Introduction to Community-Supported Agriculture

Community-supported agriculture is an alternative economic model for the production and distribution of locally grown food. It originated in the 1980s in the north eastern United States, based on the concept of biodynamic agriculture first proposed by Rudolf Steiner. CSAs operate on a shared risk-reward model, in which a community of shareholders funds the operation of a local farm at the beginning of the growing season in exchange for weekly deliveries of fresh produce and other food products (such as eggs, dairy, meats, etc) over the course of the harvesting period.

Such an arrangement is beneficial for both the farmers, who are effectively insured against risks such as potential environmental factors leading to low crop yield, and consumers, who gain the ability to influence decisions such as crop production ratios to better suit the needs of the community. Ideologically, the original CSAs promoted new forms of communal land ownership, collaborative labor relationships, and locally-oriented economies which rely on direct farmer-consumer engagement. However, as CSAs have grown in number and size, the philosophical underpinnings have given way to more practical considerations, and today many organizations see it as primarily a marketing strategy.

Although community supported agriculture sounds like the perfect arrangement for both farmers and consumers, there are drawbacks to the model. Over-expansion is a common issue, since large farming operations require significantly more work to manage both the crops and the community. Farmers are not typically accustomed to running consumer-facing businesses, so managing a community of concerned shareholders can be a distraction from the maintenance of the farm. It is often difficult to maintain active community engagement, and perhaps even more difficult to achieve consensus within an engaged community. Shared risk can cause frustration if the harvest is small, especially if communication is inconsistent.

FarmShare Overview

FarmShare is an evolution of the community-supported agriculture model, which takes advantage of the blockchain’s potential for distributed consensus, token-based equity shares and automated governance in order to foster greater community engagement while removing some of the managerial burdens and financial risks from farmers involved in a CSA. The goal is to return to the fundamental goals of the original CSAs: to create new forms of property ownership, community cooperation, and locally self-sufficient economies.

FarmShare differs from both original and contemporary community-supported agriculture in several key ways. Rather than operating as a single farm, FarmShare serves as a platform for entire communities to create a parallel economy for the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of local food. Furthermore, shares are not purchased ahead of time at a flat fee, but rather earned by supporting and contributing to the local food system. Shares may be issued for volunteering on the farm, transporting food, contributing to a crowdfunding campaign, sharing processing equipment, participating in an educational workshop, and anything else a community assigns value to. Shares may be exchanged for food from a network of farmers markets, co-op stores, specialty markets, restaurants and food pantries

How it Might Work

Token 'Shares' FarmShare tokens, or ‘shares’, are the primary unit of value transfer upon which the blockchain CSA model relies. The token contract can use the general framework provided by the open-source Community Currency project, which establishes a treasury account for minting shares and a community account for managing membership, reputation, and paying community members for service. Shares may be minted when a new member joins the community, as in the Community Currency template. The treasury could also mint shares in response to messages from the ‘workshare’ contract indicating that a task has been completed successfully. The community will have to decide whether it is more appropriate to mint new shares to pay task bounties, pay them from the community fund, require that the creator of the task pay, or some combination of the three. The balance may shift over time, with the treasury minting new coins early on until the community fund has generated enough income. Members may be required to pay the bounty for certain tasks but not for others. For instance, the community may decide to reward people for attending an educational workshop from the community fund, whereas a farmer could be required to pay for access to another member’s processing facility.

Tasks, Rewards and Reputation Shares can be earned either by performing tasks, sharing resources, or selling products on the marketplace. Each of these methods can be built as a separate smart contract which communicates with the token contract to either transfer or mint new shares. The process of delegating tasks can be managed by assigning rewards (or bounties) to specific tasks, which allow community members to collect shares in return for their labor. This is similar to the ‘workshare’ component of traditional CSAs, but extends beyond farm work to include making deliveries, working at a co-op store, or repairing a piece of machinery. Members may compete to accomplish tasks for a smaller bounty, and may accumulate reputation for a job well done. Identity and reputation could be managed by an external DApp, such as uPort. Successful completion of a task would require both parties to send a transaction to the task contract, which would then trigger a message to the token contract to transfer or mint shares, as well as a message to the identity system indicating an increase in reputation for a job well done. Tasks that are accepted by a user but not completed may result in a reputation loss, while disputed tasks could be handled by a community conflict resolution board.

Resource Bank Shares can also be earned by sharing resources within the community, through a separate resource bank contract. Resources may include excess food (for donation rather than the market), compostable waste, farming equipment, processing facilities, land, etc. This component is intended to allow for a parallel economy based on the free exchange of resources as well as labor. A user may interact with the resource bank either to list a new resource or request access to a resource that has already been listed. The resource bank contract would message the identity system to verify the reputation of the user before confirming access. Each instance of a resource contract may contain parameters such as payment information, access length, restrictions, etc. For instance, one might offer to exchange some excess food in exchange for one-time access to a processing facility, or this may be scheduled on a weekly or monthly basis. The contract may then stipulate that the processor bring the resulting goods to market, in return for which both parties receive a percentage of the sale.

Marketplace Shares may be exchanged for food and other agricultural products through the marketplace feature. To some extent the experience may be similar to shopping on online farmers market platforms such as Farmigo or GoodEggs, where customers join a local community with a host that serves as a distribution hub. Users could have the option of viewing the entire supply chain associated with each food item. Producers may post a product on the market along with a description, price, quantity, and photos (via IPFS). Consumers may interact with the marketplace by claiming a product, which could involve holding the shares in escrow until both parties confirm the successful exchange. Community members may coordinate the exchange via an internal messaging feature or traditional modes of communication. If enough members opt for delivery to a community hub, the market contract could message the task contract to find transportation. Members may also leave reviews for particular vendors, customers, and products, which would cause the market contract to message the identity system and either add to or subtract from the user’s reputation.

Community Governance Decision-making within the community can be handled democratically, using a distributed governance application such as BoardRoom. Any member may table a proposal on the platform to be voted on by the rest of the community, with the ability to automatically enact proposals via smart contract once a predefined number of community members have approved it. The community may establish committees and subcommittees on any number of issues, which may have an electable chair, add or remove members based on community consensus, allocate funds according to tabled proposals, and revise its structure or bylaws as deemed necessary by the community. By default the community would have two independent boards for managing the treasury and community fund accounts. It may be effective to have multiple subcommittees to manage portions of the community budget associated with various subjects or sectors of the local food economy. For instance, dairy farmers, processors, and contributors to crowdfunding campaigns to support local milk and cheese initiatives may be added to a committee devoted to local dairy, which may have subcommittees for managing funding, marketing, processing, and distribution.

Supply Chain Data By incorporating agricultural IoT and blockchain technology throughout the supply chain, FarmShare could allow users to keep track of a wide array of data about their food. Agricultural sensors can monitor the environmental conditions and nutrient levels of crops over the course of a season, and the data can be stored in the blockchain to be reviewed at any time. Additional data, such as labor or transportation information, can also be tracked on the blockchain, allowing conscientious consumers to make decisions about their food based on ethical concerns about energy sustainability or fair labor practices. Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the provenance of the food that they purchase, which is one of the primary reasons that CSAs have grown in popularity over the past several decades. The local food movement grew out of a concern not just for the quality of the food but also for the energy burned and emissions caused by the transportation portion of the supply chain. The blockchain could allow users to know not only the farmer from whom they purchased a product, but also the quality of the soil and the air on his land, the source of the seeds and the fertilizer used to grow it, and the distance it traveled to get from farm to table.

Sullivan County Pilot Program

FarmShare will launch a pilot program in Sullivan County, NY in the spring of 2017, which will serve as an integral part of the design and development of the tools and protocols. Sullivan County is an interesting test site for several reasons. It is only two hours away from New York City by car, in the Catskills, providing easy access to urban farmers markets and restaurants. It is also an incredibly underserved area, with a dire need for an improved agricultural infrastructure. Despite its natural beauty and rich soils, the county’s economy has failed to recover from the lost tourism industry of the Borscht Belt. Sullivan has the second worst health rating among New York counties, higher only than the Bronx, and contains two food desserts. However, an increasing number of people are either buying a second home or moving to the Catskills from the city, inspired by the artistic community and agrarian homesteading mentality. As increased mobility (i.e. autonomous vehicles) brings even greater numbers from New York City to the country, Sullivan County stands poised for a dramatic revival, provided that it develops the necessary infrastructure.

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