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Is pocketing seeds stealing?

 
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I'll admit to now and then pocketing seeds from plants and trees at the nursery when I'm browsing...    is that stealing?   I have a few wintergreen berries tried and stratified this year that I'm hoping will sprout.   I think it probably is, and it bothers my conscience but I can rationalize they they were going to be trimmed off or just drop to the pavement and wasted anyway.    Do you do this?   Is it wrong?  
 
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Heather Staas wrote:
I'll admit to now and then pocketing seeds from plants and trees at the nursery when I'm browsing...    is that stealing?   I have a few wintergreen berries tried and stratified this year that I'm hoping will sprout.   I think it probably is, and it bothers my conscience but I can rationalize they they were going to be trimmed off or just drop to the pavement and wasted anyway.    Do you do this?   Is it wrong?  



I have done it, and I don't think it is stealing. The nursery is selling the plant, and doesn't expect to make more money from the seeds of the plant. The person buying the plant isn't buying it for the seeds most likely, so you didn't remove anything of value from the plant or the people with a vested interest in that plant.

The lone exception I can think of is if you took all the berries or seed pods from a plant where those things are decorative, thereby making the plant harder to sell. In that case, my feeling is that you did indeed harm the nursery and possibly cost them a sale.  That would be wrong in my opinion.
 
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I think you could get a consensus here and your conscience could still be bothered because it seems like it's against your moral code.

When I'm in similar situations, I ask. I.e. Ask someone at the nursery if you can have the seeds. If they say yes, you were fully right to justify your original actions. If they say no, you know they don't want you to and can factor that into your ultimate decision.
 
pollinator
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Sonja's response is interesting because it looks at the values held and are in conflict because the question is being asked. It is like the old question posed by a married person - would you do X (whatever IT is) in front of your spouse?

Is it about the store? Or the product harmed? Is taking it justified because of frustration of not getting the service/knowledge you think is deserved or wanted? Or if the store doesn't treat their employees fairly? Was the bit you wanted already on the ground accidentally?


Maybe is it about the person who will purchase it in the end. Would they have wanted to be able to use all those seeds that were attached to what is now THEIR plant? Would they have wanted you to ask their permission? If you are the purchaser, would you have wanted those seeds?

I am not judging. Every week an email arrives and posits a question. This weeks' question is - "What if I were to judge nothing about myself?" Just seemed a coincidence so it is being thrown out there for all to ponder.  
 
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Lee, I don't think it's about any one thing. I think it's about the effect that the action has on the whole system. It may not be stealing, but salvaging, and still have a detrimental effect on the system, such that the nursery might not survive there if you sweep up their broken plant bits where you otherwise would have made purchases. If you otherwise wouldn't spend any money, would it make any difference? Possibly not.

I have salvaged dropped fronds and bits and the occasional seed pod from big-box stores where the inventory was periodically inundated and then ignored to dessication. I seriously doubt my activities have any negative effect on their business. But I have also spent money there, usually to save a plant that's on the reduced shelf.

I just think that the issue is larger than whether or not saving viable plant matter is theft. One must consider the whole ecosystem. Are my actions likely to cause this source of free plants to disappear? Perhaps a more pertinent question is, is it sustainable?

-CK
 
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My grandmother was a prolific liberator of cuttings and seeds from nursery stock and yes, it is most definitely stealing according to the police called in to arrest a little old lady - who only got out of the charges by pretending to be senile.  It's important to know your local laws.

(and I would like to point out that permies don't allow advocating illegal behaviour, so some of you might want to edit your posts)

However, asking the nursery staff permission first, they are often willing to grant it (especially if it's a wage-worker and not management), which makes it not stealing.  They often have a pile of clippings and fallen seeds out back, not to mention nearly dead potted plants, that they will let you rescue for free.  Some even pay you money to get rid of the clippings.
 
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First.... be a customer.  if you buy stuff then the staff will be 10x better about "you want what?  that seed pod/ droppings on the floor?  SURE! Go ahead."

And by asking... even speaking to the dreaded owner/manager... you could come out in a far more lucrative situation where you can collect or have ALL of their clippings and some of the seeds off the tree...etc.   You can also be told "No".  And try again next year when a different manager tells you "Yes".

Just better overall to proceed politely.

l wouldn't feel bad about any you collected in the past... especially after you ask for permission. Your action of asking for permission sets things right(assuming you follow their response).  Even if they say no.

~~AND personally i would never EVER go and turn myself in for something like this.  if it did little to no harm.... i wouldn't cause the frustration and anger and paperwork against yourself.  There is no good reason to go about it that way.  My 2cents!~~~
 
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If you find seeds on the ground,  no,  but taking them from the plant, yes I'd say it's stealing.
Is it wrong, is it harming anyone, or should you do it are different questions.
Like trying a single grape at the grocery store, if everyone did it, the problem would be clearly  evident.
I don't nibble at the grocery,  but I pocket a handful of twist ties for use around the house.
Twist ties are free for the taking, but I'm clearly not using them as intended.
If everyone else did the same,  the harm would be obvious.
It's wrong,  what I'm doing,  but I don't agonize over it, probably because there are so many worse things I do...

I regularly trespass as I dumpster dive,  with little compunction,  but I also know I won't be filing a lawsuit if I get hurt.
But what if a lawsuit was the only way to care for my family?
I would be sorely tempted.

Taking the seeds is kind of like taking a photo of a poster that's displayed for sale,  then printing out your own poster.
With the poster you have taken nothing tangible, yet you have also taken the very thing that is being offered for sale.
You clearly want the plant,  you just don't want to pay for a full grown plant.
You are willing to grow/print  it yourself,  but the files/seed isn't being offered for sale, only the finished product.

How many of us sell plant starts?
Would we be OK with potential customers taking a tomato branch that was sure to pruned anyway?

If we say "well it's  OK because we are taking from  an evil big box store", well why are we shopping there in the first place?
Many of us shop there because we don't want to pay the prices that mom and pop stores charge.

If I sound like I'm judging anyone, let me be clear, I am questioning my own behavior as much as anything.

I have been caught taking from a Home Depot dumpster.
The manager (?) told me to leave and not come back,  or he would call the cops.
I was lucky he didnt just call the cops without confronting me.
I took the plants I retrieved and was happy with that.

Aldies is another story.
I've been caught taking food from there, and told to not come back lest they call the cops , but I have gone back,  many times.
The fact that it's food makes it feel different,  even though it probably isn't different.
It's probably just knowing that hunger is an excuse that even cops would care about, which is pretty venal on my part...

In the end,  I think Sonja has it right.
Permission from the staff is your friend,  morally,  legally and practically.

 
pollinator
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I'm an extremely territorial person, and maybe that means I'm looking at things a little differently, but here's my view:

Whether you are in a store or in someone's house, you are on somebody else's turf. You don't get to make the rules about which things are up for grabs, because those things don't belong to you. It doesn't matter if you think they're never going to use it, it's not your decision.

If you really want those seeds, ask permission to take some. Maybe they'll say yes. If they say no, then respect their territory by respecting that refusal.

The "but they're not using it" line can be used to justify all kinds of things. Prisons are full of people who believed it. Please don't let yourself fall into that trap.
 
pollinator
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Various good things posted by the above authors, on both sides.

The problem is see with it is this: if I go to the nursery and want "X" plant, i can go about it two ways - i can purchase the plant, or I can take the cutting/seed and grow it myself.  The Nursery is harmed by taking the seed because now i no longer want to buy the plant from them, because i grew it from seed.

Whether you take a seed or a cutting, the nursery just lost a purchase, because you no longer desire to buy said plant.

For this reason, maybe only take seeds/cuttings from parks, the Zoo, etc. - they aren't in the business of selling plants, so you're not cutting into their business by taking them?
 
pollinator
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I've been through the same mental debate, and I think it's rooted in perceived value.  We're taught that we can't get something for nothing, so getting something from someone else that is valuable to us, and not exchanging for it, and especially if they don't KNOW we've gotten something valuable, can be compartmentalized as theft, I think.

I've felt very awkward about it.  There have been times I actually brought it up and said "Yeah, I uh, took some seeds/cuttings, is that okay?" type of deal and every time the other party has been like "You...what?  Why would I care?"  That's helped to ease my mind over time.

Edit: I've never taken cuttings from a plant store.  That 'might' be theft.  But I've taken them from u-pick farms and such.    I also have offered to pay for them, or have asked before I start taking them.  It's never been a problem before.
 
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Or you can just wait for them to throw them all out, which the big box stores seem to do on a weekly basis, and raid the dumpster, I've nursed many dumpster plants back to health, including fruit trees.
 
Trace Oswald
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Without addressing every post and the individual points, let me just add, i see a difference between taking cuttings from a plant offered for sale, and taking seeds from that same plant. Taking seeds does not affect the plant, or the stores ability to sell it. Taking cuttings does, or at least has the potential to.
 
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My simple test: ask a 5 year old, is this right or is this wrong?  Very helpful in political discussions.
 
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Me and my friend will often go "prop lifting" that is taking the loose dropped baby leaves from succulents in order to propogate them at home. I see no harm in it. Most of the plant pots at garden centres with succulents in have tens or hundreds of dropped "leaves" or little baby succelents popping out. We always purchase something else, that is to say the prop lifting is never the main purpose of the visit.
 
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I remember when I was a small boy at the store with my Dad. He gave the cashier a $5 bill for an item, and the cashier gave him change for a $10 bill by mistake.  

My Dad pointed out the error and gave him back the excess.

As we were leaving, I said “Dad, why did you say anything?  You could have kept it!”

He said “Son, I figure my integrity is worth more than $5.”

That has always stuck with me, and while I can’t claim I have acted with complete integrity in every tempting situation, it has often been a useful anchor when coming upon the slippery slope of moral equivocation.

Does it harm anyone to take the cuttings or the seeds?  Who knows.  We do know somebody invested the money and took the risk of building the place, and stocking it in the hope you would buy the plant.  Not so you could pocket the seeds and then have the plant for free.  If you take the seeds or the cuttings without permission, are you trading your integrity for a pittance? Perhaps. Not the crime of the century, but when you get into the habit of rationalizing the small things, it gets easier to rationalize the big things.



 
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Great discussion!

It's reminding me how easily we can in all innocence mispercieve things and if it belongs to someone else who are we to judge their methods?

A few years back I had some helpers for our gardens.  I had explained the work and it was all good until one person thought they would go above and beyond with some weeding...they cut back all of my lambs quarters that I had left to go to seed.

Just thinking, especially in a nursery, if we don't ask we don't know for sure their intent for those seeds left on the plant?

I sure wouldn't hesitate to ask though...both for floor sweepings and some seeds...not cuttings as that seems like crossing a line into asking to be given a part of the for sale item for free?  Like would you ask for one roll of TP out of the package? or a bite of a candy bar?

 
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For me asking solves the problem too. For me, it’s the intent that’s the big issue. Are you sneaking the seeds into your pocket? Is your intent to do what you’re doing in such a way no one will notice or did you ask?

I took a nickel last year, sneaked it, and left it on a ledge in the store. The change was in a need a penny bowl at the checkout and what I realized bothered me about this was the idea of doing it so no one noticed. I went back the next day and put .50 in the same bowl. I don’t need a nickel —it was an impulse, and bothered me — until I figured out my problem was the idea that I was getting away with something, sneaking something, etc.
 
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So,  a slight permutation of the question: when taking a walk in the neighborhood, is it stealing to pocket seeds from spent flowers in other people's yards?  These are not people I know at all.  

My husband says yes, it's stealing ("you wouldn't do it if the owner were  in the yard, right?").  My thought is that the action is not harming the plant, and the owners probably don't care and definitely won't notice.  

Would I, if the situation were reversed?   Good question.  I definitely would grant someone permission to take a spent flower for its seeds. If I knew someone was harvesting seeds, but didn't see them and it was not a large percentage of the seeds, fine.  If I *saw* someone pluck my flowers, even spent ones, I probably would be displeased.

Thoughts?
 
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Would I want someone walking through my garden taking seeds?
 
r ranson
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This thread is now locked.

Steeling is illegal and as pointed out upthread, we don't encourage illegal activity on permies.com

It's also disrespectful of the nursery.  Some of our members here are nursery owners and they work hard to grow and sell the plants.  Without them, we would have less access to the plants we need and want to grow our own permaculture paradise.
 
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