Native Seeds/SEARCH

For some, genetically modified foods represent technology at its best.  For others, it’s nothing short of terror on a plate.

Politics aside, the reality is this: for hundreds of years, we’ve been tweaking our crops to produce more, be more insect-resistant, ripen slower, taste like something else – today, the average salad is more a lab experiment than a meal.  And, while the cost of fresh produce has no doubt come down as a result, the price we pay is considerable.  Plants that are truly native to this country continue to vanish at an alarming rate.  Bio-diversity has taken a back seat to technology.

Native Seeds/SEARCH (Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House) is a nonprofit group based in Tucson, AZ. For 25 years, it has “endeavored to conserve the rich legacy of agro-biodiversity in the arid Southwest because of its genetic potential and cultural importance”. Over time, it’s become a major regional seed bank and is at the forefront of the heirloom seed movement.  Practicing “ex situ” (off-site) conservation methods, Native Seeds/SEARCH has created and maintains a supply of 1,800 varieties of arid-land adapted seeds, which serve the agricultural scientific community in reestablishing and conserving bio-diverse crops.

The organization has close ties to the Native American community on both sides of the border. This community of original farmers has a long history of creating substantial farms producing foods well adapted to the local climate.  Working together, Native Seeds/SEARCH and the local tribes have been successful in saving and continuing these vital farms, and protecting this rare, critical “genetic library”.

If you live in the area, you no doubt know about Native Seeds/SEARCH, and their incredible operation in Tucson on North 4th Avenue. If you’re passing through Tucson, put it on your list of “must see” places.

For the rest of us, there’s a wealth of information, history, educational resources and an incredible on-line store of foods, spices (take it from one who knows: the ancho-chili powder rocks!)  and authentic Native American goods for your home. And, you can download their just-released on-line catalog.

Get to know these people…they’re doing good for the earth.

Image courtesy of

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

2 thoughts on “Native Seeds/SEARCH

  1. OK, maybe this is a dumb question but I’ll ask anyway. We’ve been making a sauce for ribs using dried peppers (from Penzey’s). Ancho and guajillo. But sometimes it would be more convenient to cut the time factor–not have to toast the chilies, then let them soak, etc. Could we substitute the chili powders that I see in this online store? Would that sacrifice the taste? And I’m guessing the sauce wouldn’t be as thick?

    Inquiring minds always want to know…

  2. –Most excellent questions. General rule of thumb: the smaller you make the food, whole chile peppers vs. ground in this case, the faster you lose the flavor – which is why it makes sense to buy your spices in small quantities. In a dish like this, I doubt you’ll notice the difference in taste. Without seeing the recipe you’re using, I can’t really address the thickness question, but I’m guessing you won’t notice much difference there either.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s