by Gary Paul Nabhan, Native Seeds/SEARCH Co-Founder
In the second week of August, the Tucson community, the Greater Southwest, indigenous peoples and farmers everywhere lost a good friend, an extraordinary seed saver and a historian of Southwest food and farming folkways. Dr. Barney T. Burns was far more than a co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH. He spent over four decades linking native farmers and artisans to the audiences, human rights support networks, and applied scholars who cared about them and their future. Trained as an archaeologist, dendrochronologist, climate scientist and ethnohistorian, Barney knew more about Northwest Mexico than anyone I have ever known, both through his first hand experiences and his readings in one of the most extensive libraries of borderlands archives and rare books I have ever seen.
If these details alone suggest that Barney was a stuffy scholar, nothing could be further than the truth. With a wry sense of humor, fun-loving trickery and shaggy dog storytelling, Barney amazed nearly every poor soul that ever traveled with him or dined with him. From the days when he was growing up in Carlsbad, New Mexico in the Fifties, to his very last days in the Tucson Mountains, Barney had a museum curator's penchant for collecting and documenting the material cultures of our region, as if on some wild adventure to rediscover the Holy Grail.