By Carolyn Dugas
We had the joy of participating in an all-hands-on-deck work day out at Franny’s Farm a few weeks ago. We lent our hands to The Utopian Seed Project, a local non-profit organization focused on increasing food security through supporting crop diversity.
The Utopian Seed Project is running crop trials at Franny’s this year in order to observe a large number of rare and heirloom seed varieties. Based on this year’s observations, about 25% of the varieties will be selected for a more thorough testing of yields, drought tolerance, etc. in the upcoming years. The ultimate goal is to find varieties that will thrive in the changing climate of the Southeast.
When we arrived at Franny’s, we were hoping to set up a no-till system, but unfortunately the cover crop that was planted wasn’t enough to suppress the weeds and we were forced to pull out the tiller. Mark & Tiffany did a great job wrangling the unwieldy machine and tilled 4x360ft rows in no time. The rows are tucked between the entrance road and a small burbling creek next to Franny’s iconic LOVE barn. We think the crops will get all the love they need to survive and really thrive.
Once the rows were tilled we helped the groundnuts (Apios americana), cucumbers, okra, beans, and cowpeas settle into their new homes. The seeds come from a variety of sources including the collections of Yanna Fishman, Dr. Blackmon, Stephen Smith and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Our very own Sow True seeds are part of the trials and they are in good company!
It was thrilling to see the diversity amongst the seeds that we planted. Most noticeable at this stage were the beans which spanned the rainbow from electric pink to sulphur yellow to cream with deep purple spots. To collect such a range of beans, Chris, the Executive Director of The Utopian Seed Project, reached out to his personal network of Bean Enthusiasts who gladly sent in their prized legumes.
Meanwhile, up by the big barn, we planted some of the splashier specimens for visitors to admire. Although only the tiny sprouts were visible after the planting, in a few weeks the beds will be filled with the magnificent foliage of taro, turmeric, arrowroot, yacon and more. These tropical perennials come from the collection of Board Member Yanna Fishman and are being tested for their potential as annual crops here in the mountains of North Carolina.
Luckily after all that planting we were able to relax with some Lebanese food and libations. Gypsy Queen, Noble Cider, and Buchi were kind enough to donate picnic supplies to our crew of seed wranglers. As we relaxed by the tiny duck pond, the cow moos and chicken squawks of Franny’s Farm drifted above us and lazy clouds wandered through the mountains.
It was great to be able to get our hands dirty in the name of crop diversity and help out a wonderful non-profit at the same time. We can’t wait to see how the trials progress and we look forward to returning to Franny’s fabulous farm!