About Us

How We Got Started

In 2018, Sow True Seed, an Asheville based seed company, supported one of their employees, Chris Smith, on his journey to write a book about okra (The Whole Okra, published June 2019, Chelsea Green). Chris went down the rabbit hole of okra and ended up growing 76 varieties as research for his book. He connected with chefs and local food businesses, farmers and gardeners, and many okra fanatics along the way.

Sow True Seed decided to set-up a non-profit to continue the work of regional crop trialing. 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.

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. He serves on the boards of The People’s Seed and Sow True Seed. His book, The Whole Okra, was published in 2019. He’s passionate about sustainable food systems, heritage seed saving, and surviving the apocalypse. 


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 a great asset for The Utopian Seed Project, bringing a market and chef perspective to our work.


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 and connections have helped The Utopian Seed Project launch itself into the Southeastern seed system.


Brandon Ruiz

Yanna Fishman

Board Member | Secretary

A legendary seed saver and sweet potato grower (curating over 100 varieties), Yanna has an insatiable curiosity for growing and researching new crops and inspiring 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.

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