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

Generating Urban Food Systems Solutions
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.

Matching Funders

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

The Latest


Our Insights highlight unique perspectives from across for food and agriculture community.

See all Insights

Supporting low-income families during the pandemic: Can emergency feeding programs effectively provide food security during school closures?

Erin Love, Dr. Becca Jablonski, Marion Kalb

PIP is Pioneering Indoor Agriculture Collaborations

John Reich, Ph.D.

Scientific Program Director Urban Food Systems

Feedback Loops and Food Access

Gwendolyn Donley

2019-2022 FFAR Fellow


The latest news and updates from FFAR.

See all News

Researchers Investigate the Promise of Food Procurement

Pairing Regenerative Farming and Solar Energy Production to Improve Urban Resilience

FFAR Grant Develops Premium Strawberry Flavors for Indoor Growing Environments

FFAR & Schmidt Futures Release Report to Advance a Circular U.S. Bioeconomy

FFAR & WUR Launch Nature-Based Future Challenge

FFAR Grant Advances Equitable Food Access

FFAR Grant Addresses Food Waste Reduction Challenges

PIP Consortium Promotes Indoor Tomato Farming

FFAR is Accepting Pre-Proposals for 2022 Seeding Solutions Program

FFAR Pioneers Vertical Farming to Grow Food in Cities, Other Nontraditional Spaces

Novel Technology Connects Buyers to Farmers

FFAR is Accepting Pre-Proposals for Seeding Solutions 2021

FFAR’s Precision Indoor Plants Consortium Launches Initial Lettuce Project

FFAR Grant Advances Urban Food Systems Through Community Networks

FFAR-Funded Study Promotes Food Security During Pandemic

FFAR Funds Emergency Research to Address Coronavirus

Ohio State Mansfield and FFAR Launch $2 Million Food System Project

Precision Indoor Plants (PIP) Consortium to Revolutionize Agriculture

FFAR Awards $4.4 Million to Research Teams Working to Transform Food Systems in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Texas to Deliver Better Health, Economic Opportunities for Urban Communities

FFAR and AgLaunch Host Convening Event in Memphis to Prioritize Research and Commercialization Objectives for Cropping Systems of the Future


Tools, technologies and strategies from the research we fund.

See all Breakthroughs

Emergency Food Provision for Children & Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Breakthrough for Integrating Community and Modeling Efforts to Evaluate Impacts and Tradeoffs of Food System Interventions

Want to do more to support our pioneering research?