2021 Recipient
Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan

The William L. Brown Center selected Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan to honor with the 9th William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation.

Dr. Nabhan visited the Missouri Botanical Garden to receive the award, and to talk about his past work, current projects, and vision for the future of the field. The award presentation and conversation was shown at Botany 2021, the meeting of the Botanical Society of America, and is available to watch on the Garden's YouTube channel (here, for the 30-minute edit that was presented; or here for the 60-minute complete conversation).

As an author, ethnobotanist, and agricultural ecologist, he has dedicated his career to the conservation and celebration of useful plants. With research and engagement spanning the globe, Dr. Nabhan’s work has focused primarily on the interaction of biodiversity and cultural diversity in the arid binational Southwest, a landscape that has been his home for the past five decades. He cofounded Native Seeds/SEARCH in 1983 to preserve place-based southwestern agricultural plants and the knowledge of their uses. He served as director of conservation, research and collections at both the Desert Botanical Garden and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Dr. Nabhan was the founding director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University. He now serves as the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Southwestern Borderlands Food and Water Security at University of Arizona.

Dr. Nabhan is considered a pioneer in the local food movement and the heirloom seed saving movement. His work has informed the conservation of the linked genetic and cultural heritage of his home region. Dr. Nabhan’s past awards speak to the breadth of his impact and include the Calvin Sperling Award from the Crop Science Society of America, John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing, Saveur magazines Best 100 Food Initiatives, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In 2018 Dr. Nabhan was named Distinguished Economic Botanist by the Society for Economic Botany, 36 years after William L. Brown received the same award.

To the general public, Dr. Nabhan is likely most well-known as a prolific and engaging author on a span of ethnobotanical topics. His many books, including Gathering the Desert, Enduring Seeds, The Forgotten Pollinators, and Renewing America’s Food Traditions have inspired generations to engage with their local food systems, their communities, and heritage. This legacy of research, which is still growing, is and will remain an important body of work for future ethnobotany and activism.

The William L. Brown Award recognizes the outstanding contributions of an individual in the field of genetic resource conservation and use. It is administered by the William L. Brown Center (WLBC) at the Missouri Botanical Garden and is made possible through a generous endowment from the Sehgal Family Foundation, in cooperation with the family of Dr. Brown.

Dr.Brown was a distinguished, internationally-recognized scientist, businessman, and humanitarian. Over the course of five decades, he devoted himself to the collection, preservation, understanding, and sharing of plant genetic resources in order to help meet the global demand for food. The William L. Brown Award recognizes an individual whose efforts and achievements reflect a concern for those issues that were so important to Dr. Brown.