Update from Partner – Open Food Network

By Nick - Open Food Network

In this Article...

New food systems for the world – starting locally

One of the big challenges for the future of our amazing planet is whether we humans can find better ways of feeding ourselves; 

  • ways that respect natural laws, 
  • ways that honour all species and forms of nature,
  • ways that are fair to the people producing our food,
  • ways that make sure that everyone has enough to eat, 
  • ways that spread the wealth evenly across all the stakeholders between field and plate.

In 2012 two women were working on food policy in the Australian Government.  They became increasingly concerned at the state of mainstream global food systems and decided to start to build a toolkit to enable people to build alternative food systems from the bottom up.

Since then a worldwide community of farmers, growers, community food enterprises and software experts have come together around that vision and these values.  We now have a huge resource base including an open source software platform that is enabling short food supply chains in communities in 16 countries worldwide with another 12 countries planning deployment and 23 countries wanting to deploy when the resources are available to support them.

In the UK the OFN so far has 2,158 producers, 146 food hubs (see below) and 14,649 shoppers (households) and buyers (schools, hospitals, cafes, etc.)

The Open Food Network (OFN) exists to enable healthy and connected communities to build more resilient, diverse and secure food systems that nourish everybody and regenerate the planet.  Our flagship project is an open-source e-commerce platform tailored specifically to community food enterprises and local food producers.  But we’re not just a software platform; we also create shared resources, facilitate community learning opportunities, host events and contribute research to build the evidence base for short supply chains and community-driven food systems.

We believe that if we are going to build new food systems for the world we need to build them with fundamentally different tools than the tools used to build the current, broken mainstream food system.  This means addressing the issues of ownership and control that are at the root of many of the failures of current global food systems…..

There are many software systems that enable short food supply chains.  However most of them are proprietary.  This means that they are owned and controlled by an individual or a company.  All of them start from very similar ethics to the Open Food Network.  But because they are privately owned, and that ownership can change hands, there is a risk that these systems will be taken away or made inaccessible.  This has happened several times in recent years (e.g. Farm Drop and Food Assembly).

In contrast, the Open Food Network is open source which means that it is owned and controlled by the people using the platform.  They decide how much people will pay to use the platform.  They decide the future direction of development.  The OFN platform can never be sold off, withdrawn or taken over.  Anyone can deploy the platform from the open source repository here.

So what does it work in practice?
Food producers can quickly and easily register for free on the OFN – more details here

We define food producers very broadly. 

  • Some of them are field-scale growers and farmers,
  • some are people with occasional surpluses from their gardens and allotments
  • Some of them enjoy making jam or cakes and want to make a bit of money selling what they make
  • We have bakers, brewers, foragers, orchard stewards, gleaners, skip divers… in fact anyone who wants to contribute to the food system in their own way

Food producers can do either or both of the next steps;

  • They can set up their own shop on the OFN and either arrange for shoppers and buyers to collect from them or arrange pick up points or delivery systems and/or
  • Producers can also/instead contact any of the expanding network of Food Hubs that are selling on the OFN and ask them to add their products to the Food Hub shopfront.  The Food Hub will take orders from their shoppers and buyers and send a regular purchase order to the producer who will then harvest/prepare the produce to order (with no waste because everything is pre-ordered and pre-paid) and arrange for it to be collected or delivered to the hub for distribution

Food Hubs pay between zero (for start-ups) to a small percentage of turnover to help cover the running costs of the platform.  Food hubs take many forms:

  • Producer hubs = producers selling not just their own produce but also produce from other local producers
  • Online farmers’ markets – maybe supplementing a face to face market but including even small-scale producers who would not be able to afford a stall at the market.  By allowing online ordering, people who cannot (or prefer not to) come to the market can still order local produce.
  • Community food hubs with a single shopfront for lots of local producers.  Some of these will use a school hall on evenings or weekends as the distribution point, some will use a community hall.  The hubs will make a small mark-up on the producers’ selling prices to enable them to pay workers to sort and deliver the food orders.
  • High street or village shops who want to sell fresh local produce as well as store cupboard items.  By taking pre-orders online they can ensure that the produce is very fresh and when shoppers come to colelc ttheir orders they will buy other items from the shop.
  • Food banks and community larders distributing free or low cost food
  • Food co-ops and Buying Groups ordering bulk produce at wholesale prices and then splitting the produce between their members

All of these types of food hubs and all of the producers are joined together in a network (like the mycelium of a mushroom) which means that they can link together to sell and distribute each other’s products. 

This enables regional food systems to grow organically.  Here is an example of how those individual networks start to connect to each other to the mutual benefit of the producers, the shoppers/buyers and the food hubs.

Click here for an example of food hubs that are serving public sector buyers (hospitals, schools, etc.)

But the OFN is more than just an open-source e-commerce platform created specifically for food enterprises.  It is a growing community of passionate people working in their local communities then sharing their experience, knowledge and wisdom on how to create healthy and connected communities that build more resilient, diverse and secure food systems to nourish everybody and regenerate the planet.

There is a huge knowledge bank building up within the OFN community.  This expertise covers all aspects of local food systems design and implementation.  Here is a sample

One of the unintended side effects of building the OFNetwork is that we have developed new ways of working as the Network has spread so rapidly around the world (turnover through the platform went up by 850% in the first seven weeks of COVID lockdown).  We are committed to systems that share ownership and control so we have found ways to apply this to the internal working of the OFN.  We make all decisions using sociocratic methods and find that people bring so much more of themselves to their work when they feel a sense of agency and ownership of what we are building.  We have no bosses – we have circles of responsibility instead.  More on that here.

Contact us – we would love to talk to you








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