Open Invitation to all Food Assemblies!

Today Food Assembly announced that it will be ceasing UK trading in September. Since 2014 The Food Assembly have been supporting individuals to become food activists, supporting producers to sell locally, and supporting shoppers to know the people that produce their food. The local food movement in the UK suffers a sad loss without this visionary contributor to food systems diversity. And the loss of Food Assembly shows just how difficult it is create viable alternative food system models here in the UK.

Through the courageous efforts of the Food Assembly we have learned a little more about what does and does not work in local food in the UK. Perhaps we have learned that asking shoppers and producers to come to a single pick up once a week is not sustainable effort for many people’s busy lives. Perhaps we have learned that running an enterprise on a 10% cut of sale price is hard to make work financially. These are important lessons. As we’ve outlined in this blog, the lessons are crucial in our search for inclusive, sustainable food systems that work for everyone. And we cannot learn these lessons without the less successful attempts.

So many Food Assembly hosts across the country have worked tirelessly for years to create fantastic communities that help quality food get to real people. These communities are valuable! They have created trust, relationships, friends and networks. They are supportive, nourishing, visionary and hopeful. This social capital is invaluable and if it were to disappear overnight our society would be worse for it.

We cannot let all of this hard work be lost!

The Open Food Network would like to invite Food Assemblies across the country to join our network.

OFN can be used in a similar way to the Food Assembly but offers more versatility of features, such as multiple collection days and the ability to embed your shopfront in your own website. Shoppers can order online, producers can manage their products and stock and hubs can facilitate packing, distribution and choose their own mark-ups.

OFN supports a wide range of business models. As a Hub manager you can experiment with multiple collection points, delivery options, payment methods, multiple price points, wholesale offerings, flexible mark-ups. There is a huge amount of flexibility to experiment with business models that make use of the assets and circumstances in your community.

OFN is a global, open-source community collectively developed and maintained by food activists and software developers around the world. As a platform cooperative, users of OFN become members and owners of the network.

As a global community new features are being added all the time. Collectively, as shoppers, producers and hub managers, we can design new features. Paid and volunteer product managers, system administrators and developers ensure that our platform continues to run smoothly.

Set up is straight forward, you don’t have to be techy to manage it. OFN offer support via a helpdesk email and they have a community forum where you can ask questions to other users similar to our facebook group. There is an online guide for setting up.

Read more about OFN Food hubs and how to set them up here: https://guide.openfoodnetwork.org/setup-manuals/hub-shop

The OFN community would love to welcome you onto the network. We’d be happy to answer your questions and show you around the software. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more. Introduce yourself on our forum or get in touch via email: hello@openfoodnetwork.org.uk

One thought on “Open Invitation to all Food Assemblies!

  1. Nick Weir Reply

    Following conversations with many of you over the last week or so we have been working out the details of how we would like to support Food Assemblies. So here is an invitation to Food Assemblies to join the process of building the Open Food Network

    OFN UK is a collaboration of like-minded groups working to take back control of our local food systems. Together we share our learning and create tools that help us to do this. We share costs where appropriate. We share distribution and retail of food where appropriate. We share ideas and learnings. We treat our code and our knowledge as a commons, that we can use, build and share. We manage this commons together.

    By doing this we are working to put the ownership of food distribution technology back into our hands. We aim to set fees collectively by exploring costs and ensuring they covered. We design features together. By using OFN you become a member of this platform cooperative.

    In this way we are different to other service providers. We won’t promise the Earth if we can’t deliver. We work to be open and honest. In our current world this works against us. But the model is working. OFN is funded by organisations in France, the UK, Australia, Catalonia, the US, Canada and Norway. In Belgium we have made a partnership with Oxfam shops, such that their shops become food hubs. In France we are exploring a partnership with La Poste, such that food can be delivered on the national postal service. In the UK we work with 25 food hubs and over 800 producers that share our vision.

    We know how expensive software is, not only to develop, but to maintain. We’ve been doing this for 5 years and have learned a lot about creating a globally viable business model. We don’t waste money on marketing. With all the features our user experiencecan get a little clunky, but we are constantly improving it. We have to prioritise development carefully to make the best use of our limited funds. This experience has made us wise. We do not promise things we can’t deliver. And we do not pretend to do things we can’t. We’ve seen other platforms like BuckyBox and Food Assembly UK come and go. And we keep learning and improving.

    We invite Food Assemblies to join our collective. OFN cannot shut down without our members agreeing. OFN cannot change the fee structure without our members agreeing. New features are added to the OFN system under the control of its members. And you have the right to set your own fees in a way that suits your enterprise. So you have control to change margins for different products and producers as you see fit.

    OFN will ensure:

    1) Payment functionality will support FAs. We will do this by connecting OFN with proprietary tools that will enable this functionality. We will discuss with FAs that join our community how they would like this to be managed. You have a number of options.
    2) That your product list is loaded into the platform. We can import the list from a file provided by FA.
    3) That we make significant improvements to the way OFN works on mobiles . This has become our highest priority for the international development team, and we will be making regular releases and improvements over the coming months.

    OFN will ask in return:

    1) That you participate in the community, letting us know what is working and what is not working for you. We’d love you to share your thoughts and learnings.
    2) That to begin with you contribute 9% of sales to OFN. In exchange we will offer the additional support required to ensure your hubs are running smoothly including managing your payments to producers. After the transition we will bring the conversation to the wider community at a General Meeting to discuss the fee structure of the platform going forward.
    3) Other users of OFN currently pay around 2% of sales to the platform. This fee does not include payment gateway fees.

    If you would like to discuss this more or have a screen-share session to see how OFN works please let us know. If you would prefer a phone call I am on 01453 840037

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