Mark O’Connel showed Mark, Rachel and myself round Huxhams Cross Farm on November 3rd, showing us the chickens, two cows, new barn and the market garden’s polytunnels. The transformation of soil quality from a barkley/maize desert to good soil through biodynamic and permacultural activation by Bob Mayhew and Marina O’Connel was dramatic. Marina showed me her samples of the original soil. I also held up the two soil samples to the Social Renewal : Beyond Crisis Conference at Dartington on Saturday 4th to demonstrate what change is possible when we care for the earth, build a regenerative circular economy, secure rights to affordable land through the Biodynamic Land Trust and co-create a new food culture. This was a good example of social threefolding in action, adding earthcare of course..
Bailey Peryman and Margaret Jefferies introduced me on 22 October to Cultivate Christchurch’s market gardening work with young people….helping Christchurch feed itself. Bailey described the 1000 or so acre Red Zone in the middle of the city, which was leveled by the 2011 earthquake, and which went liquid. Unsuitable for building on, the Red Zone would be ideal for food growing, parks and for social and cultural facilities. Yet in 7 years, no decisions have been made….so the community and civil society might take the initiative? Have a look at Bailey’s short video about his work, and also his podcast on Steven Moe’s itunes site below….
So often, farmers and growers see in the shops a big price mark up of the food they grow. At the same time, they are barely making a living. In the UK, aggressive supermarket buyers have sometimes forced the price of milk, for example, below the economic cost of production. So one response is for producers use various methods such farm gate sales points, community supported agriculture (CSA) or running a farmers market stall to reach the consumer directly, and bypass the middleman distributor, wholesaler or retailer. Not surprisingly, there has been a huge growth around the world in both famers’ markets and in CSA’s.
However, in Stroud, Gloucestershire where I live, we have both a thriving Saturday Farmers Market, Stroud Community Agriculture Farm-a 290 member CSA co-op , and StroudCo which was set up several years ago by a group of local food activists as a distribution platform to link local buyers and suppliers who for various reasons wanted something different. It is a food hub.
As a food hub StroudCo sources local produce from local farmers, bakers, growers, beekeepers, preservers, fermenters and other suppliers. Through their website members can order from all these different producers and collect their shopping in one place. Many producer members are also shopper members and vice versa. The aim is to create a market place that facilitates a direct link from producer to consumer.
Nick Weir, one of the founding directors of StroudCo food hub (www.stroudco.org.uk) is working with other UK food markets, co-ops and hubs to introduce a UK instance of the innovative and amazingly practical, timely Open Food Network, which originated in Australia. https://www.openfoodnetwork.org.au
What is OFN? Open Food Network (OFN) is an open source (free) web infrastructure to decentralise the food system. OFN national “chapters” collaborate and have non-profit principles. The OFN enables producers to offer food and drink for sale direct to the public or through any kind of hub, market or retail outlet (collectively called shopfronts). Producers and shopfronts can then cross sell each other’s’ products and establish distribution arrangements. OFN also provides some sales reporting and and accounting functionality. By creating a “group” users can link various producers and hubs, where one hub manages a catalogue of products and coordinates logistics for other hubs. This allows for lower transport costs and reduced CO2 emissions. OFN also enables visibility of the food ecosystem on a map, allowing the actors to identify and create new links and partnerships.
Why OFN? The current food system produces many negative externalities (health issues, loss of biodiversity and topsoil, antibiotic resistance, low-nutrient food, waste, high suicide rates in the agricultural community, etc.). All these externalities are the symptoms of a sick food system. But what are the root causes behind this disease? All these problems are caused by two major root causes:
The growing distance between producers and consumers, primarily physical (urbanization, globalization, accumulation of intermediaries) and psychological (we no longer know where our food comes from or how it is produced, and we give little value to our food and easily waste it)
Increasing trends of centralization, concentration and vertical and horizontal integration during recent decades has shifted the power from producers to agribusiness, and now a handful of multinational agro-industries control the food system (seeAgropoly report) .
OFN addresses these root causes by facilitating the creation & administration of local food ecosystems and by providing transparent information, thus bringing producers closer to consumers and enabling the decentralization of the food system.
The OFN guiding values are:
–Land: we support farmers and producers using regenerative agricultural practices
–Global Commons: all members of OFN co-create and share the responsibility for the Commons.
–People first: we are building a human system, which defends at its heart mutual respect and empathy, as well as diversity, inclusion and tolerance.
–Transparency: we are deploying transparency both on the platform we are building as well as in the operation of our organisation.
–Constant evolution: we live in a world of perpetual change, which requires continuous adaptation and agility.
–Empowerment: our project empowers individuals to create their own activity, and gives the freedom to choose the food system they desire.
–Subsidiarity: decisions are most effective when they are taken at the most local level appropriate.
–Systemic change: we believe in a global transition that addresses the root causes of a broken food system, not its symptoms.
Farmers, market growers, artisans, breeders wishing to sell their products
Producer groups or farmer’s markets who wish to distribute their products collectively
Distributors and wholesalers who want to restore transparency in their supply chain
Grocery stores, independent shops, restaurants and cafeterias wishing to source directly from producers
Consumers who collectively purchase direct from producers (Community Supported Agriculture, buying clubs, cooperative grocery stores)
To find out more about the global OFN community visit https://openfoodnetwork.org/
To join the global OFN discussion forum visit http://community.openfoodnetwork.org/
If you want to follow this up, then Myriam, based in France, is a “global community gardener” for the OFN. She supports people who want to set up OFN in their country or region. She is an entry point for any info about the project (community, values, international development, etc.). email@example.com
In the USA, Mike Kilmer, firstname.lastname@example.org has started investigating the OFN for the USA, but there is not yet an official entity leading the project there. Mike has set up a US staging server and some other local people interested have started to play with it (https://staging.usfoodcoop.org/map)