By Julie Francis
A new initiative coming out of Melbourne, and reaching across the world, is the Open Food Network, – aiming to put some access to the food value chain back into the hands of farmers and link their products to consumers.
The Open Food Network is an open, online marketplace that makes it easy to find, buy, sell and move food. It gives farmers and food hubs easier and fairer ways to distribute food, while opening up the supply chain so consumers can see what is going on.
The software is being created as open source, so any one can use it and further develop it, and is not for profit.
The philosophy behind the project is to provide an alternative conduit to food sourcing, provide transperancy for the food production system between the farmer, retailer and consumer, and help break the stranglehold that supermarkets and large agribusiness have over the food system, figure 1.
Figure 1: The Open Food Network is designed to give average size and small size farmers greater market access to the value chain especially when they have a story to tell consumers about their production systems.
Founders of the project, Kirsten Larsen and Serenity Hill, say that there is currently a big gap between selling through “the big guys” or farmers doing everything themselves to distribute directly to consumers, such as setting up and running their own online store, farm gate sales and farmers’ markets. For many farmers this type of direct marketing takes too much time and has too many hurdles particularly for smaller businesses whose supply is limited.
Larsen and Hill suggest that farmers need scalable, sustainable systems for distributing their food. The software that they are developing will make it easier for farmers to sell directly and work together and with others with similar ethical and environmental approaches (like food hubs) to streamline marketing and distribution, while maintaining full transparency and control. With the Open Food Network, farmers will have the freedom to set prices, choose who they trade with, when, how often and under what terms.
A crowd-sourcing campaign is underway until early August 2014, to raise funds to further develop the software so that it is ready to launch. The project has been building for three years now, and is informed by a range of farmers, food hub coordinators and consumers. Work to date has also been supported by a grant from VicHealth and Sustainable Table. A UK food hub is about to test the product, see here.
However the crowd funding is needed to finalise the software development. An additional $25,000 will get the software to a point where an ‘open beta’ Open Food Network service can be launched in Australia (open to anyone in Australia to use for profiles and basic trading). The money raised will go towards designers, engineers, developers and testers.
Additional funds raised, up to $100K, will build the features needed for a full beta public launch in March 2015.
Anyone can pledge to support the project at this website. Depending on the value of the pledge farmers can get promotion on the website and involvement in further product design. If the project does not reach the tipping point goal of $25,000, no money will be deducted from the supporters’ credit cards.
The Open Food Network:
- is an online marketplace that farmers and local hubs can use to distribute food
- makes it easier to find, buy, sell and move sustainable local food
- is software that helps organise the trade and distribution of locally grown food
- lets you manage your ordering, scheduling, payment and delivery cycles
- lets eaters order locally grown food from their chosen hub
- puts eaters in touch with the people who grow their food
- lets farmers list their own produce, set their prices and tell their own stories
- basic trading is free for farmers and eaters to use
- is proudly open source and not for profit
See information here from an early crowd funding campaign.