On December 19, 1997, NS/S and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) each purchased a portion of a 160-acre farm in Patagonia, Arizona. NS/S bought 60-acres of rich flood plain fields away from the creeks and TNC purchased the remaining 100 acres of farm, including the creek bottom and neighboring corridor of native Sacaton grass and cottonwood trees. While TNC would work to preserve the Sonoita Creek riparian corridor running through its newly acquired land, NS/S would use the flood plain fields to grow and conserve native crops.
The first grow-out occurred in the summer of 1998. Beginning with one acre of land, we grew about 40 different accessions of crops. Weeds were by far the biggest challenge (that and the 2-hour round-trip daily commute from Tucson!). Since then, we’ve continued to increase both the number of acres being managed as well as the number of crops being grown each year. A typical season consists of regenerating between 200 and 350 accessions on 12-15 acres, seed increase, and growing crops identified for specific projects, such as seed stock for Tarahumara farmers in the Sierra Madre or a new seed bank initiative at Hopi. Remaining fields are covered cropped, often with cereal/legume mixes to add nutrients and organic matter to our soils.
Though once inhabited by the Sobapuri Indians, the fields NS/S now uses to grow native crops were used to grow everything from alfalfa to zucchini during the 1960’s and 1970’s. With deep sandy loam soils, abundant summer rainfall and mild temperatures, the Conservation Farm has proven an ideal location for growing the wide diversity of crops maintained in our seedbank.
Is Our Seed “Organic”?
Our Conservation Farm is not yet certified organic, thus none of the seed we currently produce can be labeled as "organic". In the past, our Integrated Pest Management strategy provided for limited and targeted use of some chemicals not approved for organic systems, as an absolute last resort. However, starting in 2011 we are only using products acceptable for use in organic production systems (as listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute). We use no nitrogen-based commercial fertilizers relying instead on cover crops, green manures and crop rotations to maintain or improve soil fertility. We are committed to the ecologically-sound stewardship of the Conservation Farm, i.e., managing its soil, water, insect and plant resources in a manner that is rooted in the understanding and application of sound ecological principles. It would not be consistent with our long-term stewardship role to act in a manner that pollutes the water we use to irrigate our crops, or destroys pollinators, beneficial insects or soil microorganisms that provide essential ecosystem services. We seek to leave a small and unobtrusive footprint while stewarding these precious resources.