What, other than food, could the Open Food Network be used for?

I was really interested to hear that in France the Open Food Network platform has been adapted (white labelled?) for use with sustainable building supplies, and it’s been great to follow Canada’s use of it for flowers. It made me think more about what else the platform could be used for, alongside the other criteria we’ve been contemplating around what else do farmers sell to remain viable and sustainable. The criteria I have used in my pondering has been:

  • what else do farmers sell
  • what could farmers sell if they were fully capturing the costs of farming sustainably
  • what else is sold in the food system that has similar characteristics to selling food
  • what else is produced by multiple people, aggregated, processed, and sold, and increases sustainability and equity in the food and farming system

We’ve had some discussions with Fibreshed about their model, which is similar and draws from multiple small producers to aggregate, process, and sell with different certifications. (There is also a large international Fibreshed community).

A number of farmers selling food through Open Food Network are also selling timber.

We’ve been exploring quite a bit (and are keen to explore more) about carbon credits, community carbon schemes, natural capital accounting and biodiversity credits, and more opportunities in that space. @Kirsten is more across/leading those ideas.

Another opportunity is around organic matter flowing back to farms, so food and green waste that is being created by multiple people/organisations, that is then aggregated for processing, and sold on as compost or organic products.

In Australia, we’ve just received a small research and design grant to undertake a co-design project with organic waste processors, councils, businesses, community composters, farmers, etc to investigate the potential of the platform to help in this space. Our aim is to complete this project with a sense of usefulness of this idea, possible next steps, possible business case of expanding in this direction, and funding ask if we were to pursue this. There’s no obligation to build anything in terms of the software, which would obviously need much more OFN community interest, discussion, consent and input.

I’m sharing here to keep everyone in the loop, and I’m interested in others’ thoughts/actions on considering other uses for the platform. :slight_smile:

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In similar vein - not only are the flower farmers selling non-food products from small scale sustainable growers - they are also using OFN to source the inputs (small plants called ‘plugs’, bulbs, tubers …). I worked with that network to identify what they were interested in and then worked with the suppliers and put a shop together. (unfortunately it was all manual entry - major pain) But in the end, this saves all the flower farmers hunting down everything on their own. But the real benefit is to smaller scaled farmers because these big suppliers all have big minimum orders. No one would be able to source their interesting plants… unless we pooled our orders. It worked fantastic - and the flower farmers really liked the idea of using OFN as buyers as well as sellers. I think fibre and wood products would go over here too. The other possibility is for craft markets. Popular here pre-holidays. Everything from woolen wall hangings to blown glass as gifts made by small artisans (Etsy kind of people - but Etsy is expensive). I was already thinking about craft market pop-ups next season. Same kind of OC issues as farmers - pre-ordering is necessary (hard for these crafters to have/keep large inventories), linking similar vendors together in a shop for joint marketing…
It all makes me curious about branding through - is there enough of an argument here to suggest we re-brand in a more generic way - that includes, but is not limited to, food. Maybe a small local crafter/producer brand?
Or - maybe we offer white labelling on a fee for service? Accompanied by a support package?

Hello :slight_smile:

@Jen actually all non-food products on OFN France are on the main platform: we don’t ave any case of white labeling (yet).

Non food products on our platform are ranging from food byproducts (including waste) to cosmetic, soap, craft… Lots of farm have this diversity, and lots of hubs are trying to offer a diversity of products: we even have a hub that is supplying local-made paper toilet :metal:

So our users didn’t wait for us to change the brand to already sell other type of products. But we agreed with them that we need to make it more clear that we accept those products. That’s why the French cooperative name will be CoopCircuits. As soon as the coop will be created, we will move the app under the CoopCircuits branding.

I don’t think we have anything in the software that is specific to food other than the name :slight_smile: I think we are doing work to help short distribution chain projects work, regardless of the type of product. But that was discussed a lot on the branding topic, a bit off here maybe.

Thinking on this more – in addition to the brand name with ‘food’ - all our taxonomies (at least in Canada) are for food. This already came up with the flower hub. They wanted different product categories like: focal flowers, fillers, greenery, potted plants, wreaths… I said we’d wait and see what evolved. There are already too many taxonomies in Canada in my view. Anyway - filtering/searching shops is something to think of if we move beyond food.

Still thinking more on this — I really think one of our challenges in Canada is that I over-estimated the potential market size for our OFN rollout. I work in the alternative food sector extensively and I think I fell into the trap of believing it was huge - because it is for me. Of course - crunching numbers shows its really small (Canada has fewer farmers that sell in local markets than France for example, and AT BEST 200 ‘hubs’). Its too small to build a sustainable business model based on user fees. (There I said it out loud - sort of - after years of denial.) So - what to do?
On the farm when this happens - I think of how to spread my fixed costs across more markets and channels. So - that is what I’m thinking for OFN . We have a highly developed global governance system, with a fantastic set of open source tools, an expanding global community and a system for continuous improvement and expansion of our community and its tools. HUGE assets.
Yes - I can use/promote OFN as it currently exists, to additional user groups/sectors: flower farmers, fibre farmers, crafters… BUT this strategy can’t be fully realized without a re-look at branding. In a recent debrief with flower farmers and the flower hub about OFN - the takeaway was that the love the OFN tools, they feel our devs have been very supportive and responsive, they think I’ve been generous with my time and support, they are going to be ambassadors to expand the use of OFN among flower farmers and expand local flower exchanges BUT the negative that sticks with them (buyers and sellers) is that all the branding and communications identify ‘food’. They want OFN to stand for Open Flower Network.

Is it time to re-brand? It seems like lunacy I know - with everything else on right now. But is there a way to ease toward something like that?

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