Open Market Consortium: Creating Economic Opportunities for Small and Mid-size Growers

Generating Urban Food Systems Solutions

Program Contact

Dr. John Reich

Connie Bowen


Year Awarded   2020

FFAR award amount   $2,000,000

Total award amount   $4,000,000

Location   Memphis, TN

Matching Funders   AgLaunch, Mississippi State University, The Seam, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee State University, Wallace Center at Winrock International

  • Urban Food Systems

Opening Markets for Small and Mid-size Specialty Crop Growers

For the past decade, consumer demand for local specialty crops has created unique economic opportunities for small and mid-size farmers. However, the disconnect between farmers’ supply and institutional buyers’ demand is problematic for farmers who lack the financial resources to bear the risk of increasing specialty crop production. New technologies are needed to scale up regional production of diverse produce.

The Open Market Consortium for Specialty Crops (OMC) is a group of institutions, farmers and non-governmental organizations focused on the research and piloting of an open-source supply-demand framework that uses blockchain technology, which allows for decentralized, transparent historical records of assets. The framework helps establish protocols for specialty crop markets and allows intermediaries to connect small farmers and institutional buyers, enabling profitable regional specialty crop production.

OMC members are concerned that new technology like blockchain is being incorporated into food supply chains in ways that benefit larger farming and retail businesses, further limiting small producers and purchasers’ ability to participate in local and regional markets. An open-source, decentralized distributed ledger will enable OMC to expand the opportunities for crop diversification, economic development, increased biodiversity and markets that are easier for small, mid-size and beginning farmers to enter.

Why this research is important

The OMC project enables regional specialty crop markets to scale by simplifying contracting between buyers and specialty crop growers. The project will:

  • Enable growers to monetize special crop attributes, such as “local” or “heirloom,” giving them access to higher returns on crop investment.
  • Open opportunities for growers to access new markets and provide more products and services.
  • Connect institutional buyers with reliable specialty crop producers, providing consistent supply of difficult-to-obtain products.
  • Digitize product attributes to allows institutional buyers to valuate products quickly and consistently.
  • Link demand with supply to ensure nutritional, affordable produce for consumers.
  • Meet consumer demands for products from farms that demonstrate environmental and social practices.
  • Combine standards with traceability and transparency to respond to consumer food safety concerns.
  • Improve supply chain organization to reduce food waste and lessen greenhouse gases from rotting produce and transportation emissions.
Traceability, de-commoditization, and regional food systems are often talked about as the end goal in today’s agrifood environment, but how do we actually attain those aspirational buzzwords? The answer is open-source smart contracts connecting growers and buyers deployed by, with, and for diverse stakeholders. Connie Bowen
Director of Innovation, AgLaunch

Details About this Research

OMC will examine the contractual elements farmers and institutional purchasers need to reduce transactional risk and to better assess consumer demand for products with unique attributes.

Using tamper-proof smart contracts, OMC will help farmers gain access to new markets, expand regional agricultural systems and increase institutional purchasing of local foods.


  • Build a specialty crop market through an open-source, decentralized application (“dApp”) with future growth through open technical collaboration.
  • Bring together multiple specialty crop growers and institutional buyers in the southern US with agreed upon standards.
  • Fully understand the barriers to stakeholder (farmer and buyer) participation in an open-source market.
  • Determine the technology, tools and resources producers and buyers need to participate in the market.
  • Develop products informing users of the benefits of the tool and how to access it.

How This Research Contributes to Our Mission

We build partnerships to advance science that expands access to affordable and nutritious food. We are investing in this research to open new market opportunities for small growers providing healthy, in-demand specialty crops.

Matching Funders

AgLaunch, Mississippi State University, The Seam, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee State University, Wallace Center at Winrock International

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