Seeds for the Future

Posted on December 28, 2016 • Category: Water, Forests & Open Spaces

By Andrea Jaramillo

What do seeds have to do with environmental protection? More than we think. Those tiny products are intimately related to food security and healthy ecosystems.

Native Seeds/SEARCH, a non-profit organization that works to preserve seeds from the Southwest U.S. and Northwestern Mexico, believes that by doing so, it is setting the ground for agricultural sustainability.

“A lot of the work that we do is about food, sustainable food and production of local food,” explained Melissa Peeples, education coordinator for Native Seeds/SEARCH.

“We try to empower people to grow and produce their own food in the Southwestern region, and we do that by providing and protecting agricultural seeds that are adapted to our unique conditions,” Peeples said.

Their seed bank currently preserves almost 2,000 varieties of “aridlands-adapted seeds,” most of which are endangered or rare, according to their website, and they distribute them worldwide through their online store.

But this Tucson-based organization is not just a seed bank. Another one of their projects includes an educational program and workshops for the preservation of locally adapted seeds among communities in Arizona.

“We train around 250 people each year through our educational workshop,” said Peeples. “For example, in the Tucson area, there’s Manzo Elementary School, where they have a very large and thriving garden and teach lots of classes.”

Native Seeds has been very present in school gardening projects around the state, where the kids get to learn not only the gardening process but also the value of local seeds and ancient culture.

Della Killeen, who worked as a volunteer at Ingleside Middle School from Scottsdale School District, was a facilitator between the school and Native Seeds after she learned about their project.

“I heard about Native Seeds through the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix,” said Killeen.

“I have two kids and at the time they were both in middle school,” said Killeen. “I talked to the principal in the school and he said ‘Sure, let’s do it,’” she remembered.

The school implemented the classes and they received the seeds from the organization. Now, the classes have from 10 to 28 kids who participate in the garden for one to two hours a month. The children participate in all gardening-related activities, from planting seeds to watching them grow to harvesting the results.

According to Killeen, gardening has had a positive impact in the students’ development and learning process. 
“The kids really enjoy that class, they all very actively participate,” Killeen said. “Behavior wise, they are like different kids indoors and outdoors after taking the gardening class.”

Another example of Native Seeds/SEARCH’s work is with the Yaqui Indian Reservation Senior Center.
“They have a garden and they actually serve most of their fresh produce in the meals,” Peeples said.

A lot of the Native Seeds/SEARCH work is based on traditional knowledge of indigenous populations from the Southwestern U.S. and Northwestern Mexico, like the Cocopah, Guarijio, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, Pima, Navajo, Tarahumara, Tohono O'odham and Yaqui peoples. Their ancient agricultural practices are one of the organization’s major intangible resources.

Peeples worries about the future due to climate change. Native Seeds is working with local farmers to come up with strategies to deal with climate unpredictability, and the diversification of water sources is one of their major strategies.

For more information about Native Seeds/SEARCH visit