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Board of Directors & Staff

The NS/S Board of Directors (BOD) recently voted to change our bylaws in order to have greater representation from Indigenous individuals with cultural connections to the seeds in the NS/S seed bank collection. We are hoping to maintain at least 50% representation from members of Southwest tribes on the BOD and are actively recruiting. If you or someone you know would be interested in serving on the board, please click the link for details and information on how to apply. click here>>

 Board of Directors

Jacob Butler (Chair) 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.


Tudor Montague, (Vice Chair) 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). 


John McLean (Secretary) 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.  


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.


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.



Valerie Nuvayestewa is Hopi/Tewa and is Tewa Corn Clan from the village Tewa. Valerie currently is the Project Coordinator for an environmental grassroots organization, Tuskwat Oqawtoynani (helping the Earth to gather its strength). Tuskwat Oqawtoynani supports cleaning First Mesa from top to bottom, including projects on erosion and restoration of mesa trails, orchard restoration, and educational webinars on environmental stewardship. She is a grandmother, mother, a writer, forager and farmer/gardener.


Cherilyn Yazzie was raised on the Navajo Nation, Arizona and received her social work degree from Northern Arizona University.  She worked as a school social worker and program manager for nutrition services programs that emphasized working with the health of children and families.  After many years, she realized that something was "not clicking" and changed careers to become a farmer back on the Navajo Nation.  Currently, she and her husband grow vegetables on one acre and they are building an opportunity for food access and solving issues that affect farmers.  There is a sacred purpose to protect the land and also seeds that turn into food, medicine and provide us with shelter.  Seeds are miracles, our protection, our happiness and our future.  Cherilyn tends to rescue dogs and chickens and has learned how much joy they bring to farm life. 


Brandon Merchant was born and raised in Yuma Arizona and moved to Tucson in 2009. Brandon, a certified Pima County Master Gardener, has been active in the Tucson garden and plant community for many years. In 2012 he started Southwest Victory Gardens to share his knowledge and passion for gardening with others. He also served on the board of Tucson Organic Gardeners from 2012-2016, and was president for two of those years. In November of 2020, he joined the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona staff full time as their new Health and Garden Education Coordinator.


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.                     


Anthony Francisco Jr., a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, grew up in southern Arizona and currently resides in Comobabi.  He has worked with many elders in the community, learning traditional methods of healing, growing, harvesting and hunting, all of which have ensured the survival and health of the O’odham since time immemorial.  Anthony is an elected representative of the Tohono O’odham Legislative Body, and previously worked with Tohono O’odham Community Action as coordinator of the agricultural apprenticeship programs.


Alexandra Zamecnik (Executive Director) joined NS/S in February 2021. She has more than 15 years of leadership and management experience working on international projects with extensive experience in Mexico and Central America. Through her experiences with the U.S. Forest Service, Chemonics International and Rainforest Alliance, she brings in-depth knowledge of forestry, biodiversity conservation, and climate change. She has successfully formed partnerships with multilateral organizations, federal and state governments, NGOs, local communities, and academia. Most recently, she worked as a facilitator with Tucson based Southwest Decision Resources. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Boston University and an M.A. focused in International Environment and Resource Policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her passion for conservation was borne out of growing up between two cultures with a mother from Argentina and a father from Boston. Since she was a child, she has returned to Cordoba, Argentina and has witnessed how land-use, ownership, and cultural practices are easily lost if they are not conserved.


Andrea Carter, Phd. (AG Outreach & Education Manager) serves as a link, between the NS/S seed bank and small-scale farmers across the Southwest. She graduated with honors from Cornell University where she became passionate about reviving traditional agriculture through her mentorship within the American Indian Program. Having received her PhD in Plant Science from the University of Arizona, Andrea’s research experience with drought-adapted crops has prepared her to meaningfully contribute to the Native Seeds’ mission to conserve and promote arid-adapted crop diversity and sustainable farming. She was a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Indigenous Graduate Scholarship from the UA.

Her doctoral program included three years of field trials exploring the physiology of drought tolerance in barley. This work involved elucidation of key adaptive traits for integration into future breeding programs for drought adapted and low-input crops. Additional research carried out included the identification of root-traits associated with drought and heavy metal tolerance at early stages of plant development for potential use as a simple and inexpensive plant screening tool. 

Andrea’s agronomic knowledge was further enhanced through her work with low-input and water conserving production methods in Cuba, China, and North Africa as well as urban farming in Washington D.C. As a member of the Powhatan Renape Nation she values cross-cultural approaches to problem solving that can contribute to enhanced seed-saving capacity and food security in Native communities by drawing on the existing agricultural knowledge base of these communities. 


Laura Jones (Distribution Manager) has served NS/S for the past 10 years in various capacities, beginning as a Pollination Intern on the farm in Patagonia, working as Bulk Foods Associate in the Retail Store, later as the Volunteer Coordinator, and most recently as Distribution Manager. Laura has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Lesley University. To her role, she brings a depth of knowledge about the internal workings of the organization as well as a passion for people, connections, and seeds.


Sheryl Joy (Seed Bank Manager) 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 since 2012 in several roles including retail store staff, Seed Distribution Coordinator, and Collections Curator 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.


Lissa Marinaro (Marketing & Development Director) was a small business owner for 20 years and brings with her an extensive background in marketing and PR. Additionally, she has over 12 years of experience in philanthropic work and fundraising in the Tucson community. Lissa has a BA and a BFA from the University of Arizona.


Susan Phillips (E-Commerce 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. Susan has expanded indigenous art offerings on the NS/S website and works with local artists and representatives within the communities we serve. 


Glenn Wagner (Finance & Operations) 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 NS/S. Glenn and his wife are involved with the Del Webb Community in Vail and he enjoys cooking, reading and the Chicago Black Hawks.


Joel Johnson (Conservation Garden Farmer) graduated from Messiah College in central Pennsylvania with degrees in both Sustainable Agriculture and English. For his undergraduate research on ecological narratives of the Sonoran Desert, Joel received an Inclusive Excellence grant and the 2017 Alumni Merit award. A Tucson native, Joel has worked and studied on farms in Arizona, Washington, Pennsylvania, Costa Rica, and Zambia. Most recently, he served as the Agricultural Interpreter at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum where he taught heritage farming skills and managed a historic garden and orchard. Joel is a regular contributor to Western Ag Life Magazine and he provides writing and editing support to regenerative farms around the world through his freelancing business, Narratives of Place. 


Dick Gase (Seed Distribution Specialist) came to Native Seeds after some time teaching mathematics and many years at the Food Conspiracy Co-op. He enjoys hikes of all kinds and appreciates the power of food to bring people together. 


betsy armstrong native seeds searchBetsy Armstrong (Fulfillment Coordinator) was born in Cleveland, which she jokingly calls Clevesburg, and grew up in a small village, called Gates Mills, where she played in the woods and creeks for hours at a time. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona in Art History with a minor in Italian. She began her career at NS/S (a.k.a. "non-stop snacking") as a volunteer during the last century. In 1991, there was an opening in Distribution/Mail Order and, the rest as they say, is history! She has been with us ever since!


Claire Meuschke (Development Coordinator) received degrees in Creative Writing from Pratt Institute (BFA) and the University of Arizona (MFA). She has had alternating and often overlapping experiences as a writer, farmer, and nonprofit worker.
In New Mexico, Claire worked as a Grant Writer for Southwest Youth Services at the Native American Community Academy and as a Resource Technician for the U.S. Forest Service. In Tucson, she was an English Lecturer at the University of Arizona and a Farm Assistant at Las Milpitas Community Farm.
While completing a Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University, Claire worked as a Farm Hand at Radical Family Farms, an Asian heritage CSA farm, and as a Garden & Education Manager at City Slicker Farms.
Her book of poems, Upend, retraces the immigration trial of her orphaned grandfather who was an Alaska Native and Chinese cook in San Francisco Chinatown.


Linda Stewart (Distribution & Operations Associate) started at Native Seeds in 2016 as a volunteer. A year later (almost to the day) she joined the staff on a full-time basis. Her background is in management, finance, and fitness.


Weaver (Ray) Younghans (Conservation & Outreach) manages the Community Seed Grant program, helps with the Partner Farmer program, assists in the conservation department, and does graphic work. Previously they taught at TUSD, integrating gardening and ecology into elementary education. Weaver is an artist and a mycologist, and in their free time they are either making art, foraging/growing/teaching about mushrooms, or looking at/learning from wild plants.


Helena Gonzales (Seed Conservation Associate) graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Plant Science and Minor in Biochemistry with a focus in genetics, genomics, and propagation. She was born and raised in Tucson and is part Navajo and Hopi. Helena has dedicated her life to crop conservation and research to preserve the diversity and the history of heirloom crops. She uses this knowledge at NS/S to assist in organizing and maintaining seed samples in the seed bank, working in the Conservation Garden, and processing seeds in the Seed Lab. She enjoys gardening, caring for animals and critters, learning new things, eating sweets, and playing games.


Justin Risley (Communications Coordinator) graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with degrees in Journalism and Sustainable Community Development. He has a background in photography and documentary film which he has used to help nonprofits educate their supporters and communicate their mission.