Smart Solutions

Open Food Hub

A community-led initiative enabling access to local produce through an open-source digital farmers-market platform – provided by the Open Food Network (OFN).

What’s the solution?

An Open Food Hub is a community of farmers and local producers who join forces to sell their produce through a community-owned software platform specifically built for selling food by the Open Food Network.

A ‘hub‘ on the platform sells items (to the public or other businesses) from more than one supplier.  It is the equivalent of a physical farmers market where you might have food grown and supplied by different local farmers, baked goods, crafts and even produce imported by local wholesalers available.

Producers upload the details of the products they have available to the web platform, where they can manage their listings and stock levels.

Consumers purchase through the website with the platform enabling payment to be made online. The platform automatically makes the % contribution to the hub from each sale.

As the platform has been built for buying and selling food, it can handle the different weights and measures used for different types of food products - for example, selling eggs by ‘the dozen’, parsley in ‘bunches’ or whole chickens by ‘weight’.

Each local hub can follow its own model. For example, it could be an existing farmers market, community group or food co-op that facilitates the set-up of the local virtual market. Each hub contributes 2% of its market turnover to the national Open Food Network.

What makes it smart?

The Open Food Hub is a digital response to the need of farmers and other producers to access local markets, and for consumers in rural areas to secure locally produced, healthier food options and other regional artisanal products and goods.

By establishing the Open Food Hub we provide sustainable routes to market for small producers through the utilisation of the open-source, digital direct-sales platform Open Food Network (OFN).

The following forms of innovation are demonstrated:

Digitally Smart – this solution works via a digital marketplace that provides the benefits of a local farmers’ market in an easy-to-use online platform, owned and controlled by its users.

This platform facilitates local producers and consumers to find each other at times that are convenient for them.

The online mentoring and training in the use of these digital tools will enhance local skills, knowledge and competency in direct and practical ways.

This smart digital solution demonstrates the potential for virtual markets to operate via networked county hubs, country wide.

Socially Smart – As a solution designed for the community by the community, it forges and enhances social solidarity and the regional approach is highly transferable to other villages.

This community-led model facilitates dialogue and exchange between diverse stakeholders such as farmers, social enterprises, food co-ops, community groups, civil society organisations and local development companies. A central hub location can become a one-stop-shop for distribution, training and co-working supporting rural food resilience and regeneration.

It supports the emergence of more sustainable communities, providing social benefits by acting against food poverty (lack of healthy food) so fostering good health and wellbeing.

Economically Smart – this solution directly increases local and regional livelihood opportunities by providing a marketplace for small producers in the wider region, demonstrating a smart solution for strengthening local economies through the production and distribution of local food and artisan produce.

Through the creation of secure, sustained routes to market, and provision of training and peer-support the creation of secondary and complementary enterprises are incubated.

Climate Smart – this innovative solution reduces emissions by shortening supply chains and supporting the use of regenerative farming practices.

It strengthens capacity for adaptation to climate disruptions and builds local resilience to economic shocks.

This is a smart solution that could be implemented in any community. Virtual farmers markets are now an essential lifeline for small producers to maintain and grow markets and address the challenges faced in sourcing healthy food.

OFN is now operating in 20 countries, with 1000’s of local producers and co-ops using it to reach markets to sell products and support their local food economies in these difficult times.

How is the solution implemented?

  • The key steps for the establishment of a Local Food Hub are:
  • Create a hub profile on the Open Food Network
  • Map local ecosystem of regional producers
  • Onboard local/regional producers to offer produce for sale on the virtual marketplace and encourage/support them to add their profiles on the OFN platform
  • Provide mentoring to farmers and other producers
  • Set up a physical collection point
  • Promote the market to the public
  • Maintain and grow the market

In what local context has it been applied?

With many public services such as banks and post offices and particularly public transport services shutting down in rural areas, (our regional train line is under threat of closure; buses to the nearest larger towns are infrequent) it is clear that rural areas have less options than large towns and cities in terms of accessing healthy food, goods and services.

More recently, the village has seen lines of food supply faltering due to the impact of Covid-19. The usual routes to market ie. shops, farmers markets and other physical sales outlets have been hit hardest and small local producers are obviously those most severely impacted by lockdown and closures.

Who was behind the implementation?

Cloughjordan Community farm (CCF) leads the implementation of the Open Food Hub in Cloughjordan. CCF is a community-led social enterprise based in the ecosystem of Cloughjordan Ecovillage that ensures food security locally, while demonstrating a viable model for small-scale community supported agriculture nationally

CCF is driving this smart solution in relationship with the Digital Fabrication Lab and Cultivate, the Sustainable Ireland Cooperative also based in the ‘WeCreate’ Social Enterprise Centre located in Cloughjordan Ecovillage. CCF also received mentoring and training via a social innovation grant in 2019 (from Rethink Ireland) which supported development of this idea.

The Open Food Network (OFN) stewards the open-source digital market platform that is being utilised.

Through the Open Food Hub, CCF works cooperatively with emerging hubs and markets in Monaghan, Kildare, and Wexford, and with other national stakeholders from OFN Ireland, Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland (TINI) and CSA Network Ireland.

What was the local journey?

With rural economies withering, and local small enterprises shutting down, CLoughjordanCommunity Farm decided it was time to address these issues in a creative and innovative way.

After conducting a feasibility study on a regional box scheme (the Clough Box), we found that whilst we may not have the reach for economic viability via our own produce alone, a virtual marketplace for a wider variety of produce might be the smart yet simple solution to an ever more pressing problem: rural accessibility to sustainably and locally grown healthy food and other high quality locally produced products.

CCF led on conducting a feasibility study, including a mapping of regional producers, for a local Food Hub. It discussed the idea with local producers, farmers and artisans, building momentum for the idea.

An important challenge was that the population of our own village could not alone sustain such a market - this has been overcome by including the 3 large towns around us, which are productive and lively market towns now looking for solutions to the challenges of Covid restricted routes to market.

Another key difficulty was finding the financial support to get the OFH started at local level. Funding secured for a year from Rethink Ireland allowed us to progress this smart solution and trial its viability. This external funding enabled CCF to set up the Open Food Hub and establish the virtual market using the OFN platform.

Finding a physical space from which to operate was also key. CCF developed the Open Food Hub physical presence in the local WeCreate Social Enterprise Centre located in Cloughjordan Ecovillage.

From there, CCF started to help local producers, farmers and artisans to set up their profiles on the OFN platform. Existing CSAs, farmers’ markets, food co-ops or community initiatives could set up a shop front or hub without financial support.

We initiated a learning network with other stakeholders such as CSA Network, Tamlamh Beo, Food Sovereignty Ireland and others, and completed a training needs assessment

In addition, CCF hosted a number of national events promoting the OFN digital platform, played a key role in bringing key Irish stakeholders together and setting up OFN Ireland, and established a training programme for other hubs setting up in other regions.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • Providing a digital market marketplace to access fresh local food;
  • Onboarding regional producers (ongoing);
  • Connecting with other regional food hubs (ongoing);
  • Enabling networking and better communication between Regenerative Agriculture groups, Co-ops and Community Food initiatives in Ireland;
  • Shortening supply chains, virtual markets, conducting remote meetings, organising and training online - all lead to a reduction of carbon emissions;
  • Stronger relationships with farmers and other collaborators in the region who are committed to trialling a food hub pilot.
  • This is a new initiative for Cloughjordan and Ireland, however in countries where the OFN platform is more established there have been significant increases in turnover during Covid lockdowns.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • This solution provides routes to market for local small food and other businesses, increasing local economic resilience and providing a smart model for rural regeneration.
  • The Open Food Hub is a smart approach for all communities to strengthen food security in their rural regions using open-source digital technology.
  • The Open Food Hub expects to contribute to community and local development in Cloughjordan the following ways:
  • Enables livelihood diversification and opportunities for the development of new local food enterprises;
  • Increases opportunities for producers and food enterprises to meet and collaborate through training and events;
  • Creates a physical focal point for community building - whether that be a community centre, shop or church hall;
  • Supports healthier local food economies leading to personal, community and ecosystem wellbeing;
  • Shortens long supply chains and increases local food security, ensuring our communities are more resilient;
  • Facilitating the development of local skills and digital literacy, in particular building capacity in the use of digital technologies for local development, with a special focus on community-owned and open source tools.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Financial needs:

Equipment

● High spec computer system & server fees

● Rent for the physical space

● Shelving / equipment for distribution

● Office equipment

● Packaging - crates/boxes

Personnel

● Hub Coordinator @ 8 hrs / week

● Market Manager @ 8 hrs / week

● Marketing & Communications (social media, newsletter) @ 4 hrs / week

● IT Support (version updates etc) @ 8 hrs / week

Promotion and Training

● Promotional Materials

● Training - onboarding and digital tools for local producers

Overheads

● Accounting

● Insurance

Main types of cost:

Initial equipment costs - € 7,400

Ongoing personnel, promotion/training and overheads (including regional training outreach) - € 51,300

Funding received:
SourceAmountFunded
Rethink Ireland’s Innovate Together Fund58,700 €Development and set-up of the local Open Food Hub; Staff costs associated with establishing the virtual market; Development of a training and support programme for national roll-out of the Open Food Network in Ireland.

Human resources

● Project Manager: to coordinate activity on behalf of the community,

● Marketing & Communications

● IT Support

● Community volunteers

● People with capacity in writing grant applications

● A community of cooperatives, farmers and producers who are prepared to use digital tools to market their produce and want to learn from each other.

● Delivery drivers

Physical resources

● A physical distribution and collection point with adequate storage capacity for goods ordered.

● An office type/co working space to set up the digital hub for online marketing and selling.

● Good broadband

● Access to the OFN Platform

What to do…

  • Identify and map the ecosystem of local producers and farmer.
  • Identify a good quality physical space for the distribution centre and office space to operate e with good quality internet.
  • Establish and be clear about your value proposition. That will inform your selection of products.
  • Promote your virtual farmers market locally.
  • Food hubs which will be handling chilled and frozen produce will need access to a fridge and possibly a freezer.

and not to do

  • Don’t try to initiate without community support.
  • Don’t displace established initiatives and local enterprise.
  • Don’t give up!

Contact

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