Founders Bill McDorman & Belle Starr Leave Native Seeds/SEARCH

Share Article

Native Seeds/SEARCH co-directors Bill McDorman and Belle Starr have parted ways with the organization after almost three years. Mr. McDorman and his wife Ms. Starr were recruited as Executive Director and Deputy Director in 2011 to help the organization grow financially and programmatically.

During their tenure, the operating budget of Native Seeds/SEARCH expanded from $791,000 to almost $1.2 million. Revenue from distribution increased 80%, donations 64% and memberships grew by 28%. Net earned revenue was up 80%.

Mr. McDorman and Ms. Starr introduced dozens of popular new seed lines to the organization’s retail offerings, including the world-famous heirloom corn, Glass Gem. New seed collections, buckets, and wildflower varieties were also added, quickly becoming best sellers and lending significant financial support to the nonprofit’s mission. They also established a staff of passionate seed stewards to support the many initiatives and programs they helped create.

Additionally, the co-directors brought with them to NS/S an innovative educational program, Seed School, which they founded in 2010. This program helped launch the organization to global prominence as an educational leader in the burgeoning regional seed movement. Under their direction, Seed School graduated over 425 “seed citizens” and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other local and national media.

Furthermore a Seed School called Seed Keepers was developed in collaboration with local tribal entities in support of Native American seed traditions. The first was co-created with the Gila River Indian Community. Several more followed, including the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in Colorado.

The state’s first Seed Library was unveiled at the NS/S Retail Store in January of 2012 under the direction of Mr. McDorman and Ms. Starr. Within a month, Pima County Library announced the opening of their system-wide seed library program at 5 branches with interlibrary loans. The couple provided inspiration and technical support for that unique and nationally recognized program.    

A monthly Salon series created by the co-directors became a central part of Native Seeds/SEARCH’s educational and outreach efforts, showcasing community leaders and intriguing topics ranging from food fermentation to the archeological origins of maize.

Mr. McDorman was a frequent lecturer on behalf of NS/S at conferences and organizational gatherings both locally and around the country. His passionate talks always inspired audiences to connect deeply with the world and their communities through the wonder of seeds.

The co-directors also encouraged and facilitated staff participation in local and national conferences to ensure the voice and expertise of NS/S was included around crucial issues such as seed patenting, breeding, and benefits sharing for indigenous peoples.

Last April the couple traveled to Rome where they met with representatives of Bioversity International, a United Nations-funded research organization working on agricultural biodiversity issues in developing countries. As a result, Native Seeds/SEARCH was invited to present at international conferences in Nepal and Peru, broadening NS/S’s influence and collaboration in the global scientific community.

Mr. McDorman is featured in a new PBS series, Food Forward, and two documentary films, Seed: The Untold Story and Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds.

The couple will continue to offer Seed School trainings nationwide, both as one-day programs and in more expanded formats. They are excited about getting their hands back into the earth as growers and seed producers. They also look forward to furthering their many friendships and collaborations with the Tucson community, and are available for consultations prior to returning home to the Verde Valley. Please contact them at their new email addresses: belle(at)seedsave(dot)org and bill(at)seedsave(dot)org.

The sentiments of Gene Zonge, Board Member of Slow Food Southern Arizona and former director of Community Gardens of Tucson, are echoed throughout the community: “I can't believe that Tucson is going to lose the two most important and enthusiastic advocates for local food and seeds. Your contributions have been immeasurable. We will miss you.”

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Belle Starr
+1 928-300-7989
Email >
since: 02/2014
Like >
Follow us on
Visit website