Campfire Event: Open Food Network UK

Each of our 32 Beacons has the opportunity to hold a ‘campfire’. These campfires are an opportunity for beacons to get together to reflect on their progress and challenges so far. It’s also an opportunity for them to develop the narrative that will eventually feature in our Living Library. Here, Chris Maughan, describes what happened at the campfire hosted by Open Food Network UK (OFN).

Who was there? And what was the purpose?

Seven members of the core OFN UK team, plus one CAWR researcher (Chris Maughan), gathered at 42 Acres, a ‘regenerative farm stay’ in Somerset UK. OFN was established in 2014 and is a non-profit, open source, online food platform dedicated to connecting small-scale producers with local consumers.

The purpose of the campfire was to reflect deeply on OFN’s work to date and plans for the future of the network. There was an emphasis on the team getting to know each other due to the remote nature of the work OFN does, but also reconnect following the Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Image (courtesy of Chris Maughan) – Members of the Open Food Network UK Team at COACH Campfire, October 2021

What happened?

The Campfire lasted from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, beginning with a session to co-create and finalise the programme for the weekend. The programme involved a series of facilitated sessions around large organisational themes; for example, ‘the role of OFN in the UK food and farming ecosystem’;  a ‘visioning’ workshop, and ‘Roles future and current: How do we see our work within OFN growing and evolving?’. Plenty of time was also left for discussion, walking around the grounds of the venue, sharing of music and poetry, and eating (of course!). All food was provided by another Coach Beacon, Tamar Grow Local.

What was the significance for COACH?

Perhaps of biggest significance to COACH was the session on the ‘role of OFN in the UK food and farming ecosystem’. Through a stakeholder mapping exercise, this revealed a desire to connect more without access to food, and especially to diversify the profile of people connecting with the network. There was also much to celebrate in what OFN has achieved so far. For example, there was a strong sense in which OFN had acted as an ‘enabler’ for smaller actors to enter the food system, and paved the way for important developments in data interoperability. It also reinforced that OFN wanted to offer more opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and collaboration among their members.

Underlying all this was a strong sense that OFN values collaborative ways of working, peer support, and proactive care of its staff. This was felt to be key to the success of OFN internally and its ability to influence the wider landscape of the food system and food policy. OFN has a lot to offer in terms of specific tech skills (e.g. data interoperability and collaborative software design), but also in terms of internal governance and collaborative methods. An area identified for future development was reaching and including people of colour in OFN’s work. It is hoped that training around this issue might be possible through the COACH project, possibly with the help of another UK Beacon, Granville Community Kitchen.

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