Saving Seeds for Resilient Local Systems

March 8, 2024
Seed crop of runner beans grown for Sow True Seed (Utopian Seed Project Photo)
Southeast Seed Video Series Trailer

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina – In 2021, Chris Smith of The Utopian Seed Project along with other community partners utilized a $50,000 Southern SARE Education grant titled, “Saving Seed for Resilient Local Systems,” to promote seed-saving among Southeastern farmers through the creation of an online video series.

Screenshot of video series website

Southeast Seed is a video series that focuses on six southern crops, using interview footage from 30 farmers across 12 states to produce an eight-episode series about growing seeds in the Southeast. The series is both a practical guide to saving seeds and a deeper exploration into seeds, heritage and ethics.

“The SSARE Education Grant really gave us the resources to make these videos as inclusive as possible. The project travelled across 12 states and interviewed over 50 farmers, community gardeners, seed savers, seed growers and seed advocates. This would never have been possible without funding and we are extremely grateful.”

Chris Smith
Chris Smith

The Utopian Seed Project's initiative demonstrates the importance of regional seed growing for sustainable agriculture. By creating high-quality videos, utilizing social media tools, and engaging with farmers and agricultural professionals, they have successfully built a community of seed savers with a focus on the Southeastern climate and economy.

Designed by the Utopian Seed Project, they relied on close collaboration with many Southeastern seed institutions including regionally integrated seed growers for Southern Exposure Seed ExchangeSow True Seed, and other Southeastern seed projects. The Organic Seed Alliance assisted with technical assistance and distribution. Common Wealth Seed Growers provided expertise on breeding and propagation.

The primary focus of the videos was online reach. Unlike an in-person event, this medium of outreach has the potential to keep growing because the digital resource is available in perpetuity. Three hundred and fifty farmers and one hundred and fifty ag professionals participated in a variety of educational and outreach activities. Twenty-five new working collaborations also came out of the project which included a combination of fifteen webinars or in-person presentations, and educational tools including eight factsheets.

Regional seed growing plays a critical role in meeting the needs of local farmers without relying heavily on external inputs. In the Southeast, there is very little regional seed growing being done by farmers and most seed is sourced outside of the region. As the climate becomes increasingly unstable, resilient, and regionally adapted seeds become essential for sustainable farming practices and food security. However, there is currently limited awareness, information, networks, and support systems for aspiring Southeast seed growers.

The Seed Video project not only provided educational resources but also uplifted voices and provided examples of seed growing, harvesting, and cleaning across the Southeast. The series delved into deeper themes such as seed ethics, regional adaptation, and the control exerted by the seed industry. The intention was to inspire and educate more farmers to consider seed growing as part of their farm business, recognizing that information and education are just the initial steps to encourage and recruit more seed growers.

SSARE Sustainable Ag Pillars

The project touched on all three aspects of sustainability, as defined by Southern SARE — farmer quality of life, profitability, and environmental stewardship. Socially, it highlighted the importance of farmers having control over their seeds and the connection with regional and cultural varieties. Common complaints include concerns that proprietary seed lines get dropped from catalogues, supply chain distributions are a real threat, and the high cost of seeds. Economically, it emphasized the potential for profitability through seed growing and the opportunity to save costs by not purchasing seeds, reducing input requirements, and increasing production through regional adaptation. Environmentally, it emphasized how regionally adapted seeds can perform better in the region, reducing the need for environmental modifications that can harm ecosystems.

Moving forward, the library of Southeast Seed Videos will continue to educate and inspire farmers, while the collection of short social media videos will provide ongoing resources. Additionally, an Appalachian Seed Growers Collective has been formed, and they have received a CERES Foundation grant to cover administrative costs and equipment. The collective aims to support seed growers in the region with about 20-30 people interested and actively participating. There is also additional interest from farmers in other areas of North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee, highlighting the need for more community and support in Southeast seed growing.


Although the full economics of seed growing is a little unclear in the Southeast and further research is required, The Utopian Seed Project believes that developing regional seed hubs to directly support farmers is important and the logical next step. The formation of the Appalachian Seed Growers Collective is a step in this direction, and they aim to expand this work to ensure that regionally grown seeds are available to regional farmers, supporting both seed growers and farmers economically and environmentally.


According to their website, "2023 saw a collective grow along and resulted in 10 seed varieties being grown out by local farmers. In their seed shop, they are offering SEVEN of them below for a limited online packet sale until March 15 or until they run out of stock."

"We want regional farmers to grow regionally adapted or important seeds to be grown by regional farmers and gardeners."

To learn more about this project and others funded by Southern SARE, visit to search all projects. Education grants, like the one used for this project, accept applications in May. Currently (March 2024), the Graduate Student grant and Research and Education Pre-Proposal are open for applications. Learn about all of our grants at

All photos shared by The Utopian Seed Project.

View Related SARE Grant:

Topics: Beans, Farmer to Farmer, Okra, Seed Saving
Related Locations: North Carolina, South