Research, Education, and Network Development to Support Southeastern Seed Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $319,053.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipients: The Utopian Seed Project; Organic Seed Alliance; North Carolina State University; Tierra Fertil Farming Cooperative; Appalachian Seed Growers Collective; Persimmon Fund
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Chris Smith
The Utopian Seed Project
Jay Bost
App State University
Shelby Johnson
Southeastern African American Farmer's Organic Network


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

The core focus of the project is to
address the critical need for regional
seed production in the Southeast, where
limited availability of regionally
adapted seed varieties has hindered
economic viability and environmental
sustainability, leaving the Southeast
vulnerable to seed shortages and supply
chain disasters as the effects of climate
change only begin to impact the region.
The project will build upon the momentum
of previous initiatives, such as the
Video Project
series funded by
Southern SARE in 2021 and the formation
of the Appalachian Seed Grower Collective
in 2022, made possible by the CERES
Foundation. By conducting dedicated
research into regional open-pollinated
varieties and developing crop enterprise
budgets specifically for seed growers,
the project seeks to identify variety
options suitable for the Southeast and
vital economic information for profitable
Southern seed growers. The initiative
also aims to foster a stronger sense of
community among seed growers through
in-person meet-ups and on-farm seed
grower intensives, thereby facilitating
extensive information sharing and
learning opportunities to encourage the
participation of new seed growers in the

The Utopian Seed Project is dedicated to
resolving the issue of limited regional
seed production in the Southeast through
a comprehensive approach that integrates
research, education, community building,
and outreach. The project aims to launch
collaborative, systemic efforts that
prioritize farmer financial
sustainability and regional crop
resilience. Through in-depth, on-farm
research conducted by regional growers
and identification of suitable seed
varieties, coupled with financial
insights, the project intends to engage a
diverse community of farmers in the
development of enterprise seed budgets.
This will be facilitated through
collaborative events and the
establishment of an online presence
featuring a tangible toolkit and
thoroughly researched, Southern-specific
seed enterprise budgets. Ultimately, the
collaborative aims to empower
Southeastern farmers to develop a
sustainable and resilient regional seed
system that is financially beneficial to
diverse farming operations. By adopting
this approach, the project not only
enhances agricultural sustainability but
also significantly improves the quality
of life for producers, communities, and
consumers in the Southern region. This
initiative contributes to creating a more
resilient and adaptable agricultural
system that is better equipped to
confront the challenges posed by an
unpredictable climate and supply chain

The project's significance lies in its
contributions to the advancement of
sustainable agriculture, as it aims to
provide access to regionally adapted seed
varieties, enhancing economic viability,
improving environmental stewardship, and
increasing resilience. The anticipated
outcomes have the potential to expand
markets, generate new revenue
opportunities, strengthen rural
communities, and foster sustainable seed
systems. Through a comprehensive approach
that includes variety trials, seed
selection projects, on-farm seed saving,
and multi-level outreach efforts, the
project is poised to have a significant,
system-level impact on seed production in
Appalachia, with far-reaching
implications for seed production models
across the Southeast. The project's
innovative approach, collaborative team
structure, and focus on research,
education, and dissemination are expected
to contribute to sustainable agriculture
with a lasting impact, empowering
producers to thrive in an environmentally
sustainable and economically viable

Project objectives from proposal:

The Utopian Seed Project's multifaceted
project aims to revolutionize the
Southeastern agricultural landscape
through a comprehensive set of strategic
initiatives aimed at developing a
sustainable, research driven, equitable
seed system. By conducting rigorous
on-farm variety trials for six key crops:
okra, corn, collards, sweet potatoes,
squash, and southern peas, the project
seeks to identify and promote
open-pollinated options that demonstrate
superior performance within the regional
context. Additionally, the project
endeavors to develop seed grower
enterprise budget case studies for the
identified crops, fostering economic
empowerment and informed decision-making
among seed growers in the region.
Leveraging the transformative potential
of Community Seed Selection and diverse
seed mixes, notably the innovative
Ultracross Mixes, the project aspires to
foster widespread engagement among
growers, enabling them to actively
participate in seed saving, selection,
and regional adaptation. Through the
organization of dynamic Southeast seed
growing farm days (Intensives), the
project aims to cultivate a vibrant
community of practice, facilitating
collaborative seed cleaning, shared
learning, and network building within the
regional agricultural community.
Moreover, by establishing a comprehensive
online platform, including a
user-friendly website and an integrated
sales platform, the project seeks to
promote broad communication, outreach,
and knowledge dissemination among diverse
stakeholders, including consumers,
gardeners, and farmers, about the vital
significance of regionally grown seed and
its pivotal role in fostering sustainable
agriculture practices and community

Five Objectives 

  1.  Identify
    open-pollinated options that perform well in the Southeast
    for six southern crops through on-farm variety trials (okra,
    corn, collards, sweet potatoes, squash, southern

  2. Develop six seed grower
    enterprise budget case studies for the six southern seed

  3. Use a model of Community Seed
    Selection with the Appalachian Seed Growers Collective and
    diverse seed mixes (Ultracross Mixes) to broadly engage
    growers in seed saving, seed selection, and regional
    adaptation; create a toolkit to disseminate the model.

  4. Host Southeast seed growing
    farm days for community seed cleaning, shared learning and
    network building while prioritizing cultural inclusivity.

  5. Build out a website for broad communication
    and outreach to consumers (gardeners and farmers) about
    regionally grown seed and a sales platform for selling
    collective seed.

    Please reference our Objectives &
    Metrics Chart to learn about the data collection plan to
    achieve each objective.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.