“Where are the local farms around me, what are they growing, and how can I buy their stuff?”
Those are pretty much the questions that my team and I were interested in answering, and we felt that, if we were wondering these things, so were others. That simple question (or string of them) is also what led us to joining the Hyperledger community and building our product in Hyperledger Sawtooth.
To answer the “farms question” we needed to 1) collect accurate information on farm and ranch locations, 2) build a database with this data, and 3) create an interface that allows people to answer these questions. With these three tasks in mind, we created All The Farms.
Fortunately, my cofounder, Chris Styles, and I had experience with collecting and standardizing data, as well as building APIs and tools to share this information. (Previously, I had cofounded the political database Run For Office, and Chris had led projects like Vuhaus). We still needed help to share the engineering load and provide UX/UI (thanks Szabi and Whitney), but we were able to fill those gaps with people who were equally as passionate about helping people connect with their local food economy. It’s been very personally gratifying to work on this site/database, and we will continue to work on improving it - because it’s a passion of ours.
So, why blockchain for this project? Well, our interest was kicked into gear last September by the IBM/Walmart announcement of their adoption of the Global Food Trust blockchain platform. As we thought about our role in this ecosystem - as a provider of data for local food options - we saw a changing landscape in logistics and traceability. We also recognised the importance of finding the right format for sharing the data we were collecting.
Adding the task of applying our data in a blockchain was daunting, but we were able to recruit an experienced blockchain developer to head up that effort. This is an area where being a smaller company has its advantages - no one expects you to have money, so you can hire with equity. Over the summer, we were fortunate to bring along someone who wanted this project, and our entire team has been able to learn about Hyperledger along with him. (Hi, Dan.)
Participating in something that creates greater transparency in the food system is what drives our team. We see the food consumer as being at a classic disadvantage due to the informational asymmetry in the food chain. Essentially, the consumer has less knowledge than just about everyone else in their transaction.
We were heartened to see Intel and Oregon State University collaborating on a traceability project for Oregon blueberries using Hyperledger Sawtooth. The fact of the matter is that Intel has a big presence in Oregon and at OSU, so it was easy for us to connect directly with people on this project. They gave us valuable feedback on our plans to put the data we were collecting into blockchain.
The logistical applications for blockchain are well known and important, but we also saw lateral applications of the technology that could help farms outside of traceability. One use case we are working on is using the value in blockchain for farm/ranch compliance record keeping.This application helps all the farms, not just the ones with the budgets for the full scale traceability use case. We also feel that producers can benefit from blockchain applications for Water Rights and have found a solid use case for tracking industrial hemp seed. Both of those projects we have underway with Oregon State University.
Most of our team has a personal and professional background with farms. Many come from farming families. Others have worked with state agencies in agriculture and ranching. Some have both of those experiences. I think that this type of understanding has allowed a flexibility in our thinking about blockchain and has led us to consider other projects that we feel can be widely beneficial for our farming communities.
What we want the Hyperledger community to know is that our data in Hyperledger Sawtooth is the starting point for other projects. It is meant to be used by logistics companies and institutional buyers that are looking to source locally. It is meant to have applications that help farmers and ranchers consolidate their records for compliance purposes. It is meant to connect our Hyperledger community directly with the real food producers and to figure out ways that we can best work together.
Lastly, climate change: it is real and the way we currently eat emits too many greenhouse gases and degrades our soil as well. A key piece of our work in data collection is identifying farms that use regenerative farming practices. We hope you use the regenerative agriculture filter for your personal shopping, and we also hope you’ll consider putting your technology skills towards a solution with regenerative agriculture. We invite you to collaborate with us and other like-minded allies in our Hyperledger community.
Jim Cupples is a cofounder at Terrapin Data, Inc. which has launched All The Farms. The All The Farms blockchain, built on Hyperledger Sawtooth, is a permissioned blockchain. Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in access or have comments or questions.