Board & Staff


Marie Swanson (Chair) was the Founding Dean of the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and currently holds the title of Founding Dean and Professor Emerita. Her 40+ years in academia encompassed community-based research that was focused on eradicating health disparities, chronic disease prevention, and health promotion. Her other interests include photography, travel, and for two years she had a racing license and raced smaller Indy- style race cars.


Chris Byrne (Vice Chair) was raised in Arizona and received his law degree from Lewis & Clark Law School, with a focus on environmental and natural resources protection. He has served as the Arizona Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land and is interested in working with local communities to foster and preserve the distinct natural and cultural heritage of the Sonoran Desert region.


Linda Peck (Treasurer) is the retired chief operating officer of a bank consulting firm and has a Masters in Economics from Penn State. She volunteers as a reading tutor for kindergarten through second grade and enjoys birding, travel, bowling, fitness and yoga.


Carolyn Niethammer (Secretary) writes about the food and people of the arid Southwest. She has been affiliated with Native Seeds/SEARCH since its earliest years.


Cheryl Pailzote is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and lives in Whiteriver, Arizona. Cheryl is Tribal Senior Hydrologist at White Mountain Apache and co-founded Ndee Bikiyaa (The People's Farm). She enjoys spending her time gardening, traveling, drinking coffee, and spending time with her two daughters.


Raquel E. Aviles was born and raised in Tucson, AZ. She is the mother of three (David Jr., Emmaleen and Anthony) and wife to David Aviles. Raquel is a tribal citizen of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona. She has devoted most of her life to serving her tribe and community in various services of health and wellness. She completed her Bachelors in Organizational Studies and Masters of Healthcare Innovation at Arizona State University.


Tudor Montague, an enrolled member of the Fort Quechan Tribe, is an avid gardener, frequent camper, and a voracious reader. Tudor graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in environmental policy & planning and spent his career working for tribes in the environmental field. After a rewarding career, he founded a small coffee roasting company and spends his free time playing with his loyal four-legged friends, Sage (the Siberian Husky) and Murphy (the American Bulldog).


Mahina Drees (co-founder) was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1941 and graduated from Antioch College in 1964. She began and ran the Peace and Freedom Party in San Francisco, has written and sung over 100 of her own spirit fold songs accompanying herself on the guitar. She also ran Unknown Mexico, an import business of indigenous arts and crafts from the north for over 30 years. She also served as executive director of NS/S for about 12 years and did a stint as chairman of the board.


Jacob Butler is a member of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. He is Onk Akimel O’Odham, and has lived within the community his entire life. Mr. Butler specializes in traditional shell work ranging from shell etching and carving to overlay and inlay. He is equally known as a skilled potter practicing the paddle anvil technique, a pottery style used by his ancestors. His work can be found or has been on display in collections of local Museums, National Monuments, the Smithsonian and The Kiva Gallery in Sweden. Jacob is also the Community Gardens Coordinator for the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and has worked with many indigenous communities across the country during this time.                                                      


Bill McGuire is retired from a long career of technical consulting in the banking sector and 10 years of university teaching prior to that. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Current interests include arid lands gardening, desert native bees, British cars from the 50’s and 60’s, and creative tinkering.


John Mclean has a life-long passion for the Sonoran desert, and has spent many years exploring the bounty and diversity of this habitat on both sides of the border. Trained as a mathematician, John enjoyed a thirty-five year career developing high-resolution remote sensing systems. He has held a variety of executive and board positions for both corporate and non-profit organizations. John is currently raising various heirloom crops on the banks of Sabino Creek.


karen reichhardt native seeds searchKaren Reichhardt (co-founder), originally from Greeley, Colorado, has spent over 40 years learning about the botanical landscapes of Arizona. Aside from co-founding NS/S, she spent her career as a research assistant at Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona, as a natural resources specialist with the US Army Corps of Engineers, and fifteen years at Bureau of Land Management. She  returned to the board of Native Seeds SEARCH in 2015 after retiring from 20 years of federal service. When she is not traveling, botanizing, or teaching about native plants, she is busy with three grandchildren and six step-grandchildren along with her husband Jim Heard. They have lived in Yuma, Arizona since 1995.


doug smith native seeds search board of directorsDoug Smith earned a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University, conducting research on agricultural history in several states in Mexico. He taught Anthropology for ten years in several universities. His current interest is to explore agave cultures in Arizona-Sonora and Mexico more broadly, and to encourage re-engagement between people and the plant in the Southwest.



Joy Hought director native seeds search

Joy Hought (Executive Director) has built her career as an executive, researcher, educator, and author, having received a Master of Science in agroecology from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Joy pursued fieldwork in northern Europe and Cambodia before arriving in Arizona to explore low-input agriculture and on-farm conservation. She has co-authored several journal articles as well as the book Saving Seeds in the Southwest: Techniques for Seed Stewardship in Aridlands.

Joy’s focus is in leveraging Native Seeds/SEARCH’S resources in support of cultural restoration for Native American farmers, economic development, youth agricultural training, and direct local access to nutrition to address food insecurity.



Noah Schlager (Conservation Program Manager) has worked for several years on deconstructing the colonial legacies which have historically excluded Indigenous people from participating in western conservation, and to see spaces opened up for Indigenous people to have the agency and discretion to practice and share (or not share) our Indigenous knowledges around caring for plants and the land. In his capacity at NS/S, Noah is working to integrate the conservation of the collection’s seeds with the support and development of Native American farmers and their communities. Through his mother, Donna Wiggins, he is Mvskoke-Creek and Florida Catawba/Cheraw— mixed with Carolina Indian, West African, and European Settler heritage. Through his father, Dan Schlager, he is Jewish, his family settling in Colorado as refugees of the Eastern European pogroms. Noah’s maternal grandmother, Mama Nell Wiggins, was the one who first taught him to garden, forage, and cook foods that have been in his family since time immemorial. Out of the passion she and other elders have planted in him, he works to support his and other communities’ Indigenous foodways and relationships to the land. Noah received his Masters of Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is grateful to be working on the lands of the Tohono O’odham and Yaqui, and takes seriously the responsibility to care for the plant relatives of Indigenous nations and communities across the greater Southwest. 


Glen Wagner Native Seeds SearchGlenn Wagner (Finance and Operations Manager) retired after 40 years of Finance & Administration Management in the Midwest, working for both for-profit and not-for-profit entities. After relocating to the Tucson area, he “un-retired” to become the Finance & Operations Manager at Native Seeds/SEARCH. Glenn and his wife are involved with the Del Webb Community in Vail and he enjoys cooking, reading and the Chicago Black Hawks.


Sheryl Joy Native Seeds Search

Sheryl Joy (Collections Curator) works to organize the thousands of samples in the seed bank, assists in maintaining the health of the collection, and helps to connect the seeds with the people who need them. Sheryl has been on staff with NS/S for 6 years in several roles including retail store staff, accounting assistant, and Seed Distribution Coordinator before taking on her current role. This time spent working with the seeds and with other experienced staff has given her a strong working knowledge of the collection. Sheryl has a BS in Sociology from the University of South Florida, and a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.


Laura Jones Native Seeds Search

Laura Jones (Distribution Manager) provides oversight to our volunteer and distribution programs. In the eight years she has been with us, Laura has served in a variety of roles, from doing pollinations at our Conservation Farm, to coordinating bulk foods, and most recently, serving as Interim Executive Director. Laura has a B.S. in Environmental Studies and is an alumna of AmeriCorps.


 betsy armstrong native seeds searchBetsy Armstrong, Fulfillment Coordinator


liz fairchild native seeds searchLiz Fairchild (Distribution Coordinator) has studied plants since 1990, conducted invasive plant inventories, worked in the horticulture industry and volunteered for the AZ Native Plant Society. She has a BA in Religious Studies (Gen Bio minor) from the UA, was born in Tucson and saw "Star Wars" 10 times in 1977.


michelle langmaidMichelle Langmaid (Volunteer and Communications Coordinator) has a background in small-scale agriculture and produce distribution and holds a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Vermont. At NSS she takes care of the demonstration garden and coordinates volunteers.


Brian Smith (Development Associate) earned his degree in Mass communications from Colorado Mesa University and has worked in journalism and non-profit marketing throughout his career. Brian's focus at NS/S is membership, donor relations, fundraising and grant writing. He recently relocated to Tucson and is passionate about the Southwest’s landscapes and people.


Heidi DeNanaan (Administrative Assistant) is a lifelong learner in everything she does. Her hobbies include late-night Googling, extreme book-jenga, and making a spreadsheet for everything - yes, even that. Her goals include staying in school forever, adopting all of the animals no one else will, and getting a hobby that is not on a computer. The most important thing to her is ceaseless improvement - of self, community, and the world.


Susan Phillips (Retail Store Manager) has a background in Anthropology and extensive retail operations experience. She relocated from Long Island to the Sonoran Desert in the late 1970's to study the cultural traditions of Native Peoples of the Southwest at the UofA, which led her to positions managing and purchasing for local Native Art galleries for over 20 years. That evolved into a career as a Retail Buyer for resorts throughout the Southwest, where she introduced handcrafted Native arts and jewelry with a desire to educate visitors about the richly diverse culture and art that exists in this region. Along with plans to "refresh" the store and add to our merchandise selection, Susan will expand upon the indigenous art offerings in the shop and looks forward to working with local artists and representatives within the communities we serve.


Nancy Reid Native Seeds Search
Nancy Reid (Retail Associate) assists customers and maintains the container garden at the retail store. She is an Arizona Native Plants enthusiast through countless empirical wanderings in nature, horseback or afoot on many a trail. Her life standard is to be still, study all of life, never miss a good horse race, and take refuge in movie theaters during the heat of summer.


Neff Native Seeds SearchLaura Neff (Education Assistant and Retail Associate) is originally from Phoenix, came to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona and fell in love with the city. Neff has a B.S. in Environmental Science, which included working with Native Seeds/SEARCH as an intern. After completing the program, Neff continued their work with Native Seeds/SEARCH as a volunteer and then staff member. Neff spends their time at NS/S coordinating the Community Seed Grant program, providing hands-on gardening workshops, as well as helping folks one on one at the retail store. In their free time, Neff enjoys spending time with their dogs and creating chalk drawings of various desert plants.


melissa barrow native seeds search

Melissa Barrow (Retail Associate) holds a Masters in Sustainable Enterprise (a.k.a. "Green MBA") from Dominican University of California. She likes to 'mix it up' at NS/S, helping out in multiple departments, including Membership, Fund Development, and Outreach. She can be found most often at the retail store, where she enjoys meeting the wonderfully diverse visitors, and learns at least 3 new things per day! She loves anything to do with music, visual arts, writing, plant-based medicine, and yoga.