Conservation Sustainability

Climate City 2020: A Penny for Your Planet

By Joshua Blanco

Nonprofits across the region are working tirelessly to do what they can with the amount they’re given. And that’s not always a lot. As we transition into the season of giving, it’s important for us to remember the organizations that work to protect and preserve our planet.

While it’s true the sprawling farms and eco-forward citizens clustered in towns like Asheville are great examples of what make our region so sustainable, without the work of our local nonprofits, our reality would be nothing short of a dream. “It’s one thing to do the research, but it’s another thing to have people care about that research,” says Chris Smith, executive director of The Utopian Seed Project, a local nonprofit exploring genetic diversity in seeds with the intention of addressing a lack of resilience in the modern food system. “Caring about that research is what’s going to change minds and change systems and, hopefully in the long run, change the climate.”

Green Built Alliance member Olivette, a 346-acre planned community along the French Broad River. Photo by A Shot Above of WNC

Smith’s nonprofit recently partnered on a project breeding dahlia tubers—specialized storage stems found on certain plants—for food. Dahlias grow plentifully in the region and act as a great source for attracting pollinators. They can also feed humans, and local restaurants like Cúrate are already on board, exploring ways to incorporate both Smith’s crops and philosophy into their menus. “Doing the work to not only grow it, but also share it in a way that people are going to be excited about—that’s where we’re bringing a little extra energy to the table,” Smith says.

His work couldn’t have come at a better time. The most recent North Carolina Climate Science Report projects higher than average temperatures statewide—a trend that is almost certain to continue. The authors also predict more frequent and severe droughts coupled with periods of more extreme precipitation in the WNC region, underscoring the importance of our nonprofits. “The work we’re doing is critical for the future of our climate,” Smith says.

These important organizations were also deeply impacted by the pandemic. “We were all just scrambling to figure out how we were going to adapt,” says Sam Ruark-Eastes, executive director of Green Built Alliance in Asheville. “Some nonprofits have fared pretty well, and others haven’t.”

The same can be said about people­—an issue Ruark-Eastes is making a point to address. As part of the organization’s goal to “create a clean energy future for all of Western North Carolina,” Green Built Alliance is pouring resources into helping those struggling to help themselves, focusing on energy-intensive homes and making them more eco-friendly and cost-effective. “Donations come in to our organizations to serve that purpose,” he says. “People who have these issues, we’re really here to support them in their effort to make that transition.”

Appalachian Offsets, a program Green Built revived in 2016, raised money for the construction of a 600-kilowatt solar system used to power Isaac Dickson Elementary, North Carolina’s first net-zero-energy school. It’s a good lesson in what happens when people decide to give; an example of how one small seed can blossom into a bountiful harvest. As Smith puts it, “Even if something is a complete failure, we don’t see it that way because we’ve learned something and we can share that knowledge with others.”

To donate to either of these organizations, visit or go to

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