Open Food Network Ireland
The OGI caught up with Evonne from the Open Food Network Ireland to find out more about the initiative.
What is the Open Food Network?
Open Food Network is a community-owned software platform that is built for selling food, though it can also be used to sell non-food or artisan craft products. It can be either a shopfront for individual food enterprises or a community hub of farmers and other local producers working together.
When and by whom was the Open Food Network established?
Open Food Network was founded in 2012 in Australia but is now an international community that is locally-led across the world. Together, we develop open and shared resources, knowledge and software to support a better food system.
What is Open Food Network’s vision?
We believe a sustainable and resilient food system needs to reconnect producers and consumers. We aim to empower people and communities and give them the tools and knowledge to develop the food systems they need for their communities and local economies.
Our flagship project is an open-source, user-owned software platform that makes it easy to create innovative, independent, community food enterprises. The software can be used by farmers setting up their own online stores, but it’s designed to help farmers collaborate and sell together, to create thriving, viable enterprises. People have used the power of this feature to create food collectives, manage food hubs – places which offer customers access to goods from a wide variety of local producers in one central location – to take their farmers’ market online with pre-purchases to give stallholders more secure sales, and more.
We know that good food can transform our planet and our society. We also know that making values-driven food enterprise work takes commitment, perseverance, partnerships and support. The Open Food Network community wants to help you to make values-driven food enterprises thrive.
How has the Open Food Network evolved since its establishment?
What started as a software development project to meet a specific need of food producers in Australia has grown into a worldwide community with a mission to build stronger and fairer food systems in almost 20 countries. The challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020 drove many food producers and outlets to seek an online solution and this led to an explosion of demand and trade for OFN internationally. The pandemic has been followed by a severe cost of living crisis which is putting pressure on the viability of a lot of those food enterprises which grew and thrived during the lockdowns. This has presented new challenges to the OFN community of collaborators and platform users. Many have found opportunities for their community food enterprises to support those in food insecurity and struggling to access quality local food at an affordable price. Addressing food injustice has also become a key mission for the OFN community worldwide.
What’s in store for the Open Food Network in the future?
We look forward to welcoming more collaborators into the OFN project, growing the Open Food Ireland Co-operative and expanding the communities where local food is readily available and growers enjoy a secure route to market and a fair price for their efforts.
Over the coming year the OFN Ireland are working with partners Sonairte and Cloughjordan Community Farm to develop a toolkit to support communities establish Regional Food Hubs. These Hubs have the potential to act as key drivers in the community response to addressing challenges such as food inequality, the loss of rural livelihoods, and the fragility of existing food supply chains. This programme is supported by the Communities Climate Action Programme and will be a very useful resource for communities seeking to play an active role in improving their own food sovereignty and climate resilience.
We are also active members in the Feeding Ourselves network, a community of practice for regenerative, community led and cooperative local food initiatives on the island of Ireland. With the support of The Wheel we are working with others to strengthen the local food sector via a series of capacity building sessions, monthly peer to peer support sessions and the annual get together at Cloughjordan Eco-Village, taking place this year on 25th &26th of March. There’s also a network bulletin people can sign up to here https://mailchi.mp/22e72a7c7d25/feeding-ourselves-bulletin
For farmers growing fruit and vegetables commercially; how can they sell their produce via the Open Food Network?
If you are a grower who would like to sell your produce on the OFN you can navigate directly to the shop-front registration page on the website at www.openfoodnetwork.ie . From there you create your profile, add some information about your enterprise, upload your product details and choose your payment method.
You can also opt to supply an existing Hub or indeed collaborate with neighbouring growers and producers to aggregate your products and offer local customers a more convenient shopping alternative.
Why is it of benefit to growers to sell their produce via Open Food Network?
The Open Food Network software has been built specifically for selling food so it can handle tricky measures or stock levels that only food has. It allows growers to set their prices at a fair rate and gives them control over their route to market logistics, whether that be via farm gate collections, a drop-off point or a delivery service.
And what’s just as important as the software itself are the values that underpin it. If you’re trying to build a new food system – as a farmer, farmers’ market, or food hub – then why would you choose software that isn’t also contributing to a fairer food system? By working collectively rather than competitively, we share the costs of developing new software, and we ensure that our project is more resilient than the many other proprietary models that have fallen over since we started. The OFN is community owned – in Ireland by the Open Food Ireland Cooperative members – not for profit and open source.
OFN is more than just an e-commerce platform. It’s a movement for a stronger, fairer, more resilient local food system in Ireland. By using the platform you are joining that movement and we are supporting each other in this critical work in our communities.
How can growers and farmers collaborate with one another via Open Food Network?
The first step to building collaboration is by creating a network of food producers and shops via our map. Growers and Farmers can set up their free profiles on the OFN map to let others know where they are and what they do, including whether they are open to collaborations.
The OFN platform functionality is designed especially so food producers can create an online shop, collect payments, and sell through other shops on the platform. Wholesalers can integrate with existing systems, manage buying groups and supply produce through national or regional networks of food hubs and shops. Communities can bring together producers in their area to create a Community Food Hub, building a resilient local food economy.
For people that are passionate about local food and would like to support their local food producers to sell their produce in their communities, how can they get involved with setting up a hub via Open Food Network?
People have used the power of OFN to create food collectives, manage food hub stock, or to take their farmers’ market online with pre-purchases to give stallholders more secure sales. Using OFN Community Food Enterprises across the world are tackling issues such as food inequality, supporting livelihoods and building their community’s resilience.
If you’d like to chat about how we can support you to do this in your own community, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can someone buy local food produce via the Open Food Network?
Logging on to www.openfoodnetwork.ie you will find the map of all farmers, producer shop-fronts and hubs which are registered with the network. You can either select the producers nearest to you geographically or use the ‘Shops’ drop-down to see the list of open shops or search for a specific shop-front. If your local farmer is not registered or hasn’t yet opened their OFN shop-front you can encourage them to do so. If you don’t have a local hub offering a variety of locally produced food maybe you could work with your community centre, farmers market or like-minded local shoppers to get one up and running. We can help you with that and would be delighted to hear from you.