A few days back I wrote about the Mission Garden, and mentioned that there are several projects in our region that began with a bunch of visionaries — crazies, if you want to call them that — getting together starting a project, and worrying about long-term support later. (Tucson Meet Yourself, about which there will be much more later, is certainly among that number). Today I want to bring Native Seeds/SEARCH to your attention.

Founded by a small team of enthusiastic anthropologists, botanists and gardeners in 1983, NS/S preserves and distributes of the seeds of the food crops that are especially adapted to this desert region. From small beginnings, the project has grown until it features a headquarters compete with a refrigerated seed bank, a growing-out farm of 60 acres near Patagonia, Arizona, an active education program, and a store in Tucson.

But the seeds came — and come — first. NS/S folks scoured the borderlands for traditional heirloom seeds. Some came from local Native tribes and other agricultural communities; others from seed savers eager to add to the stock. So they acquired an increasing number of rare and wonderful seeds. But seeds just can’t sit there in storage; they must be grown out in order to stay viable. That’s why the farm in Patagonia is so important.

Another strategy for keeping the seeds (and crops) alive is to distribute them to people who want to grow them. That’s where the store comes in. It’s located at 3061 N. Campbell Ave. in Tucson, and in addition to seeds, carries such regional products as mesquite flour, herbs, and other delicacies.

There’s a catalogue, too. The last time I checked it out, it had over 20 varieties of corn and a similar number of beans, all but a few of which are local heirlooms, especially adapted to ecological niches within our desert region. And not just corn and beans, of course. You can buy seeds for amaranth, cotton, squash — in fact just about every crop that has been cultivated in the Southwest and northern Mexico.

And serious efforts are made to make the crops and their nutritional value known and available once more within the communities that developed and nurtured them: the native cultures of this multi-national region. More than sentiment is involved here. For instance, it has been proven that the O’odham can lower their chances of getting diabetes if their diet includes their traditional crop foods.

So here’s to the folks at Native Seeds/SEARCH, who hope to affect our future by preserving an important part of our past.

And, by the way, SEARCH is an acronym for Southwest Endangered Aridlands Resources Clearing House. An exciting project run by a dedicated bunch of folks.