The Open Food Foundation has developed open source software to provide the IT structure required for setting up business models that will support the food ecosystem of the future.
Food businesses whose purpose is to promote ethical, sustainable and healthy products are on the rise. However many struggle to cope with administrative burdens and IT costs. Founded in Australia, the Open Food Foundationaims to help such providers by sharing knowledge and experience, and by creating a support network. The Foundation hopes that by making open source software available, it will be able to help local farmers, cooperatives and other producers to get together with the common ideal of boosting the local economy, providing people with a choice of buying better or more environmentally-sound food, and rebalancing the overall relationship between producers, distributors, and consumers. The purpose of the project is to develop a flexible platform that can be used, adapted and connected to a range of other systems.
The website explains that “the Open Food Web Foundation has been established to accumulate and protect a commons (‘the open food web’) of open source knowledge, code, applications and platforms to support the proliferation of fair and sustainable food systems.” The Open Food Web Foundation’s first project is to develop and launch a collaborative online marketplace and distribution system, the Open Food Network. This network will provide, inter alia, a means of pre-ordering foodstuffs, which lowers the risk for small producers whose lack of storage capacity means that they need to sell their produce quickly and will help them to avoid being left with unsold produce. The software code-base is free, but there will be a membership requirement or a charge for advanced features, customization or supported services on the platform. The software tools developed for the Network must be flexible enough to suit a variety of business models that depend on local circumstances. These tools are being designed to provide solutions for open marketplaces, simple payment methods, ordering flexibility and lower entry barriers.
Supporting the creation of new food industry models
A growing number of organizations are being set up with the aim of supporting local producers and traders by creating solutions for financing, advice, distribution, and so on. Two US companies are good examples: Crediblesis a crowdfunding platform startup designed to give customers a means of prepaying for food products; while, taking a different approach, Good Eggssupports local producers by providing an online purchasing site and home delivery service. The Open Food Foundation offers a third model, providing IT tools to enable new business models and players in the sustainable food industry to emerge. The collaborative system it provides will enable the participants to learn and will foster creativity. The stated objective of the Foundation for 2014 is to demonstrate the viability of the system and broaden membership to a much larger number of players.