Text from OFN presentations and Filipa Ferraz, OFN Ireland

Open Food Network (OFN) is a collaborative international network of local nonprofit organisations who codevelop open source software and knowledge, and make it available to food hubs worldwide through localized online platforms. The mission is to build shared digital infrastructure and shared knowledge to enable short food chain operators to manage their activities, cooperate more efficiently, and build food sovereignty. Just as consumers and producers come together to create food hubs in different forms (such as CSA – Community Supported Agriculture or Solidarity Biuting Groups), in OFN food hubs come together to create a digital infrastructure and share the use of it. We could talk about “Community Supported Software” and “Community Supported Knowledge”.

In practice, the software and platforms deployed with this software enable producers to manage their product catalogue and share them with multiple distributors (food hubs). Hubs can connect with one or multiple producers to list their products in a shop and organize collective sales, and get aggregated data to organize logistics and fulfil bulk or individual orders.The OFN community is in contact everyday with lots of food hubs, organized around diverse operational, economics, and logistics models. And food hubs need more than just a software tool to be efficient, and replicate. So we are building various products to support the development of the local and regenerative food sector, such as articles, reports and other deliverables from research programs and food system analysis; training material; marketing tools and guidelines, etc.

All those products are open source, but as a community, OFN offers services around those various products, through local democratically run multi-stakeholders cooperatives and collectives (the local OFN entities): Saas services based on the OFN software, consulting and trainings based on the sector development products, etc. This is the basis of their economic and governance models.

Powering a new food system: virtual farmers’ markets

The OFN open source platform enables new, ethical supply chains. Food producers can sell online, wholesalers can manage buying groups and supply produce through networks of food hubs and shops. Communities can bring together producers to create a virtual farmers’ market, building a resilient local food economy. People have used the power of this platform to create food collectives, manage food hub stock, or to take their farmers’ market online with pre-purchases to give stallholders more secure sales.

The OFN “vision” is that of a decentralized food system, made up with thousands of independent and diverse distribution hubs reconnecting producers to customers. A transparent food system where the flow of the food from farm to fork is made open, so we know who came in between, what margin they took, what value they added. Distribution is key as by structuring the demand and creating markets for local organic food, food hubs secure the installation of new producers, and the transition of conventional farmers toward regenerative agriculture practices. Production and distribution needs to move hand in hand, but it’s harder for farmers to change if they are not secured about if they will be able or not to sell their products…

A liquid organization… with a handbook

Legally speaking, the Open Food Network is a network of local entities who are together committed and engaged with one another to codevelop and maintain global commons, and to start with, the OFN software they all use. The contractual document here is our “community pledge“. Every entity who wants to be part of the Open Food Network community has to sign that pledge publicly.

OFN is a community with contributors in different countries, who work as peers, without any hierarchical relationship. By default, the organization is “liquid”, people can join and start contributing, some contribute a little bit for a very short time, some really commit and Open Food Network becomes their main daily occupation and livelihood. Contributors create value for the OFN commons, whether it be by contributing with pieces of code, with communication initiative, or with fund raising. The logic they aim to achieve is to be able as a community to credit the contributors for the value they bring. But before creating value, a new contributor most of the time needs support. Most of the the young OFNs are run mostly on volunteer time, but on the long run they should become economically viable and support the work that many are contributing to build. The supporters create value for the community by helping out newcomers.

The OFN community has documented the way it works, organizes, cooperates in this OFN handbook. It is regularly updated, whereas the discussions on this forum can quickly be messy and overwhelming, so the handbook is designed to capture all the decisions and processes that have come out of discussions on this forum or on global gatherings, etc. All the different forms of information and contributions can be found here: https://ofn-user-guide.gitbook.io/ofn-handbook/contribution-spaces-and-tools

Coming soon: OFN Europe

At the European level, OFN is already present in several countries (UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland) and “incubating” in others (Portugal, Sweden / Scandinavia, Poland, Netherlands and Russia). In november 2021, a European gathering was held as the need to come together around a support structure as a network was strongly felt, in order to represent themselves not only for funding but also in other platforms, reduce the convoluted way they are working now as separate entities.

A “task force” was formed to work on a proposal to form the European network, as a foundation, or a cooperative, or a social enterprise… many details are being discussed.