Cultivate was instrumental in bringing the Open Food Network (OFN) to Ireland, after first introducing it at our annual Feeding Ourselves Conference in March 2020. OFN is a direct response to the threat to global supply chains caused by environmental, economic, and political instability, as well as challenges such as pandemics, which combine to highlight a need for food security and local food systems.

Open Food Network is a digital platform that directly connects food producers with shoppers in their local area. Producers can display their produce without having to stand all day on a market, and as they only need to prepare or harvest what they know has been sold, they don’t have leftover unsold produce going to waste at the end of the day. For customers, it provides a straightforward way to browse and buy healthy, good quality produce that they know is grown and made locally. They also know that all their money is going to support local initiatives and help to boost the local economy.

The platform operates in a similar way to shopping sites like Amazon and Ebay, except that all the produce is distributed locally, and all profits stay with the users, rather than being extracted to shareholders. It uses a system of ‘hubs’, which enable producers within a local area to group together to sell in a digital marketplace. There’s also an option for producers to set up as individual traders.

Open Food Network was founded in 2012 in Australia and now operates in around 20 countries. The platform is fully open-source and updated regularly, and each country functions autonomously. An international community of practice exists, which offers support and shares information for new and established members. 

OFN Ireland was launched in 2020 as a user-owned co-operative, and there are now hubs and markets throughout the country, including our own North Tipperary Online Farmer’s Market. Anyone is free to get involved: by selling through an existing hub, setting up their own hub, selling as an individual, or joining the Open Food Network Ireland team.

Cultivate was also involved in establishing the Open Training Network, which was used to develop an awareness of OFN Ireland in its early days, and teach hub managers and producers how to use the platform. This network has now been re-imagined as the Feeding Ourselves Network and continues to offer training in governance and other capacity building skills for staff, volunteers, and board members of local food initiatives throughout Ireland.