The Open Food Network wants to change the way we connect with our food, by closing the gap between the consumer and the farmer and making it easier to access local food.
To bring about a sea change in food systems, it's not enough to just buy locally grown food, or to support small farmers in principle, although those efforts certainly help. But to really reconnect with our food and the people who grow it, it's important to be able to buy directly from the farmer, or from a smaller food hub, which can be somewhat difficult if you happen to miss the farmers market or live a fair distance from the farm or market.
With that in mind, a new networked solution could benefit the farmers, the smaller food hubs (distribution network and retail outlets), and the consumer, by connecting them together in a transparent and authentic manner. The Open Food Network (OFN) is designed with the needs of all three of these food system stakeholders in mind, and if it gets the traction it deserves, it could help to turn the food system on its head.
"Lots of people are working to break the stranglehold that supermarkets and large agribusiness have over our food system. We’ve spent 3 years talking with many farmers, producers, eaters and local enterprises (like food hubs, independent retailers and co-ops) about how we can work together to take back control of our food. The Open Food Network is our response.
By turning the existing food system on its head, the Open Food Network provides efficient ways for buyers (hubs) to connect with many smaller sellers (producers) and distribute food into their communities." - OFN
The OFN is a flagship project from the nonprofit Open Food Foundation, which was established to "develop and protect a commons of open source knowledge, code, applications and platforms for fair and sustainable food systems".
At the heart of the OFN project is the desire to put control of the food system back in to the hands of the eaters and the farmers, instead of in the clutches of large food distributors and retailers, and it comes with a full suite of tools for food producers and distributors alike. The OFN has components for managing and scheduling orders, taking payments and arranging for deliveries, and allowing farmers to list their own produce, to tell their stories, and to set their own prices.
These features address issues in local food sales and distribution that don't often get seen by the consumers (such as the logistics of getting the food from the soil to the table, while also keeping it fresh and affordable), but which can affect the functioning of local food systems. While there are plenty of places for people to get online listings for farmers markets and produce availability, this platform wants to also take care of the grower's needs, which is another important piece of the local food puzzle, and because the Open Food Network is an open source platform, the underlying code is publicly available to use or change to fit a location or situation.
The one weak link in many small farmer's operations is that because it does take quite a bit of time and effort to produce the food, there often isn't enough time in the day (especially during harvest season) to do all of the marketing, online sales, customer engagement, and promotional work as well. By rolling these elements into the OFN, it's possible for farmers to take advantage of this scalable solution, so that selling directly to consumers or food hubs, as well as managing the distribution of the food, can be easier than ever before.
A demo of the OFN platform is currently available online, which aims to show what's possible for local food networking, but in order to fully launch the project, and to make it available to more people around the world, the team is raising money through Start Some Good, which could enable them to finish fully fleshing out the software and prepare for a public launch.