[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine
                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #46                9-11-87
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
                        THE ZEPHYR II BBS 
                    (Mesa, AZ - 602-894-6526)
                owned and operated by T. H. Smith
                    Editor - Gene B. Williams 
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                            (c) 1987

   A while back ago Chris Mitchell put up a bulletin on The 
Silent Side. It came from a guy out of Tucson named Kevin Dahl. 
Chris has since changed the BBS program, and the bulletin is no 
longer available there.
   Well, now you can get it here. And it will become a 
permanent part of the available magazine downloads.

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                     Saving the Southwest's
                  Native Agricultural Heritage

                          by Kevin Dahl
     When I admired the colorful ears of corn artfully accenting 
the vast array of Indian jewelry for sale in the small shop, the 
saleswoman told me proudly that her ex-husband had grown the blue 
corn in their fields near Laguna, New Mexico. The almost-black 
blue corn has been used for centuries to make corn tortillas and 
super-thin piki bread, and has recently interested gourmets who 
claim corn meal made from it tastes better than yellow corn meal. 
Other ears displayed throughout the store on shelves and in the 
counter displays had different colors: deep red kernels, light 
pink, mixed yellow and gray, and pure yellow. I remarked on the 
particular beauty of the "chin-marked" maroon and gold corn next 
to the Hopi inlay silverwork. We agreed that the cobs were too 
long to be Hopi grown, and were probably from one of the New 
Mexico Pueblos like Laguna.
     Warming up to talking about Indian corn, Tillie told me what 
has come to be my favorite story about cross-cultural misunder-
standing. A while back she was showing some of the rings to a 
doctor and he, too, admired the corn. "Is this Indian corn?" he 
asked. "It must take you all a long time to paint each one of 
these kernels." When Tillie and another salesperson burst out 
laughing, the embarrassed doctor hurriedly left the store. To 
this day, whenever Tillie goes to the health clinic she tells 
them that she must be seen by a doctor right away, as she has 
to get home quickly to paint all those corn kernels.
     The Hopi silverwork was next to the fateful corn ear display. 
Finely crafted inlay designs: flute-players, bear claws, butter-
flies, water and cloud symbols, and... corn. As I looked at the 
rings with corn Tillie told me, "You know what corn symbolizes: 
     Native Seeds/SEARCH is a nonprofit conservation group 
working to preserve the many separate varieties of crops -- such 
as the many different types of corn -- grown by Native Americans 
in U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. The group was founded by a 
nucleus of people who were working on a program to prevent hunger 
and nutrition-related illness on an Indian reservation near 
Tucson through the use of native foods. In their work they 
recognized the need to locate and preserve the availability of 
native crop seeds, and their preservation efforts eventually 
outgrew the original program.
     In her excellent book, The Heirloom Gardener, Carolyn Jabs 
explains why heirloom crops like these must be saved: "Each 
time we permit an old variety to become extinct, we sacrifice 
part of our heritage. Those who ask why we need more than a few 
varieties of beans or corn might as well wonder why a library 
needs more than one book on a subject. Each heirloom variety has 
distinctive characteristics. One grows in clay; another in sand. 
One tolerates drought; another does best in humid conditions. One 
keeps well; another is resistant to disease. The list of charac-
teristics is endless. As many as 10,000 genes combine to make 
each variety unique."
     Native crops, in a sense, are the ultimate heirloom.  They 
are different from heirloom varieties from Europe, Africa or Asia 
because they have not had to re-adapt to different growing 
conditions. They are "native" because they are suited to the 
growing season length, the soils, the wind and rain of a 
particular region. They are "native" not merely because Native 
Americans farm them, but because most of them evolved from wild 
relatives which can still be found in or nearby these fields. One 
example of how this evolutionary history helps plants such as 
squashes fit in to their environment is the fact that they are 
pollinated by endemic solitary bees. Certain bees, which 
coevolved with particular American plant genera, are much more 
efficient in pollen transfer and more faithful to their crops 
than are honeybees.
     The diversity of characteristics found in native crops are 
building blocks that can be used by plant breeders to develop the 
latest hybrids used in modern agriculture. The world learned how 
important it is to maintain this diversity in the last century 
when Ireland's dependence on one variety of potato was 
responsible for the death of one million people and the forced 
immigration of another million. The blight that caused the Irish 
potato famine would not have been a threat if Ireland had grown 
the variety of potatoes found in Peru, where potatoes originate. 
There you can find potatoes in all shapes, sizes and colors -- 
many with immunity to the particular blight that devastated 
     It has become clear that at this point in history native 
crops are endangered. In many areas, Indians have been forced to 
change their lifestyles. As changing lifestyles and other factors 
serve as disincentives for native farming, traditional varieties 
have disappeared or are in danger of imminent loss.
     Native Seeds/SEARCH's conservation strategy contains several 
aspects. The first and foremost method is to encourage the 
continued farming and use of native crops by Indians. This not 
only helps preserve the plant varieties themselves, but the 
farming practices and body of knowledge that comes from centuries 
of growing and living with these crops. Such encouragement can be 
as subtle as simply showing appreciation and respect for this 
season's yield, or as involved as purchasing part of the crop for 
use as seed. Native Seeds/SEARCH makes its seeds available to 
Native Americans free, and has been instrumental in returning to 
tribes crops that were collected by plant scientists decades ago 
but had been lost by the tribe in the intervening years.
     Another part of the conservation strategy is to collect 
representative seedstock to be kept in a seedbank. Native 
Seeds/SEARCH maintains such a seedbank and cooperates with other 
seedbanks including the federal government's. To remain viable, 
seeds kept in long-term storage must be regularly grown out, 
which Native Seeds/SEARCH accomplishes with the help of volunteer 
     In the past five years, Native Seeds/SEARCH has grown to a 
membership organization of more than 1200 members with numerous 
projects. It maintains its seedbank, public education office and 
demonstration grow-out gardens at the Tucson Botanical Garden. 
It's most visible effort is an annual catalog of seeds for sale 
that offers more than 200 varieties of both well-known native 
crops -- beans, squash, corn, gourds, sunflowers, chiles, tobacco 
and cotton -- and some unusual items like amaranth, tepary beans, 
panic grass, and teosinte.
     Amaranth (Amaranthus sp.) is a grain usually associated with 
the Aztecs but also used by native peoples throughout Mexico and 
the U.S. Southwest. It's use was prohibited by Spanish who 
objected to its association with sacrifices and other blood-
letting ceremonies, but it nevertheless survived. It has enjoyed 
recent interest as a potential modern crop because it is high in 
protein, and has started to show up in health-food breakfast 
cereals and other products.
     Tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) grow both wild and 
domesticated in the hottest parts of the southwestern deserts. It 
is just about the most tolerant to drought, heat, alkalinity, 
bruchids and bean blight of any cultivated legume. Though it 
doesn't produce well in humid climates, it has much potential as 
an arid-lands commercial crop.
     Panic grass, so named not because it is cause for alarm but 
because of its scientific name, Panicum sonorum, is a native 
domesticated millet-like grain. It was thought to be extinct, 
wiped-out by damming of the lower Colorado River where it was 
once grown, until Native Seeds/SEARCH explorers discovered it 
growing in Mexico and revived its use in the United States.
     Teosinte is a wild relative of corn, thought by many to be 
one of corn's progenitors. There is both an annual (Zea mexicana) 
and perennial teosinte (Zea diploperennis). The repeated back-
crossing of corn with its parent is partially responsible for the 
enormous varieties of corn races in existence today.
     When Thanksgiving rolls around and "Indian corn" goes on 
sale in produce departments for seasonal decoration (as a 
decoration, by the way, it has usually been sprayed with a 
preservative making it unfit for eating), I think of Tillie's 
doctor and his painted corn. 
     You can get our latest catalog by sending $1 to Native 
Seeds/SEARCH, 3950 W. New York Dr., Tucson, AZ 85745. Membership 
costs $10/year. They are "native" not merely because Native 
Americans farm them, but because most of them come from a 
particular native region. 

Until Next Time

   Contrary to what many people think, our Valley of the Sun has 
been rated by more than a few experts as being the most fertile 
area in the entire world - more fertile even than the Nile River 
   Despite the lack of water and the harsh sunlight, growing a 
backyard garden is easier here than in most areas of the country. 
If you're one of those who likes fresh veggies, maybe you can 
make use of Native Seeds/SEARCH seeds. Not only can you grow stuff 
to eat, you can have fun doing it by growing things that few, if 
any, of your friends have ever seen.
   Could be fun!
   Besides, we're approaching the planting season again. The 
vicious summer weather is about over. Planting corn is best 
left to the spring, but that gives you between now and then to 
prepare the ground and the mulch and compost you'll need. Other 
plants do best right about now, or in the next month or so.

   Next time?
   At present I'm well over a month ahead. I have no idea what is 
going to come up between now and when the next issue is due. For 
example, I have 2 new book contracts just about ready to sign, and 
several others in the works. 
   Some suggestions would be nice. Is anyone interested in how 
to work in a darkroom? Or maybe in photography in general? 

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.