An open-source platform helping customers buy direct from hundreds of producers has been nominated for an international prize worth more than $2.6 million dollars.
The International Curt Bergfors Food Planet Prize - the largest monetary award in the global food arena - has nominated the Open Food Network as one of its finalists.
The Melbourne-born network is a not-for-profit that makes open source software, resources, knowledge and tools to support food enterprises not only for Australians, but all over the world
The winner of the prize will be announced in November.
Co-founded by regenerative lamb farmers Kirsten Larsen and Serenity Hill, Warrenbayne, it's the latest in a collection of achievements the network won since it began a decade ago.
These include the VicHealth Seed Challenge in 2014, the International OuiShare Award in 2015, and the Mozilla Covid-19 Solution Award in 2020.
Ms Hill said her work being recognised on an international level was a fantastic achievement.
"More than $16 million of orders for fresh produce were placed on our platform in the past year, connecting 2500 producers with over 38,000 consumers."
Ms Hill said while the worldwide success was great, her biggest strength is the people who make up the network, many of whom are producers or work in food hubs.
"They are uniquely placed to help us spot the challenges and opportunities in the sector, and help us to ensure that our efforts are focused in the areas where we can have the greatest impact," Ms Hill said.
"We continue to support lots of initiatives like Strathbogie Local that were started in COVID, (and) these diverse local enterprises are so important to continue to build resilient local economies across the country."
Ms Hill said throughout the network's existence, there was always a consistent urge to promote more sustainable agriculture and sustainable produce.
"We could see there was a lack of options in terms of distribution and marketing outside the commodity market," she said.
"So we initially talked to some leaders in the alternative distribution in Australia at the time, like CERES in Melbourne and Food Connect in Brisbane.
"We also did a tour of America and looked at local food networks there, and we could see that technology was a was an issue in terms of easily enabling collaborative marketing, particularly not just farmers setting up their websites, but to also enable hubs where you could easily have product from multiple farmers and get that to customers."
Ms Hill said there was a tenfold increase in producers jumping online over COVID, and the sudden decisions to limit movements spurred them to discover new ways of distribution.
But as those restrictions ease and the cost of living rises, she believes people will need to adapt to global economic instability.
The platform recently conducted a research project to understand the impacts of the pandemic on the food system and observe how community food enterprises reacted to the restrictions.
Its Recipes for resilience report said that while restrictions imposed during the pandemic are unlikely to be repeated, hubs and producers can learn lessons from the time to tackle the "regularity of crises as impacts of climate change and correlated ecological collapse are felt."
"The pandemic raised consumer's awareness about where thier food come from... but as the pandemic has progressed, I think that's that's come off a bit," she said.
"There's a complicating factor now in recently in the last few months, with the rise of living costs and fuel that is really pinching households.
"I think, perhaps, local food can be seen as a 'nice to have thing' from some consumers leading to a small drop off of demand of hubs that we're working with, and we're wondering whether those cost issues may contribute to it."
But Ms Hill still advocates that local food options are more important than ever.
"Diverse local food options are really important to be building up going into uncertain times," she said.
"With increased input costs, I think as a society, having local food options builds a very good resilience in local communities."
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