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  • Jennifer Jewell


FOODSCAPING - with Brie Arthur. Photo courtesy of Brie Arthur, all rights reserved.


It’s the seedy time of summer. This week of the fourth of July we’re working from the premise that foundational to good citizenship is great stewardship of place (plants and people) and we are looking to the desert Southwest in conversation with Alexandra Zamecnik, Executive Director of Native Seed/SEARCH (NS/S).

For more than four decades, NS/S has stewarded the seeds of the desert Southwest and Mexico. Founded in 1983 in response to the concern of farmers, gardeners, Indigenous community members, and conservationists about the devastating loss of seed diversity, NS/S today conserves more than 1,800 regional culturally and climatically significant seed varieties.

The work is not only for the preservation of these seeds for the future, but also for their distribution today, celebrating and in support of communities of this desert region who have stewarded these seeds for time far longer than memory.

The seed varieties that Native Seed/SEARCH stewards are uniquely adapted to the arid landscapes that extend from southern Colorado to central Mexico. They have been selected over generations by Indigenous farmers and other agrarian communities to adapt to local growing conditions, developing a greater resilience to higher temperatures and lower rainfall. The varieties are tied to the cultural heritage and farming knowledge of more than 50 Indigenous communities, as well as more recent settlers like Spanish missionaries, Mexican communities, and Mormon homesteaders. While many seeds have become rare and endangered, some are increasingly grown and enjoyed today.

"These seeds represent and weave the unique history and cultural fabric of our Southwest region."

"While NS/S also conserves crop wild relatives, the ancestral plants of domesticated crops, the organization is best known as a source for agricultural seeds. Corn, beans, and squash are at the heart of Southwestern Indigenous food systems, and they are the heart of the NS/S seed bank. The collection also includes chiles, melons, amaranth, and other traditional crops, along with plants for ceremony and craft like gourds and tobacco."

These seeds and the knowledge of how to grow them represent sophisticated adaptations to the challenges of farming in the desert.

"Each growing season NS/S regenerates a portion of the collection at different sites: our Conservation Center gardens in Tucson and in partnership with numerous regional, small farmers. A portion of the harvested seed is returned to long-term cold storage and the surplus is distributed through retail and free seed sharing programs for community and school gardens and Indigenous communities. Communities with cultural and historical connections to the seeds are prioritized so that these seeds may continue to exist and flourish in these communities. NS/S strives to have its leadership team reflect those we serve, and consists of community gardeners, farmers, and Indigenous people connected to the collection. Their experiences and community connections directly guide the policy and programming."

"NS/S emerged in response to a growing disconnect from farming and traditional foodways, resulting in the loss of seeds. This loss was most profound amongst the region’s Indigenous communities due to the historic colonial losses of land and water access, physical displacement, and racial and environmental discrimination – issues that are still faced today. Today, NS/S is a model for regionally serving and publicly accessible seed banks, as well as a resource for gardeners, farmers, community gardens, and Indigenous growers to cultivate a vibrant, climate-adapted, and culturally connected food system. "

I met Alexandra and many of her team back in 2021, when researching What We Sow took me to the NS/S HQ headquarters in Tucson. I am so pleased to finally welcome her to Cultivating Place and share this growing work forward.


All images courtesy Native Seed/SEARCH. All rights reserved.

You can follow Alexandra Zamecnik and Native Seed/SEARCH online at:

And on Instagram:


you might also enjoy these Best of CP programs in our archive:

JOIN US again next week, when we’re in conversation with Frederick Livingston, cultivator of place, and poet of place. His newest book "Trees Are Bridges to the Sky" was the winner of the Prism Prize for Climate Literature. It’s a beauty. That’s next week, right here, listen in.



Cultivating Place is made possible in part by listeners like you and by generous support from

supporting initiatives that empower women and help preserve the planet through the intersection of environmental advocacy, social justice, and creativity.



Thinking out loud this week:

What do you consider your greatest acts of civic engagement? Does your garden enter into that list? As food, beauty, medicine, as community, and ecology – what does your garden say about all that you hold dear in this world?

Ethnobotanist, writer, and gardener Gary Nabhan was an original co-founder of Native Seed/SEARCH back in 1983, and you may remember my conversation with him in 2021 – on a Conservation of Generoisty & Relationships. His 1989 book Enduring Seeds is dedicated to Native Seed/SEARCH and its work and values. I loved his quote from our earlier conversation: "I am interested in reciprocal restoration – as we work to restore landscapes, we are healing ourselves by renewing our connections to beneficial microorganisms, tastes, or fragrances."-Gary Paul Nabhan

What else is citizenship about if not caring connection and common ground?

 I’d love to know your reflections on this – you know how – send me an email: or share a comment and follow along on Instagram @cultivating_place. I’ll be watching out for you and all that we grow better together.

recent views from here: a new to me Calochortus (note the larval friend on the bud!); a damp meadow of bistort looking like a starry sky; a gorgeous dryland rock garden of native western phox and a low fuzzy lupine beyond; the winning combination of native tiger lilies with a yellow pea; sunset on the full moon in June (day after the official solstice); and another new to me Calochortus tomleii (Tolmei's pussy ears).




Cultivating Place is a co-production of North State Public Radio, a service of Cap Radio, licensed to Chico State Enterprises. Cultivating place is made possible in part listeners just like you through the support button at the top right-hand corner of every page at Cultivating

The CP team includes producer and engineer Matt Fidler, with weekly tech and web support from Angel Huracha, and this summer we're joined by communications intern Sheila Stern. We’re based on the traditional and present homelands of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of the Chico Rancheria. Original theme music is by Ma Muse, accompanied by Joe Craven and Sam Bevan.

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