The Utopian Seed Project

Celebrating diversity in food and farming through crop and variety trials in the Southeast.

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The Utopian Seed Project is a hands in the earth non-profit committed to trialing crops and varieties in the Southeast to support diversity in food and farming. Our utopian vision is to create an engaged network of growers, gardeners, farmers, foodies, cooks and chefs to help educate and celebrate this diversity. We are based in Asheville, NC and are working towards an overarching vision to create food sovereignty in the face of climate change through diverse and regenerative agriculture. 

Crop Trial Focus Areas

Exploring Varietal Diveristy in Southern Crops

We are conducting crop variety trials for traditional southern crops to explore the diversity on offer. It’s exciting to realize that the genetic diversity within many crops can give us culinary and climate resilient opportunities.

Tropical Perennials Grown As Temperate Annuals

We are experimenting with growing crops that are native to the tropics, but with some additional care can thrive and provide diverse food in our region. This is an exciting area of crop research with some incredible culinary and potential.

Promoting Underutilized Edibles as Food Crops

We are growing and assessing some of the many wild, native and underutlized food crops yet to be explored or fully appreciated. With some simple selection or breeding work, many of these crops could offer great culinary promise.

The Peoples Seed Logo

 In 2020, The People’s Seed joined forces with The Utopian Seed Project. The People’s Seed is the legacy organization of a legendary seed and farming advocate, Tony Kleese. Tony recognized the need to develop a new system for a fair and open seed industry to ensure a sustainable, climate adapted food system for the future. Learn more about our ongoing work HERE.

Check out the awesome article on our work in the Spring 2021 edition of @wncmagazine.

Note: this is my all time favorite description of myself 🙂

"As optimistic as a pocket full of seeds in Spring, Smith is working toward a resilient food and farming utopia in Western North Carolina and beyond."

Big thanks to @jenathan for writing.

#resilience #sustainableagriculture #wnc #food #farming #experimentalcrops #experimentalfarm

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The @wellseasonedtable sponsored cumin trial is now official. We have cumin seeds from Colombia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and Tajikistan.

In these first phase trials we're really just asking the question: What produces well in WNC?

Can Well Seasoned Table add another spice to their long list of locally sourced ingredients? Can we pass a promising variety to a farmer to produce seeds to sell to local businesses, restaurants and seed companies? Can we take our local food system one step closer to closed loop production?

#cumin #communitysupported #seedtrials #experimentalcrops #cuminseed #foodbusiness #localfood #foodsystems

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I like an intern who doesn't mind the rain...! Meet Halsey Congleton, a passionate sustainable farming enthusiast, hard worker and excitable about plants.

We're a few months late, but finally mulching the garlic trial before the spring weeds get carried away. A week off rain on the horizon, so at least it'll get soggy and not blow away (the straw, not Halsey).

Halsey is with us for 4.5 months, so you'll be seeing him around!

#garlic #tuspgarlic #experimentalfarm #garlictrial #varietaldiversity

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We're about to up our game with this digital refractometer that @twoseedsinapod just bought for us 💚

I didn't even ask! Dr. Mehmet Öztan asked if I had one, I said no but I'd been thinking about getting one, and he said "We'll buy you one."

Humbled and grateful for the support from seed industry friends of our young nonprofit.

#refractometer #sucroseherewecome #communitysupported

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An ube flour tortilla 💜

Created and Photographed by @keiaishungry

#ube #yam #tuspube #tuspyam #tortilla #experimentalroots #diascorea #diascoreaalata

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Tune in to @culinarybreedingnetwork
Youtube at 2pm EST today!

#Repost @culinarybreedingnetwork (@get_repost)
The third speaker during the Variety Showcase tomorrow will be Chris Smith of @utopianseedproject sharing about his Okra Seed Oil Breeding Project.

Chris is an amateur independent plant breeder currently working on an improved oil seed okra variety for culinary use. There has been very limited work done with okra seeds for oil, however the culinary qualities of the oil are extremely good.

Limiting factors include a determinate pod harvest, low oil percentage and a thick seed hull. High gossypol and CPFAs could be a further limiting factor (as with cotton seed oil).

Chris is at the beginning of this project and has begun growing out the available high-oil-content okra varieties for preliminary evaluation and crossing. He is also working with other species with the genus Abelmoschus, which could offer inter-species crosses for oil content and determinate harvest (i.e. Abelmoschus manihot and Abelmoschus tetraphyllus).

Chris Smith is a seed saver and permaculturist who loves to write. He is executive director of the Utopian Seed Project, a crop-trialing non-profit working to celebrate food and farming. His book, The Whole Okra, won a James Beard Foundation Award in 2020. He is co-host of @theokrapodcast

Tune in on the CBN YouTube channel. Full week schedule is in link in profile. Each session will be recorded & can be watched later (with the exception of #ArtGenetics on Friday).

This session is tomorrow Monday, February 22nd from 11:00-11:30am
PST:"Okra Seed Oil Breeding Project". Presenter: Chris Smith of The Utopian Seed Project. Based in North Carolina.


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We are very excited to grant the 2020 Tony Kleese Award to Jordan Collins (@lovesomegreen). The Tony Kleese Award offers a $2000 cash prize and media exposure to an annual awardee committed to southeastern plant breeding. The board of The Utopian Seed Project decided to award an early career botanist and plant breeder in 2020. We know that Jordan has a lot to offer and hope that this award will shine attention on his work. Jordan has an incredible amount of knowledge and passion for okra (amongst other things) and is already working on multiple okra research projects.

Note: 20% of our #Patreon income goes directly to funding this award.

Biography: Jordan graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Applied Biological Sciences and is currently working towards his PhD in Applied Biosciences. Jordan is a botanist, and while he is ardent about many aspects of science, his focus revolves around biotechnology/economic botany, pharming (genetics), and plant breeding. Jordan has worked with Phoenix dactylifera L. (date palm), Fragaria ananassa (strawberry) and his specialty, Abelmoschus esculentus (okra). Jordan's research applies biotechnology and economic botany to okra, with the goal of producing a multifaceted stock option for the consumer base.

In addition to this award, @southernexposureseed are sponsoring Jordan with a Research Assistant Internship with The Utopian Seed Project. This will give Jordan five months of field experience focusing on okra research just as he begins his PhD. We'll be announcing more details about this soon, but you'll be seeing a lot more of Jordan in 2021!

#tonykleeseaward #plantbreeding #okra #ethnobotany #internship #okrabreeding #southernfood #abelmoschusesculentus

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The purple sweets 💜

Left to right: Camote Morado; Purple Lee; Purple Becca; Liberty; L22; Xushu; Murasaki; Tainung 65.

#sweetpotato #sweetpotatoes #purple #camote #experimentalroots

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The Experimental Farm Notebook

We’ll be publishing  updates throughout the growing season so you can stay up to date with what we’re up to and how the experiments are going. This will be an informal narrative of our highs and lows, successes and failures, with photos and fun facts!

Follow Along With Our Weekly Farm Notes

Thanks to our Sustaining Sponsors

Two Seeds in a Pod - Sustaining Sponsor
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Sustaining Sponsor