permit, have the germination of each seed lot tested, and attach a detailed label to each seed packet. This law is enforced by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which has recently told seed libraries that they can’t distribute free seeds to gardeners unless they buy a permit and provide detailed labeling, even though the libraries aren’t selling the seeds. (The penalty for violating this law, by the way, is a fine of up to $7,500 per day!)