As someone who’s interested in seed saving, the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), a project out of the University of Wisconsin, makes me happier than an Orange County Housewife in a diamond mine.
While many people in my community hate Monsanto, et al because of the possible impacts of GMOs and so-called Frankenfoods on health, my issue with these major seed producers is the limits they put on farmers who wish to save the seeds from their crops. I get that they’ve spent a ton of money on R&D for their special seeds and they want to protect them. But, there’s a fine line between wanting to protect your intellectual property and being greedy. When farmers can’t save the seeds that those crops produce for the next year, and farmers who don’t want the seeds in the first place end up with them in their fields, and Monsanto can turn around and sue them for using their patented product, well, that’s bullshit.
Their shenanigans not only impact the often shallow pockets of family farmers, they also impact the biological diversity of the plants available, which, in turn, jeopardizes the entire food supply. Add in to the mix the effects of climate change and not even magic seeds will save us.
OSSI is to seeds what open source software is to technology—no one owns a patent on the seeds. They’re for everyone to use. In fact, each seed packet contains the following pledge:
This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.
As more people turn to their land to grow their own produce, the use of non-patented seeds will become more vital. After all, seed saving and trading has been a pivotal part of farming for hundreds of years. Your neighbor has a ghost pepper that grows well in your climate? Great, hit him up for a few seeds to grow your own. The guy down the block has the best cherry tomatoes you’ve ever tasted? See if he’ll share some seeds from this year’s crop. The point is, Hannah Housewife shouldn’t fear that Monsanto is going to come after her in its sue-happy glory if she plants some tomato seeds she got from her neighbor, and sells the excess crop at her roadside farm stand.
And, this doesn’t just impact farmers in the US—it’s a worldwide problem. Big seed producers have farmers all over the world by the balls, forcing them to buy new seed every year at high prices. In response, seed banks have sprung up to give farmers a choice in what they want to produce.
Read more about OSSI
Learn more about saving seeds from Vandana Shiva: