New Food Marketplace Rewards Farmers for Multiple Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture

(Durham, NC – January 27, 2022) Most of today’s agricultural markets focus on transacting in food quantity rather than quality. In doing so, they don’t reflect agriculture’s full impact on both human and ecological health. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has just awarded a $690,000 Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to contribute to the development of a new digital marketplace where food products with distinctive quality attributes are bought and sold. The transparent prices discovered in this marketplace will create new market signals and reward farmers for adopting more regenerative practices.

The new project will be co-led by Croatan Institute and Nourishn, along with partners MarketSquare and the Bionutrient Food Association. This group will provide an additional $837,000 of direct investment and in-kind support, leveraging the USDA investment into over $1.5M for this new market platform.

“CIG partners are using the latest science and research to come up with solutions that work for farmers, ranchers and foresters and help ensure the longevity of American agriculture,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “Innovation is key to addressing the climate crisis and conserving the natural resources we all depend on.”

This two-year project will develop and test market responses to quality attributes, such as the nutritional value and environmental outcomes of regenerative farming practices, that are tied to farm products like carrots or beef. The aim is to reflect many of the environmental, social, and health related qualities of farmed foods that are often not part of today’s food transactions. MarketSquare will trade these “Product-Attribute Bundles” on its digital platform, Smart Food Chain. “The key to Smart Food Chain is discovering fair, transparent prices for non-commodity food products,” said Mark Drabenstott, MarketSquare’s Chairman and co-founder. The market value attached to these various food quality attributes will create new rewards for farmers and stimulate innovation, helping move society toward a wider Nourishment Economy that accelerates cycles of biological, cultural, and economic vitality.

Initial launch of the project will facilitate over 1,000 transactions that integrate this new information tied to farm products in the marketplace, including nutritional value, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and demographic characteristics of the farmers themselves, and others.

The project team envisions that this market price discovery will also make regenerative farming practices not only more profitable but bankable. This new market tool particularly advantages small- and mid-sized farmers, with market pricing boosting income for these growers and reducing their risk, increasing investment in them as well.

“This project converges years of learning about the science and the economics of healthy relationships between land and people,” according to Nourishn founder and President

David Strelneck. “We’re extremely excited to roll it out and see how producers and consumers react.”
Authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill, the USDA CIG program helps develop the tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. More information can be found at their website:


Croatan Institute

Croatan Institute is an independent, nonprofit research and action institute whose mission is to build social equity and ecological resilience by leveraging finance to create pathways to a just economy. The Institute’s interdisciplinary team has developed a reputation for delivering rigorous research and actionable insight working on issues at the intersection of finance and social equity and inclusion, climate change solutions, farming and forestry, food systems, institutional accountability, business and human rights, and resilient communities, as well as by developing useful frameworks and data analytics for sustainable and impact investing. More information at:


Nourishn supports, analyzes, designs, and promotes initiatives built around the great many social and economic benefits that come from fostering nutritional relationships between land and people. Its network of independent enterprises, the Nourishment Economies Coalition, includes some of the world’s most innovative regenerative farming, biodiversity and environmental stewardship, waste recycling, and economic development initiatives. More information at:


MarketSquare is a Colorado company founded to give farmers better markets and consumers better nutrition through its Smart Food Chain. This includes a digital exchange for food products with distinct attributes, including nutrient density and how the food was grown. Prices for these products are discovered through real-time bid/ask among farmers and many food buyers, including grocers, hospitals, schools and households. Smart Food Chain also authenticates food products from farm to buyer using blockchain technology. More information at:

Bionutrient Food Association

The Bionutrient Food Association (BFA) is the globe’s leading organization focused on nutrient density. With a mission of “increasing quality in the food supply” the BFA has established preliminary definitions of nutrient variation in over 20 crops and shown direct connections between those nutrient variations, soil health and management practices. As well, the BFA works with growers to understand “Principles of Biological Systems” through its courses, workshops, local chapters, and annual Soil and Nutrition conference. More information at:

Contact: David LeZaks, Ph.D. | Senior Fellow at Croatan Institute | | (919) 794-7440 X 104