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Duluth asks Legislature to decriminalize its seed sharing program

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Duluth hopes a resolution the city council passed Tuesday will plant some seeds of change at the Minnesota Capitol.

It calls on the Legislature to allow local gardeners to continue a seed exchange program operating at Duluth's public library, Northland's News Center reports.

The seed sharing program – also known as a seed lending library – allows people to borrow seeds in the spring and replace them in the fall with new seeds from the plants they grew.

Just as Duluth's program was finishing its first season, the library was notified by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that the exchange is actually illegal because it fails to meet the state's requirements for testing and labeling seeds.

City Councilor Joel Sipress says the goal is to keep the state from treating local gardeners as criminals, Northland's News Center says.

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State Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth tells MPR News he'll propose an amendment to existing state law that would exempt seed libraries from testing and labeling requirements. Reinert says under his proposal the consumer protections contained in the law would still apply to sales of seeds.

The executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future wrote an opinion piece in the News Tribune calling for protection of the seed library.

If the state's regulations are not relaxed for the seed exchange, the program might have to close. Answers to frequently asked questions posted on the Duluth Public Library's website include this ominous assessment of the program's prospects without any exemption from the seed law:

"... the Seed Law places an incredible burden and hardship on the Seed Library, and it is hard to imagine that the largely volunteer effort can meet the stringent germination testing and permit requirements."

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