Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 636–649 | Cite as

Seed exchange networks and food system resilience in the United States

  • Nurcan Atalan Helicke


Seed exchange is a multidimensional issue with social, political, economic, and agricultural implications. There is a growing concern about the increase of the food system’s vulnerability as a result of loss of agricultural biodiversity. Farmers’ ability to replant, exchange, and distribute saved seed is a way to minimize their dependence on commercial suppliers and thereby maintain control over farming practices. Seed saving is also crucial for conservation because the process of choosing, replanting, and exchanging seeds relies on and increases diversity on the farm and in communities. Seed exchange networks, formal and informal ways that farmers engage alongside institutional plant breeding systems, help to conserve agricultural, social, and cultural diversity and identity as well as enhance resilience against environmental and economic shocks. However, how to build resilient seed systems and move from the innovative but relatively isolated project activities of professionals and farmers to a situation where such approaches are scaled up and networked alongside formal and informal, national and international plant breeding mechanism are a concern. This paper examines grassroots seed exchange through seed libraries, the marketing of new varieties through seed companies, and hybrid civil society-business models to understand their financial and technical abilities as well as challenges they face. Seed exchange networks fulfill an important role in conservation of agricultural biodiversity and building community resilience through their work on breeding, exchange, and propagation of regionally adapted open-pollinated seeds as well as advocacy on seed sovereignty and education on seed saving.


Seed exchange network Seed sovereignty Open-pollinated seed USA Resilience 



I would like to thank Sheri Breen, Lissy Goralnik, Kimberly Smith, Matthew Dillon and Tom Wolcott for providing valuable comments over the course of this project. My gratitude extends to Skidmore College Environmental Studies students, Helen Alemayehu Mebrate, Lauren Bosche and Tsering Choden, who served as research assistants in Summer 2014. This project was funded by Skidmore College. Two anonymous reviewers provided critical feedback, which strengthened the manuscript considerably. Results were presented at the annual conference of the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences in June 2014. I also would like to thank Gerry Marten, the editor of this special issue, for his encouragement and feedback.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental StudiesSkidmore CollegeSaratoga SpringsUSA

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