I am embarrassed to say that when it came to brainstorming with the likes of Barney Burns, Stephen Buchmann, Jennie Brand-Miller, Laurel Bellante, Doug Biggers and Steve Buckley, it is hard to determine whose head an idea first hatched within and who helped incubate it. The moments of seamlessness when working together were delights I wish others could experience.
As a cofounder and most prolific seed collector (along with Mahina) for Native Seeds/SEARCH, Barney Burns was also an accomplished dendrochronologist, archaeologist, ethnohistorian and geographer; we wrote dozens of little articles together in newsletters and anthologies about the travels of seeds. What a storyteller and comedian Barney was…no one can fill his teguas.
Steven Buchmann, as a pollination ecologist, was the perfect collaborator for writing about plant-insect interactions. Among the five publications he published on his own after our collaboration on The Forgotten Pollinators, The Reason for Flowers is the most eloquent and thoughtful, far surpassing any of my own prose in its outright beauty. Incidentally, the work I helped Steve with ushered in a new age of pollinator science and the conservation of plant/pollinator interactions, and is cited in over 2500 scientific articles, plus dozens of magazines and newspapers.
When I lost a Pima friend, Gabriel, to adult-onset diabetes, I reached out to Jennie Brand Miller in Sydney Australia to see if we could team up to collect and analyze Pima foods for their anti-diabetic potential. She graciously hosted me twice when we visited Australian aboriginal communities to learn of their “bush tuckers”, and we coauthored a pioneering paper in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was among the first to prove that desert foods can control blood sugars and reduce pancreatic stress as slow-release foods even for individuals genetically predisposed to diabetes. It blew away the more simplistic, deterministic theory that the Pima were fated to die of diabetes. Her books on the Low GI Diet Revolution are now best sellers in several countries.
Laurel Bellante’s writings on the “alternative food movement” in Mexico and the double exposure of Southern Mexican farmers to the daunting challenges of climate change and globalization are among the best and brightest coming out of food anthropology and Latin American studies. We collaborated on writing the first paper ever on transborder food and food waste issues, and on Tucson’s City of Gastronomy.
Doug Biggers first interviewed me in the 1970s when he edited the Food Conspiracy’s Coyote newsletter; we then teamed up to launch Edible Baja Arizona, where we wrote editorials together, while Doug and Megan Kimble made it the most innovative and multi-cultural Edible Magazine in the U.S. More than any other effort, that magazine galvanized the identity of Tucson’s food community and sent it on its way becoming the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S.
Steve Buckley was the first intern on the Renewing America’s Food Traditions initiative while worked together in Flagstaff; later we collaborated with 3 others to write a monograph on the Native Milkweeds of the Southwest for the NRCS. Can’t than him enough for pulling that one through while all the milkweeds and monarchs were in steep decline.
Finally, I bet few of you are aware of this historic fact: Wendell Berry personally edited every sentence of my first book, The Desert Smells Like Rain, as a gift to Jack and Victoria Shoemaker, who had recently launched North Point Press. Of course, It was also the Greatest Gift any editor ever offered me, for I was just a young desert-rat whippersnapper who had hosted Wendell on a tour of Indian farming in the Southwest that appeared in his classic The Gift of Good Land.
If any of you have ever wondered why the prose in The Desert Smells Like Rain is better than anything else I have ever published, it was Wendell’s magic, not mine, that honed it down to its essence. He showed me how to write simple, elegant sentences the way he, E.B. White and Aldo Leopold routinely did over most of their careers.
Can you now see how much I have to be grateful for?