Native Seeds/SEARCH is the twentieth in my Sunday series featuring American Artisans. There are so many exceptionally talented craftspeople, designers, entrepreneurs, and small companies across this country and this is my chance to introduce them to you. These artisans are creating beautiful, useful and delicious products that elevate the experience of everyday cooking, eating, and entertaining. They’re using skills, techniques, and materials that might otherwise be lost in our era of mass production. Their work makes me happy, and I hope it does the same for you.
I just couldn’t resist featuring this amazing organization today, after all, it’s planting season, and this is too cool to pass up. Native Seeds is headquartered in Tuscon Arizona, and is a leader in the heirloom seed movement. Founded by Gary Nabhan and Mahina Drees, the pair had the incredible foresight to partner with Native American tribal elders, farmers and gardeners to preserve ancestral seeds before they were lost forever. From red-seeded watermelons to the amazing Glass Gem corn (above) Native Seeds collects, distributes, and preserves unique and rare crop species. A lot of smart people think that more genetic diversity in our food crops is essential if we’re all going to survive (i.e. eat!) into the next century. With global warming, water shortages, and other stresses, our seeds will need to be strong, varied, and super adaptable in the coming years. Good thing Native Seeds is on the job.
The seed bank houses approximately 1,900 different accessions of traditional crops from the Apache, Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Gila River Pima, Guarijio, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, Mojave, Mountain Pima, Navajo, Paiute, Puebloan, Tarahumara, Tohono O’odham, Yaqui, and other cultures.
Native Seeds sells their seeds worldwide, and probably the most beautiful, and famous, of them is the eye-popping Glass Gem corn. I’ve shared it a few times on my facebook page and so many of you were fascinated that I thought it would be fun to look into it further. It was originally bred by a part-Cherokee farmer in Oklahoma named Carl Barnes who carefully selected out the most colorful kernels for replanting. The corn became an Internet sensation several years ago and called attention to the whole subject of heritage seeds and seed conservation. You can buy a packet of these seeds for $4.95 and grow them yourself if you’ve got the space!
You can’t make this stuff up, this is nature at her finest. I could stare at this corn ALL day. The colors are real, not photoshopped, and each cob is unique, people who have grown it say that husking it is a thrilling experience because you never know what you’re going to get. Sadly, you can’t eat this right off the cob, but it can be dried and ground for grits or polenta, and used for popcorn (it pops up white.) Because of it’s glorious beauty Glass Gem has become a powerful ambassador for the heirloom seed movement. Do a quick google image search for Glass Gem corn if you want to see more.
“If we went out today to gather the seeds in our collection, we couldn’t do it. They’re not there.”
Native Seeds offers a nice selection of seed saving supplies if you’re interested and want to try collecting and saving seeds from your own garden.
You can buy all the seeds from their online store, and they sell a line of food (I love the chile powders.) You can partner with Native Seeds by becoming a member, more info here. If you’re in or near Tuscon you can visit their retail store and seed library.