Food for Thought: Native Beans - August 7, 2012

"Within their seed bank are thousands of years of plant evolution"

Since the early 1960s, diabetes has plagued American Indian tribes—especially those in the Southwest, where 250,000 Native Americans have the disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Indians are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than the average American. In 1983, an Arizona-based nonprofit called Native Seeds/SEARCH devised a creative method to combat this problem. By finding and preserving traditional Native American seed stock—seeds that grow diabetes-fighting foods such as Tepary beans—the organization is able to help local tribes access healthy, native foods. Tepary beans are native to the Southwest, don’t need much water, and—because they are low in carbohydrates—are a healthy alternative for diabetics. Native Seeds/SEARCH preserves and distributes Tepary beans to local American Indian tribes, allowing them to farm the same native plants their great-grandparents ate many years ago. Beyond Tepary beans, Native Seeds/SEARCH has successfully preserved about 1,800 different seed varieties, many of which are rare and endangered. Within their seed bank are thousands of years of plant evolution.