With the demand for quality local food on the increase we were delighted when Open Food Network got in touch to tell us their open source food hub software is now available to small businesses here in the UK. Nick Weir gives us the low down.

We think that if we are going to work towards Food Sovereignty we need a fairer, more collaborative system for distributing food.   Ten years ago in Stroud we set up an online cooperative Food Hub (called Stroudco) as a route to market for the growing number of small-scale growers and farmers in the Stroud  District.

Stroudco has recently shifted its online distribution system to the Open Food Network (OFN) and we think that OFN has the potential to revolutionise how food distribution happens.

One of the farmers using OFN in Stroud is Mark Harrison who is part of the farm team at Stroud Community Agriculture.  Stroud Community Agriculture is a community led CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project farming 50 acres of land and employing 3 full-time-equivalent farmers.  SCA sells its surplus vegetables through OFN enabling local people who are not able to commit to a CSA veg share to access the delicious biodynamic vegetables and meat produced on the farm.  Mark says “we are pleased to be able to sell our surpluses through OFN and be part of a co-operative of local producers building an increasingly strong local food economy.”


Mark Harrison with a delivery for OFN

OFN is open source, internet-based software which is owned and managed as a not-for-profit commonwealth of UK food enterprises.  The software was developed as part of  the charitable Open Food Foundation in Australia by food policy activists and is designed to be very flexible; facilitating food distribution for multiple business models including small-scale producers, CSAs, farmers’ markets, local shops, food hubs, food co-ops and anyone making food to sell direct to public.

Growers and farmers can use OFN to;

  • sell produce direct to the public or though other OFN shopfronts in the area (maybe farmers’ markets, shops or food co-ops in the area who are using OFN);

  • offer their customers additional produce supplied by other producers locally;

  • manage distribution, invoicing, customer accounts and other administration.

Some of the farmers using OFN are making use of the direct connection to shoppers by organising ‘farm days’ to invite local people onto the farm to help with jobs like hay-making and harvesting

Because so many different types of user can be part of the Network there are multiple cross-selling and distribution opportunities between users.  This results in huge opportunities to reduce food miles and distribution costs and increases sales volumes for all members of the Network.  This in turn brings down the price of food for the shoppers.

OFN is built to maximise transparency in the distribution Network so that shoppers can find out who is growing their food and who is making what margin on the price they are paying for it.   This transparency also reduces the need for costly external certification processes to reassure shoppers of the quality and provenance of their food.

OFN is now rolling out across the UK thanks to funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the OFN users who have already piloted the system successfully with three UK food hubs are inviting new users to be part of this revolution.

If you want to sell direct to the public then you need to open a ‘shopfront’ with which you will have a six month free trial and then need to pay £20 per year (or £40 if you are a profit-making business) for your shopfront.  In addition, if your turnover through OFN goes over £5,000 per year then you need to pay OFN 2% of that turnover (or 4% if you are a profit-making business)

Photography by Michael Dannenberg

More Information

This is a brief summary of the ethics of OFN and here is more detail on how it is being rolled out in the UK.

You can sign up to regular updates on progress with OFN UK here or contact us direct at hello@openfoodnetwork.org.uk or 01453 840037

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