Native Seeds/Search: Preserving Southwest Native America’s Seed Heritage from the Ground Up

Tarahumara Purple Ojos

 Native Seeds/Search deals with truly unique varieties. Have you ever been interested in growing Native American varieties of corn, beans, squash and other vegetables? Did you know that all corn, all beans (as we commonly call them) and all squash are Native American in their origins? Still, there is a difference between just any bean, just any squash or just any corn, and a real, authentic Native American variety. Many of the varieties we have today come from older seed stocks,  developed for different conditions or uses than were the originals.  All seed bears the marks of where it was developed and the conditions and uses which affected its selection.

Seeds which develop in a unique environment carry its “stamp” in their genes.

We especially find this with old varieties which grown for centuries in unique environments. The desert Southwest is such a unique environment. Varieties transplanted there often fail to thrive. The cultural differences of Native people in the desert Southwest: how they live, how they cook and what they eat, etc. and traditional varieties often take on much more importance than one might think. I could just imagine the look of disappointment on the face of a Native American, in the desert Southwest, if they were handed seed of Blue Lake pole beans if they were looking beans to grow BEANS for their larder!

Native seeds often thrive in conditions which severely affect standard garden varieties.

Native people shaped their seeds, and native seeds shaped their people, leading them into specific technologies and growing methods, recipes and food preferences. These indigenous seeds display unique qualities. For eight years I gardened in the high desert of the Mexican State of Hidalgo. There we dealt, not only with drought, but also with shorter days and alkaline conditions. Some regular garden varieties struggled to grow, while the native ones thrived. It didn’t matter what crop it was, the native variety ALWAYS did better!

Native Seeds/Search is “a collector and preserver of endangered traditional seeds.”

Seeds which evolved in the desert Southwest are unique. They have adapted to special conditions. A unique culture shaped them. For various reasons, many of these seeds are now endangered. At the same time, there has been a resurgence of interest among Native Americans in growing their traditional crops. Native Seeds/Search is positioned to help many to find and obtain such seed.

Because culture and seeds are so closely tied, Native Seeds/Search has a strong educational emphasis. They want to help people to preserve some of the old technologies, foods and crops. Besides this, Native Seeds/Search seeks to work with traditional farmers in the adaptation of traditional crops and technologies to changing conditions and challenges. Culture is never static and neither is the environment.

A Native Seeds/Search bean, Tarahumara Pink Green Bean
Tarahumara Pink Green Bean has pink flowers and pink see.

Seeds are never entirely static either. As they grow and are selected, crops change. It is important that we actually grow them, so that they can continually adapt. Native Seeds/Search seeks to get these seeds into the hands of regional gardeners and farmers. They also seek to educate others as to how to propagate these seeds, to keep them going and to be able to share them. It is their mission to both preserve these traditional seeds as well as to get them into the hands of others who will do the same. They teach others how to propagate and preserve these seeds, so that the circle is complete.

Native Seeds/Search Is not a seed company, but they do sell seeds.

Native Seeds/Search is actually a non profit organization which seeks to serve the community of the Greater Southwest. They do, however, make seed available to people outside of that area. Special pricing is available for Native Americans, outside of their region. Anyone can purchase seed of those varieties which they offer on their website.

Seed sales help support their work. You’ll notice that some seeds offered are labeled “Non-Collection.” That means that though they have proven to grow well in the Southwest, they are not part of their native seeds collection. Some of the crops offered are not strictly native to the Southwest. They originated in other parts of the world, and were brought there by traders and settlers. Some were adopted by Native Americans, hundreds of years ago. Others were grown by settlers, in that environment, for generations. Native Seeds/Search also offers some wild relatives of domestic crops, which show great hardiness and potential for use in the Southwest desert climate.

beans bean seed
Tarahumara Purple Ojos is a colorful mixture of climbing beans.

They have a pretty good selection of seeds, and, of course, their strong suit is Native American seeds from the Southwest USA and Northern Mexico.


Tarahumara Purple Ojos
Tarahumara Purple Ojos Pods drying on the vines

Over the years I’ve grown a couple of Native American varieties, some even from the Southwest. When we lived in the desert, in Central Mexico, we observed that they did well. When we carried seed and grew them in the North, they turned even more vigorous than before, probably due to the longer days. For the same reason they also tend to produce very late in the growing season.

Native American varieties often show great vigor!

The Tarahumara Pink Green Bean is another Southwestern desert variety I’ve grown. This bean is usable for snaps or dry beans and has produced for me in Central Mexico, New Jersey and Oklahoma. A hallmark of this variety is its extreme vigor, but it also produces, beautiful pink flowers,  good snap beans and beautiful pink and black speckled dry beans. I’ve grown this bean, off and on, for over 20 years and am working with Native Seed Search to get its seed renewed. So, perhaps, some time soon, others can get the seed as well.

Tarahumara Pink Green Bean
The Tarahumara Pink Green Bean gets TALL! It will also over run adjacent plantings of other crops. So, it needs sturdy support and plenty of space!

Here’s a link to further discussion of Tarahumara Pink Green Bean: Old Friends in the Garden

Native Seeds/Search has a good selection of other crops, besides beans. I found their listings of squash/pumpkins to be outstanding, having so many great looking native varieties from their region. The same is true with corn, amaranth, sorghum watermelon, melons and tobacco. There are many treasures in their seed listings!

There are many treasures in their seed listings!

Take a Look at Native Seeds/Search’s Available Seeds

Native Seeds/Search is a specialized group. They have a special mission and purpose statement. They are doing an important job, helping to preserve and promote native crops to Native people, and beyond. It is a privilege that anyone can go to their website and have such a wide selection of precious crops to purchase and grow. If you love “living history,” then visit Native Seeds/Search 

Article about the relationship between seed companies and seed saving.





























Share on facebook
Share on pinterest

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Most Popular

Related Posts

Momma Ewe

Embrace the Suck

I am sore, cold, depressed, and sad today. Winter finally showed up at our farm. Rumors of -7 degree temperatures are more realistic than they