This ongoing project catalogues the many stories in circulation today about patented, transgenic seeds as well as the apparent alternative of open source, public seed collections. By “stories,” the project means not only novels, science writing, documentary film, and so on but also the narratives inherent in visual images, maps, models, social media feeds, and even infrastructures like seed banks.

Led by Allison Carruth, “Seed Networks” compares cultural narratives and scientific research around seed diversity within two specific contexts: (1) institutionalized seed banks like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway and (2) seed saving communities like that of the Open Source Seed Initiative and the Los Angeles Seed Library. As part of initial primary research, Professor Carruth worked with UCLA students to identify, annotate, and digitally archive over 100 artifacts about these seed banks and networks (as well as related practices such as seed bombs, guerrilla agriculture, urban farming, and heirloom seed propagation). This digital archive indicates the important role of storytelling in both activism and science focused on seed biodiversity. The project hazards that popular rhetoric around seeds that demarcates biotechnology promoters from anti-GMO advocates overlooks more complex conflicts occurring within current social movements for food system change for which seeds are lightning rods.

IMAGE CREDIT: Open Source Seed Initiative non-patented seed varieties, Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison