About Us

How We Got Started

The Utopian Seed Project is a long term vision of founder and Executive Director, Chris Smith. The vision is to develop of regional seed hub that can support, encourage and celebrate a diverse food system of regionally adapted crops. The Utopian Seed Project is a visionary organization to explore a different model for our food system, but is also grounded in real hands-in-the earth research to support that vision.

In 2019, Sow True Seed supported the forming of The Utopian Seed Project, recognizing a shared mission of seed sovereignty and food security in the region. The inaugural board of The Utopian Seed Project has shaped our mission and helped us hone in on the most important work we can do through our three focus areas of southern crops, tropical perennials and wild/native edibles.

We invite you to join us on this journey of agricultural rediscovery and culinary adventure.

Chris Smith

Our Mission

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 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 security in the face of climate change through diverse and regenerative agriculture.


The Utopian Seed Project is a passion driven organization, with an incredible group of people who  contribute diverse skills and knowledge to further our mission.

Chris Smith

Executive Director

Chris is a the founder of The Utopian Seed Project and loves growing and eating food. His book, The Whole Okra, won a James Beard Award for History, Research and Scholarship in 2020. He’s passionate about sustainable food systems, heritage seed saving, and surviving the apocalypse. 


Carol Koury

Board Member | Chairperson

Owner and founder of Sow True Seed, Carol is a visionary with a large heart and deep passion for building a secure and sustainable food system. As a lover of food and a long time gardener, Carol’s seed industry experience have helped The Utopian Seed Project launch itself into the Southeastern seed system.


Yanna Fishman

Board Member | Secretary

A legendary seed saver and sweet potato grower, Yanna has an insatiable curiosity for growing and researching new crops and encouraging others to do the same. Yanna is a true inspiration and we are honored to have her contribute her skills and wisdom to The Utopian Seed Project.

Jamie Swafford

Board Member | Treasurer

As The Chef’s Farmer, Jamie is a former chef turned farmer focused on growing the best tasting food possible and sharing it widely and with great generosity. His skills in the kitchen and the field make Jamie an incredible asset for The Utopian Seed Project, bringing a market and chef perspective to our work.


Brandon Ruiz

Board Member

Brandon is a community herbalist and urban farmer in Charlotte, NC. He directs the CLT Herbal Accessibility Project, growing cultural foods and herbs for his community. Brandon owns Atabey Choreto Medicinals, making herbal medicines which blend Appalachian and Caribbean traditions. He also loves to make sofrito.


Jacob Rutz, Utopian Seed Project Board Member

jacob rutz

Board Member

Jacob’s masters (M.S. in Crop Science) research focused on a Farm to Childcare project, connecting low-income childcare centers with local sources of food in NC. Jacob has an enthusiasm for building the local food economy through programs that diversify ownership, incentivize sustainability and create new opportunities for creative individuals. He currently teaches at Elon University.


Eric Cohen Utopian Seed Project Board Member

Eric Cohen

Board Member

Eric developed his skills in organic production by partnering with Tony to grow organic produce in 2009 and this led to a strong friendship between the two. Tony recruited Eric as a board member for The People’s Seed because of Eric’s passion for supporting local and organic food and his highly developed marketing skills.


Ashleigh Shanti Utopian Seed Project board member

Ashleigh shanti

Board Member

Chef Ashleigh Shanti’s cuisine pays homage to the rich African-American culinary traditions that once thrived in Southern Appalachia- as well as honoring her own history as a Southern, African-American woman. Ashleigh was a 2020 finalist for the James Beard “Raising Star Chef of the Year” award during her tenure as chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle Restaurant.


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Thanks to our Sustaining Sponsors

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