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Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) co-founder and board member Mahina Drees steps down after 38 years

| Alexandra Zamecnik

It was the beauty of the seeds, she always says, that sparked her resolve to safeguard the living heritage of the Southwest. Mahina Drees has been at the root of NS/S since 1983 when she co-founded the organization with Barney Burns, Karen Reichhardt and Gary Nabhan. During this time she served as Executive Director for 11 years, and a board member for 27. “Mahina Drees has lived many lives, but she deserves more credit than anyone for guiding the keel of Native Seeds/SEARCH for more years than any other navigator” stated Gary Nabhan. 

Mahina’s journey took her from Toledo, Ohio, where she grew up, to San Francisco where she pursued acting and music and wrote over 100 folk songs. She got into politics and ran the local Peace and Freedom Party actively fighting for peace and civil rights. She found herself in Tucson by the 70’s and became interested in environmental conservation and plant botany of the Southwest. In 1986 she married co-founder Barney Burns, and together they dedicated their lives to the preservation of art, culture, and seeds of the Southwest.

Over the years, she became an expert at identifying and classifying varieties of maize from the Greater Southwest. Her knowledge is based on direct field experience in the mountains and lowlands of northwest Mexico, as well as countless hours of measuring ears, counting rows and kernels, and observing the colors and shapes of both. “Someone like Mahina defies labels, because she mastered so many skill sets, from seed ids to cross-cultural interviewing to entrepreneurial nonprofit management” Gary said. “She’s always been forward thinking, completely loyal and devoted to NS/S. Not only does she have incredible knowledge about the seeds in the collection, but she has an astute business sense” Karen Reichhardt added. 

As a founder, Mahina started something that would inevitably touch the lives of countless people, including my own. I began my relationship with seeds as a young man. At the time I wanted to find and grow the seed we once cared for in our community. Sadly, many of them were no longer available amongst our people. If not for the efforts of Mahina and the other founders to preserve these relatives, many of the seeds would never have been available to me” said Jacob Butler, NS/S Board of Directors Chair. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside Mahina, a blessing that I do not take lightly. Mahina's knowledge and recollection of NS/S's History is a beautiful thing to witness.”


Thank you, Mahina, from the entire NS/S community!  




Pictured (top to bottom): Mahina in 2003, Headshot of Mahina in the 60's, Mahina with co-founders; Gary Nabhan, Karen Reichhardt and Barney Burns.