Ancient Seeds for Modern Needs

Naweachic 5-09 CS 42

Credit: Native Seeds/SEARCH

The Southwest has a long and rich agricultural history. From the time that the first settlers migrated to the region about 4,000 years ago, crops such as corn, beans, squash, and amaranth were staple items of diets. Many of the crops originated from Mexico while Spanish settlers introduced others.

Over time, environmental adaptation and human selection influenced crop diversity and resulted in plants that could flourish in the many different regions of the Southwest including lowland deserts, river valleys, and mountain plateaus. One of the greatest adaptations was the ability to grow without large amounts of water since some civilizations depended solely on rainfall to water crops in the Southwest.

Today, many of our crops around the world are cultivated using the same seeds. Little attention is paid to the importance and ease of using seeds that have been adapted to grow in specific climates or regions. In fact, just ten companies control over 75 percent of the global sales market. Some believe that if farmers grew adapted seeds there would be less of a need for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and large amounts of water. Additionally, it would spur genetic diversity in our crops and promise food security for future generations.

One of those believers is Bill McDorman, the Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Ariz.—a nonprofit organization that promotes seed conservation. Bill and his crew at Native Seeds/SEARCH are pioneers in a movement to preserve native seeds through many different projects, one being a well-organized seed bank.

What’s a seed bank? It serves as a safe repository for seeds to preserve the genetic diversity. Seeds are kept under frozen storage conditions where they remain viable for long periods of time.

By doing this, Native Seeds / SEARCH can provide seeds to farmers if a crop is devastated either by weather or other circumstance. They have almost 2,000 seed variations—mostly comprised of different types of corn, bean, and squash. Native Seeds/SEARCH also supports and encourages local growers to use their seed varieties to contribute to the natural selection process.

Another way Native Seeds/SEARCH is trying to preserve native seeds and crops is through their conservation farm. This 160-acre farm is located in Patagonia, Arizona, and serves to support seed diversity and adaptation through natural selection.

If you want get involved in preserving the diversity of crops, Native Seeds/SEARCH allows people to buy seeds for your home garden or farm. Visit for more information.

By supporting Native Seeds/SEARCH, you are helping to create a more delicious, diverse, and abundant world—one seed at a time.

– Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD; Cactus Section IFT member