In our quest to be transparent and legal in all of our Seed Ambassadorizing, we decided to procure a permit from one of the largest beaurocracies in the American Government: the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). One of the programs of the USDA is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and a program of APHIS is the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program. Whew! The PPQ runs a permitting program to import small lots of seed (more info can be found at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/Q37/smalllotsseed.html), and lucky for us, this permit can be applied for online.
If all goes well, the Small Lots of Seed Permit should allow us to both ship and carry up to 50 seed packets at a time without a phytosanitary certificate (and we hope without much additional hassle). But we first had to register for Level Two access for the USDA website, which requires presenting oneself and one’s government issued ID to a local USDA worker.
We drove thirty minutes through a downpour and presented ourselves to Delores, a USDA Farm Service Agency employee, who glanced at my driver’s license and chatted it up with us as she tried to figure out how to navigate the computer program. She asked us what we were doing and we told her a bit about our project, at which point she walked us over to the desk of one of the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioners, who seemed interested in our project.
We talked with John from the County Agricultural Commission for a few minutes, and he was very helpful, despite not knowing much about the programs we were applying for (since he was a county employee and not federal or state). He seemed to think that some seeds (especially Agricultural crops) may need to be quarantined (!) or treated with both fungicides and pesticides (!) before we could bring them in, “to protect against food supply bioterrorism.” He was sure to warn us that there may be additional State regulations that we would do well to inform ourselves about, because “everything has changed since September 11.” He gave us the phone numbers of some people in the state capital, and wished us luck.
After John had done his official duty, he told us about some freaky purple warty Peruvian heirloom potatoes he had just bought from a farmer’s market that he was excited to grow out… Though he doesn’t know how anyone was able to import them, because “it takes and act of Congress to import potatoes from Peru.” Thank goodness we’re not trying to import potatoes from Peru!