Microbial consortia are a promising alternative to monocultures of genetically modified microorganisms for complex biotransformations. We developed a versatile consortium-based strategy for the direct conversion of lignocellulose to short-chain fatty acids, which included the funneling of the lignocellulosic carbohydrates to lactate as a central intermediate in engineered food chains. A spatial niche enabled in situ cellulolytic enzyme production by an aerobic fungus next to facultative anaerobic lactic acid bacteria and the product-forming anaerobes. Clostridium tyrobutyricum, Veillonella criceti, or Megasphaera elsdenii were integrated into the lactate platform to produce 196 kilograms of butyric acid per metric ton of beechwood. The lactate platform demonstrates the benefits of mixed cultures, such as their modularity and their ability to convert complex substrates into valuable biochemicals.