The Open Food Network

Sometimes the best way to fix the system is to start a new one

By The Biodynamic Land Trust 

If you are reading this, you probably like growing and/or eating high-quality local food. 

However, a lot of people struggle with the steps in between: where to find, distribute, retail and buy local food and drink – particularly biodynamic organic products and produce. Struggle no more! 

The Open Food Network enables food makers to sell their wares, and shoppers to buy them. You can search the Open Farm Network UK website by category such as biodynamic, and location. 

Stroud Community Agriculture – which leases farmland from the Biodynamic Land Trust at Oakbrook Farm in Stroud – has been part of the Open Food Network since October 2015. 

Most of its fresh produce goes out in member shares but it sells a lot of surplus through Stroudco, a not-for-profit food hub which sources local produce from local farmers, bakers, growers, beekeepers, preservers, fermenters and other suppliers near Stroud in Gloucestershire. 

Rather than Stroudco having its own online shop, Stroudco has set shop on Open Food Network to sell produce from its 80 and more local producers. 

Mark Harrison (see pic above), a grower at Stroud Community Agriculture, explains how it works: 

“Each week we tell Stroudco food hub what we have available. Stroudco’s 700 (and more) shoppers order online then Open Food Network sends us a purchase order every Thursday confirming what we need to harvest for that Saturday. We deliver the whole order to the Stroudco hub, and Stroudco pays us on delivery, sorts the orders into boxes for the shoppers, and arranges home delivery of the food orders. The Open Food Network has provided us with a very useful system which allows us to make an additional income for relatively little extra work."

Mark Harrison sees the value of Open Food Network to other Community Shared Agriculture projects, especially those without a local food hub. 

“They are using Open Food Network to manage their members, set up regular veg shares, sell surpluses on an ad hoc basis and deal with payments and other admin.” 

Set up six years ago by a group of food policy activists to create a fair, commonly-owned, not-for-profit, open source, online system, the Open Food Network has been built with volunteer software development and small amounts of philanthropic funding. 

The Open Food Network is a not-for-profit co-operative of users who collectively decide how the open-source software will develop. Producers without their own shopfront (selling only through other people’s shopfronts) are not expected to make any financial contribution. As a platform co-operative Open Food Network asks each shopfront (after a six month free trial) to contribute towards the running costs according to their use of the system and their ability to pay (starting at a minimum of £1 per month). Start-up enterprises need only pay this minimum until they are up and running. 

The Open Food Network facilitates co-operation and gives control of food distribution back to the producers, enabling them to link up with each other to share costs and distribution systems. 

It takes about five minutes for producers to register (follow this link here) on the searchable online map. Some of these producers are going one step further and setting up an online shopfront to sell their produce direct to local shoppers and buyers. Others are making links with box schemes, shops, markets, food hubs and food co-ops. 

To find out more contact or phone Nick Weir on 01453 840037.