24 Aug From Pasture to Porch: Trace the Journey of Your Food
Last Tuesday, chickens from Falling Sky in Leslie, Arkansas, were packaged at Natural State Processing—a traditional poultry processing facility in Clinton, Arkansas, that harvests all Grass Roots birds. That they were packaged in and of itself is not remarkable. This time of year, Grass Roots processes a batch or two of chickens every week. But last week’s harvest was significant because it was the first time that every single package was printed with tracking information supported by blockchain technology.
“Sounds cool,” you may think. “But what the heck is blockchain?” If you don’t work in tech or the financial sectors, this term probably isn’t one you’re terribly familiar with. So, here’s an infographic that’s a pretty good summary.
Basically, blockchain is a way to keep records that allows the information stored to be public and verified. It’s like an enormous, shared spreadsheet of interactions that’s fact-checked and easily visible. Proponents of the technology claim that it will revolutionize our economy and our social systems. (Check out this Fortune article for more details.)
What does all of this have to do with food systems? Right now, very little. Not a lot of food companies are working with the technology, but we expect that will soon change. Recently, Wal-mart and IBM and a few other big food companies announced that they are testing a blockchain-based project that allows them to curb instances of foodborne illness by more quickly tracing an outbreak back to it’s source. This is an internal application that certainly benefits consumers but it does so largely without them ever knowing it. Grass Roots is using the technology to empower our community of conscientious eaters. By putting tracking information on each package, we give users access to the supply chain and the individual stories of the people at each point in the journey from pasture to porch.
Every package of Grass Roots chicken and turkey—harvested after August 15th— is labeled with both a QR code and a shortened that link to the journey of that specific bird.
From this blockchain-backed platform you can see where the chicken was raised, when and where it was harvested, and how many other birds were raised with it and processed on the same day. The transactions of ownership between farmer, processor, and Grass Roots show exactly how the meat traveled through our supply chain. And you can also click into the farmer and processor accounts to learn more about their stories and their values.
This level of transparency is unprecedented for a meat company in the United States. Though Provenance—the U.K.-based tech firm that built and hosts this blockchain platform—is working with a few other food producers worldwide, so far none have implemented it at the product level. And while we expect other companies will soon be using blockchain tech for internal tracking purposes and supply chain and data management, it will be interesting to see who is willing to share their details with consumers.
Grass Roots’s careful attention to animal husbandry and land management make our meats unique, and we want people who care about food issues and health to understand how we’re different. We operate under a policy of total transparency so that conscientious eaters can make informed decisions about their foods, and we hope that using blockchain tech furthers our efforts make our foods accessible.