Native Seeds Search Grant 2013
Native Seeds/SEARCH was named as the recipient of a $1000 grant for 2013. Their mission statement best describes the nature of this rapidly growing organization.
Native Seeds/SEARCH conserves, distributes and documents the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico. We promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by gathering, safeguarding, and distributing their seeds to farming and gardening communities. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona.
In April of this year, Danielle Johnson, who recently received a Master’s degree in social anthropology, along with four other impressive apprentices, was selected to assist at the NS/S farm and learn the process of conserving seeds. They were given room and board in exchange for 30 hours of work a week. All of these interns put in a lot of extra time—planting, dealing with an infestation of squash bugs, harvesting the seed and working on special events for the organization. But Danielle put in more than 150 hours beyond those devoted to the other activities when she agreed to take on an extra project, The Seed Diaries.
This project was inspired by an art exhibit, Sacred Places: Watercolour Diaries of the American Southwest by Tony Foster. Each of his paintings was accompanied by topographic maps, his journal entries, and sketches of local flora and fauna that, in the words of Belle Starr, Deputy Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH, gave the viewer “a much more engaged and curious appreciation of the natural settings captured on the canvas. More than just beautiful images to be casually observed, through the attending materials the landscapes began to come alive with a complex, multi-layered story.”
In what she described as an “aha moment,” she thought about the possibility of using this approach to tell the stories of the seeds in the NS/S collection. A discussion with an art professor who was also at the exhibit led to a meeting with Bobby Long, a professor of illustration at the U of A. He agreed to take on the Seed Diaries as a project for a fall semester class. In October students in the class visited the NS/S Conservation Center for a presentation by Executive Director Bill McDorman and a tour of the Seed Bank. Danielle also volunteered to give a presentation, telling the students stories of the seeds, and to curate a sampling of 25 seeds from the collection. She photographed the seeds and plant materials and sent these photos along with information on each seed—origin, use, cultural importance, etc.—to the class, at which point each of them selected a seed to work with.
Danielle continued to devote her time to this project, visiting the class along with Melissa Kruse-Peeples, the NS/S Collections Manager, to work individually with the students. The results of the project, now completed, will be displayed at one of the University galleries, and Janos Wilder has suggested displaying them at some point at his Downtown Kitchen.
The Seed Diaries would not have happened had Danielle not graciously agreed to take on this ambitious project because, in Belle’s words, “she believed so solidly in its ability to inspire and viscerally change the way people look at and experience our seeds. As one student exclaimed upon leaving his visit at the Conservation Center, ‘This was 500 times more interesting than I expected.’”
The grant, this year, goes to compensate the unpaid apprentices for the incredible work they performed for Native Seeds Search during 2013. These funds are to be distributed at the discretion of Bill McDorman, Executive Director and Belle Starr, Deputy Director, under whose creative and inspiring leadership this organization is wildly flourishing. We thank Director Nancy Wall for arranging this grant.