Seed Security Backup Program

Long-term security of crop diversity is a challenging problem. Severe weather events or disease outbreaks can wipe out a farmer’s field overnight. Facilities where seeds are stored may experience flooding, fire, theft, or other damage to it’s contents. For farmers who have adapted a crop to their unique location, such a loss could spell extinction for irreplaceable varieties. These losses occur all too frequently but can be minimized if backup seed collections are stored in other locations.

To further facilitate seed security for the Southwest, Native Seeds/SEARCH is opening up its seed bank as a security backup repository for regional seed collections of tribal, community, and individual seed banks in the Southwest. The backup process, referred to as “black boxing,” involves the submission of a physical sample of seeds for safe storage within the NS/S seed storage vault. NS/S will not integrate seeds held as a backup into our collection nor take on stewardship of those seeds. Rather, we will provide for secure and safe long-term storage under frozen conditions so that the submitting organization or individual can access the seeds in the future in the event that their other seed stock becomes unavailable. The program is a safeguard against loss of agricultural biodiversity. NS/S currently has a black-box arrangement for the security of its own collection with the USDA Agricultural Resources Service in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Through the Seed Security Backup Program, Native Seeds/SEARCH will:

  • Accept seeds from tribal groups, community seed banks, and individuals in the region who have unique seed diversity that they wish to maintain for future use.
  • Package and catalog these submissions in appropriate packaging or work with the providers on adequate packaging before the seeds are transferred.
  • Store the backup collection in our walk-in freezer (-18° C). These storage conditions are standard for long-term seed bank storage.
  • Take the same care to ensure the security and viability of the material as it does for NS/S material.

The submitters will:

  • Retain all rights to the material. The seeds will not be formally incorporated into the NS/S collection unless both NS/S and the submitter agree that this is appropriate.
  • Be able to withdraw the seeds from the NS/S seed bank if and when they have a need for the seeds.
  • Be assured that no third party can have access to the backup collection.

This project will thereby provide an unparalleled service that will give a layer of security to crop adaptation efforts in the region. Please contact Conservation Program Manager Melissa Kruse-Peeples ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) for more information and to find out how you can be a part of the NS/S Seed Security Backup Program. There is no charge for the program but we ask that the submitters cover associated shipping costs to Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Funding for the Seed Security Backup Program provided by a grant from the Gila River Indian Community.

Native American Bulk Seed Exchange Program

While the Native American Free Seed Program provides access to seed packets adequate for small plots, Native Seeds/SEARCH recognizes that many Native American Growers are interested in obtaining larger quantities of seeds for farm-scale growing operations. To address the need for access to larger quantity of seeds, NS/S introduces the Native American Bulk Seed Exchange Program. Providing access to bulk quantities of seeds will allow large quantities of traditional crops to be grown. The Bulk Seed Exchange Program is available for individual Native American farmers or organizations working with indigenous communities.

Interested recipients are encouraged to contact NS/S to discuss the varieties they are interested in growing and the amount of land they wish to have in cultivation. Due to limited quantities, not all varieties in the collection many be available but we will work with participants to match requests with seed availability. Please contact Conservation Program Manager Melissa Kruse-Peeples at 520-622-0830, ext. 106 or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Recipients of bulk seed will be asked to save and return 1.5 times the amount of seed to NS/S at the end of the season, if they have a successful harvest. The returned seed will be put toward future Native American Bulk Seed Exchange Requests by additional recipients. The returned seed should only represent a small fraction of the total seed harvested so that participants can have seed to plant in the future. If a harvest was unsuccessful, a seed return is not necessary. Through this arrangement, the bulk seed supplies will be continually replenished and the program will be able to expand to supply more growers, thus greatly increasing the availability of traditional seed and foods both within Native communities and throughout the broader Southwest region.

Funding for the Native American Bulk Seed Exchange Program is provided by The Christensen Fund.

NS/S Seed Library

NS/S established Arizona’s first seed lending library within the NS/S Retail Store in early 2012. This open-source community seed exchange is designed to facilitate the free distribution of locally adapted seeds and increase regional seed sovereignty.

Seed libraries are an exciting new trend in the local food and seed movement where users can freely check out seeds, just like with books at a public library. After planting the seeds and enjoying the fruits of your labor, just leave a plant or two in the ground to go to seed. The resulting seed can the be harvested and returned, helping the library to grow abundant with seeds that are increasingly adapted to local conditions.

Since its much-heralded opening, the NS/S Seed Library has grown to become an important resource for Tucson’s seed savers and gardeners. The library receives regular daily visitors and is steadily expanding with exciting new additions all the time. Like the seeds it contains, we intend for the NS/S Seed Library to adapt over time to meet the needs of our local growers. Come pay a visit to our retail store and see what delightful, locally-adapted varieties await you in the drawers of your very own community seed collection!

Read about the growing seed library movement in this article by NS/S staff.

NS/S Retail Store Location
3061 N. Campbell Avenue
Tucson AZ 85719

Native American Free Seed Program

Native Seeds/SEARCH offers free membership and limited quantities of free seeds from our collection to Native peoples living in the Greater Southwest region. The Greater Southwest region includes the Colorado River on the west, the eastern border of New Mexico and Chihuahua, the Four Corners area of the United States in the north, to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico in the South. Native Americans living outside of the region are eligible to receive discounted seeds and membership.

How to Order Seeds

There are several ways to place your order. Visit the NS/S Retail Shop in at 3061 N. Campbell Ave in Tucson, AZ. Call 520-622-0830 x113, or toll-free at 866-622-5561 x113, Monday-Friday from 9-5. Download and mail this order form to 3584 E. River Road, Tucson, AZ 85718. Email this order form or your request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Please, only one order form per household. We ask that shipping charges be paid on all Free Seed requests if you are able. Shipping is $3.95 per request.

Please check our website or downloadable catalog to help with your seed selections. We can help identify varieties that are adapted to your region if you need assistance. All seeds in the NS/S Seed Bank collection, American heirloom vegetable seeds (TS catalog numbers) and select wildflower seeds (WF catalog numbers) are included in the program. Seed Buckets and Special Collections are not included in the program.

For Native Americans living in the Greater Southwest region or belonging to tribes within the Southwest Region

Native Seeds/SEARCH provides 10 free seed packets (no more than 3 seed packets per any one seed variety) in a calendar year (January through December), to individuals or families who are new recipients and live in the Greater Southwest region or are from a group originally from this region but they currently reside outside the region. Additional seed packets can be purchased at half price. Group exceptions may be considered. Please contact us and we will do our best to meet your needs. We encourage all recipients to save seeds.

In an effort to improve the conservation of these seeds, expand the program, and improve communication with our partners, Native Seeds/SEARCH is requesting that answers to the following questions be included with all free seed requests (you may respond to these questions on this downloadable order form or write in a letter): Where are the seeds to be planted? Will you save your own seeds? How will you share these seeds? Repeat recipients are eligible for more than 10 free seed packets in a year if a report on the outcome of their previous free seed is provided. Tell us a story about your seeds!

For Native Americans living outside of the Greater Southwest region

Native Americans living outside the Greater Southwest region may receive up to 10 regular-priced packets in a calendar year (January through December) at half-price; additional packets may be purchased at regular price. There are several ways to place your order. Visit the NS/S Retail Shop in at 3061 N. Campbell Ave in Tucson, AZ. Call 520-622-0830 x113, Monday-Friday from 9-5. Download and mail this order form to 3584 E. River Road, Tucson, AZ 85718. Email this order form or your request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Community Seed Grant Program

Native American communities or organizations may also request seed donations through our Community Seed Grant program. This program is intended for larger, community garden projects. Follow the link to learn more.

Native American Bulk Seed Exchange Program

Native American individuals who have larger farms and have the ability to save seeds can obtain larger quantities of seeds through the Bulk Seed Exchange Program. Follow the link to learn more.

Community Seed Grants

Supporting educational, food security, and community development projects in the Greater Southwest through targeted donations of seeds.

Native Seeds/SEARCH is pleased to offer small donations of our seeds to eligible organizations in the Greater Southwest region. These Community Seed Grants are designed to support the work of educators and those working to enhance the nutritional, social, economic, or environmental health of underprivileged groups in the region, while simultaneously keeping locally-adapted crop varieties alive and in active use in farms and gardens. See below for requirements and instructions for applying to this donation program.

Who Is Eligible?

Seed Grant eligibility is restricted solely to organizations operating in the Native Seeds/SEARCH region of focus: the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Our seeds are not only best adapted to this region, but they are most meaningful to the people who have inhabited, or whose descendants continue to inhabit, this region. Donations are open to organizations working on educational, food security, or community development projects. Priority is given to projects that will clearly benefit underprivileged groups. Seed Grants are not available to individuals. (Note that Native American individuals living in the Greater Southwest or belonging to tribes in the region are automatically eligible for free seeds under our Native American Free Seed Program, though Native American organizations should apply for seed donations through this Community Seed Grants program.)

Examples of successful seed grants include school gardens, demonstration gardens for seed libraries, community therapy or rehabilitation gardens, senior center gardens, and other community oriented gardens.

Gardening in the Desert

Successful gardening depends on utilizing what nature has provided and knowing what to plant when based on the seasons in the local environment. While there are basic tenets that hold regardless of the environment in which you’re gardening, certain approaches and techniques are unique to different environments. What it takes to garden successfully in Seattle differs from Boston, which differs from Tucson. If you’re familiar with gardening in humid climates, you will quickly discover `that many of those practices no longer work well in the desert.

Seed Saving Instructions

At one time, seed saving was a necessity. Gardeners and farmers carefully selected and stored the best seeds from their harvests, ensuring they had seed for planting in subsequent years. The knowledge of pollination, purity, harvesting and storage of seeds was all part of survival and learned within the family and community.

The rise of commercially available seed resulted in a trend away from seed saving. Farmers and gardeners simply purchased new seed every year. Growing concern regarding the loss of commercially available seed offerings however, led to a grass-roots movement in the late 70’s and early 80’s dedicated to seed saving.

Today, recognition of the importance of crop genetic diversity is exemplified by the many local, regional and national efforts devoted to conserving the heirloom, traditional varieties that were once so prevalent. For both home gardeners and seed bank operators, the fundamentals are the same in terms of saving seed and maintaining purity. What follows are some basics to get you started saving seeds.