OHG’s Megan Penn to Discuss Community Development in Local Food Systems at Grow Local OC Conference

Megan Penn, co-founder and executive director of Orange Home Grown will be speaking about community development and local food systems at the upcoming Grow Local OC Conference on Nov. 10-11 at Cal State University, Fullerton.

Megan Penn, co-founder and executive director of Orange Home Grown will be speaking about community development and local food systems at the upcoming Grow Local OC Conference on Nov. 10-11 at Cal State University, Fullerton.

The Grow Local OC Conference: The Future of Urban Food Systems slated for Nov. 10 – 11 at Cal State University, Fullerton is excited to announce that Megan Penn, co-founder and executive director of Orange Home Grown Inc. will speak to conference goers on the community development benefits of supporting a local food system in Orange County.

As a co-founder of Orange Home Grown Inc., which started in 2009, Megan is passionate about providing access to locally grown food, working to improve the local food system through education, and developing opportunities that create “community” here in Orange County.

Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market is the lone farmers’ market in the City of Orange, and despite its success over the past seven years, Penn and her co-founders realized that so much more could and needed to be done to strengthen the local food system in city.

“The farmers’ market was not enough,” she told Grow Local OC.

More community involvement was needed, and this realization led to the natural evolution into Orange Home Grown, which focuses on education, collaboration, camaraderie, advocacy and more.

Among Orange Home Grown’s numerous initiatives is a new seed lending library, in partnership with the City of Orange Public Library. It launched on March 19, and offers free seeds to participants. The expectation is that seed borrowers will replace the seeds with new seeds resulting from their harvest.

Another project that the organization recently launched is a community farm, the OHG Education Farm, the first of its kind in Orange. Orange Home Grown is partnering with Chapman University in this endeavor.

According to OHG’s website, the purpose of the OHG Education Farm is to create education around the local food system. As residents seek to have more input into how their food is grown, how it is treated after being harvested, and how it moves from one place along the food route to another, this community urban farm becomes a means to increase access to education around locally grown food and a way of reintroducing the public to the many aspects of food that we have lost as a culture.

Fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs produced from the education farm may be donated or sold to local Orange restaurants, sold at the OHG Farmers & Artisans Market, or sold to schools for use in their lunch program.

To hear Megan speak and to learn more about Orange Home Grown’s effort to build community by fostering a robust local food system in Orange County, register now for the upcoming Grow Local OC Conference: The Future of Urban Food Systems set to take place on Nov. 10-11 at Cal State University, Fullerton.

In Fight Against Waste and Food Insecurity, SoCal Gleaning Org Recovers Millions of Pounds of Fresh Produce

Food Forward's Wholesale Recovery Program Manager, Luis Yepiz, insp

Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program Manager, Luis Yepiz, inspects grapes recovered from a wholesale donor. The program works to reduce waste by collecting unwanted produce from wholesale donors in and around the downtown Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. Photo courtesy of Food Forward.

This post originally appeared on seedstock.com.

The number of food insecure residents in Southern California is staggering. According to Rick Nahmias, founder and executive director of Food Forward, there are nearly 2.4 million people in Los Angeles and surrounding counties who lack access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food. If that number were a state “its population would rest somewhere in between Nevada and New Mexico in size,” says Nahmias.

That is the challenge that Food Forward tackles each and every day by recovering excess fruits and vegetables and donating them to local agencies that feed the hungry.

In the five years since Seedstock first wrote about the gleaning organization, it has gone beyond backyard harvests on private properties to become a large-scale food recovery program that gleans fruit not only from trees, but also from farmers’ and wholesale markets. As a result, Food Forward is now one of the largest food recovery programs in Southern California.

Since its inception seven years ago, the nonprofit has donated 25 million pounds of food; and this year alone it will glean 14 million pounds of produce that will reach people in need across Southern California.

“We are reaching eight counties from San Diego to Santa Barbara, and are now working with over 100 agencies from backyard harvests to farmers’ markets,” says Rick Nahmias, Founder and Executive Director.

It was Nahmias’s frustration with food waste, that resulted in the creation of the Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program and subsequent rapid scaling in fresh produce donations.

“The waste is maddening,” says Nahmias. “Our wholesale district starts at the market and goes for a mile or two in any direction. It is the largest food receptacle in the entire continent as far as food that comes in, redistributed and packaged to go out to the rest of the country.”

The Wholesale Recovery Program, which works to reduce waste by collecting unwanted produce from wholesale donors in and around the downtown Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, has been operating for two and one-half years and has far exceeded expectations.

“We expected 300,000 pounds the first year, which was a conservative estimate,” says Nahmias. “In reality, it was 4.3 million pounds. Some of this would have gone into other avenues, but, most would have been put in a landfill.”

Food Forward’s operational model also addresses food waste.

“Not a pound of food is picked up or harvested without knowing where it is going ahead of time,” says Nahmias. “We don’t collect anything without knowing we have a place for it to go, or a recipient, so nothing is stored. The only refrigerator we have is the one in the Fruit Cave, and that’s for staff and volunteers.”

The organization wants to do more work beyond Southern California and is working on an education program to bring food waste and hunger issues to the foray in school curriculums. While Food Forward’s growth has been impressive, Nahmias says that it’s really about “measured growth and doing what we do better instead of shot gunning all over the place.” To that end, he explains that while the organization distributes food to eight counties, the great bulk of the gleaning takes place in Los Angles and Ventura counties and is done as efficiently as possible.

Just as it was in the beginning, Food Forward is volunteer driven. There are about 6,000 volunteer shifts per year, with approximately 150 volunteer events a month between the farmers’ market and backyard harvests across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, resulting in the participation of around 10,000 volunteers cumulatively.

Despite its growth, the philosophy and vision behind Food Forward remains the same: “You take food off a tree and give it to people who need it,” says Nahmias. “It’s very easy to stay connected to that because of the food system that exists here. We have the trees, these farmers’ markets, a one of a kind wholesale market. It is still this idea of giving something without the expectation of getting anything in return. How do people share without having to be patted on the back, that ability is a gift in itself.”

Episcopal Diocese Plants Seeds of Hope to Address Food Insecurity in Southern California

Tim Alderson,

Tim Alderson, executive director of Seeds of Hope, a food justice ministry that provides universal and affordable access to basic nutrition.

One of the largest diocese in the nation, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has made food justice a top priority. In 2013, it created Seeds of Hope, a food justice ministry that “provides universal and affordable access to basic nutrition,” says Seeds of Hope Executive Director, Tim Alderson. “In the six California counties that make up the Diocese of Los Angeles, that condition does not exist. Our job is to do what we can to address these issues.”

The idea for Seeds of Hope was conceived when Bishop Jon Bruno was diagnosed with leukemia and admitted for his final treatment at City of Hope. Though not his patient, he met endocrinologist Raynald Samoa, M.D. who was covering rounds. The two men spent over two hours talking about food related illnesses, food access issues and disparities of food health in communites. Dr. Samoa also knew Alderson, who was working on a farm project for City of Hope. Read more

Building Communities through Gardening

The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

In a city of concrete that seems to extend forever, where every vacant lot looks destined for development, a patch of green is a welcome sight. Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC) describes the response of residents of an East Hollywood neighborhood when they heard of plans for a community garden. “I had an older man break down in tears when I told him because they just expect the empty lot to be turned into a big apartment building.” She adds that in really dense neighborhoods people are thrilled when they find out they’re getting a community garden.

Speaking of the LACGC’s mission, Julie says, “We see ourselves as primarily community builders and we do that through gardening – it’s a way of bringing neighbors together, often for the first time.” The organization also encourages classes and programming in the gardens so that it’s more interactive and social. It’s not unusual for her to hear people say, “I lived here ten years, I never knew my neighbors and then I got a garden plot and now I know the people in this neighborhood.” Read more

Q&A: Mark Lowry on the Importance of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and Local Food Production for OC Food Bank

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. Photo Courtesy of OC Food Bank.

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. Photo Courtesy of OC Food Bank.

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank in Garden Grove, California, runs the Food Bank like his life depends on it. That’s probably because Lowry knows how important a well-stocked food bank is for low-income and food deprived community members in Orange County.

Lowry and OC Food Bank,a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAPOC), work with nearly 400 local charities, soup kitchens, and community organizations to end hunger and malnutrition in the county. Annually, the OC Food Bank distributes more than 20 million pounds of donated food, USDA commodities, and purchased food to non-profit agencies in Orange County that serve low-income families and individuals.

Grow Local OC recently had the pleasure of speaking to Lowry about the state of the OC Food Bank, its growing reliance on and distribution of fresh and local produce, the importance of statewide and local Orange County partnerships in strengthening the food bank, and more!

Grow Local OC: What is the current state of the OC Food Bank? What challenges and opportunities are you encountering?

Mark Lowry: At the OC Food Bank, and food banks all across America, there’s been a decrease in the donation of canned and dry goods. In the past, we often got something from a food manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor because someone made a mistake in manufacturing, etc. Over time, businesses have become better at doing what they are supposed to do—become more efficient. There have been fewer of those mistakes that turn into donations. At about the same time, the secondary food market increased—goods that sit on a shelf at a mainstream supermarket get pulled and sent to grocery store outlets, etc.—in the past, those products would have gone to food banks.

But in California and at our Food Bank, we’ve been focused on getting more fresh fruits and vegetables. That is a response to the decline of canned and dried good donations. The state produces 60 percent of America’s fresh fruit and vegetables. We’re working with the California Association of Food Banks and have developed an effective program for providing a more consistent supply of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the state.

Grow Local OC: What impact do food banks have on regional and local food systems, and farmers?

Mark Lowry: Food banks for major and minor producers are an outlet for surplus.

The California Association of Food Banks established the Farm to Family program eight years ago. The Association began visiting farmers throughout California. Farmers had long donated their surplus, but the Food Bank Association proposed to build a system where food banks would have consistent access to fruits and vegetables. The farmers were interested, but wanted some money for their work because sometimes, farmers would leave produce in their fields if it didn’t meet industry specs. So, they’d have to pay a crew to go back and pick the #2s. Or maybe the farmers were already picking the #2s, but selling those to the pie filling, juice, or jam and jelly people. The farmers were happy to sell produce to the Association, but for a modest price—usually that averages two-12 cents a pound.

Now there is a large program that allows food banks like ours to order based on California’s harvest season. While it costs food banks an amount of money, it also creates jobs. Some farm workers are going back to their fields and picking up stuff that wouldn’t have been picked. And in some cases, the goods would have been discarded and are diverted from the waste stream.

Seedstock: Can you tell us about any statewide and local partnerships that help support the OC Food Bank?

Mark Lowry: Statewide, we work with the California Association of Food Banks. It has helped develop the Farm to Family program. Initially, we focused on fresh fruits and vegetables. But we’ve recognized a couple things: California’s agricultural industry is much bigger than fresh fruits and vegetables. They are looking to expand to include things like eggs.

Locally, we’ve got some great partners. One is A.G. Kawamura, a third-generation, Orange County, Japanese-American farmer. He’s a great leader in progressive agricultural practices. He is the co-owner of Orange County Produce, along with his brother, Matt Kawamura. They’ve done many things, but here’s one example.

Kawamura wanted to build a community farm in the City of Irvine on a parcel of land that the city had. They said the land wasn’t zoned for agricultural use. He came back with a counterproposal called the Incredible Edible Park. He would build a park, but everything in that park would be edible. It was relocated about two years ago, but for many years, in Irvine, there’s been the Incredible Edible Park.

Also in Irvine: the city took over the closed, 4,800-acre El Toro Marine Air Station. We met with the chairman of the Orange County Great Park board of directors to discuss the issue of hunger in the community. Also, before the facility was a military base, it had been a farm 75-80 years ago. Returning some of that land to its original agricultural use had historic appeal. The chairman of the board said they’d set aside some acres for permanent agricultural use to honor Orange County’s agricultural heritage. We proposed to make some acreage available to a local farmer. It would be free or substantially below market rate in exchange for an agreement that the farmer would provide a percentage of every harvest to the Food Bank. Over the last seven years, we’ve received millions of pounds of produce grown at the Great Park in Irvine thanks to that commitment.

Another partner is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. One detention site they run is the Musick Honor Farm. It had been involved in the production of fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, and livestock for decades but around 2009, the country decided it couldn’t continue to operate the farm. The detention facility remained, inmates were housed there, but they shut down the farming operation. A few years down the road, we became aware of that. We invited the sheriff to come to the Food Bank and had a conversation with her about the needs of the community. She quickly said they’d restart the farming operation. They’re farming 12 acres now. We hope to increase that over time. It’s got myriad benefits: inmates get the opportunity to be out in the fresh air and stay productive. Also, the inmates know the produce goes to low income families in Orange County. In many cases, those are their families or families from their communities. That’s something they have pride in.

We use these examples to start conversations with potential partners. We’ve been having conversations with Southern California Edison for some time. They’ve got a lot of property. So, we’re talking to Edison to access some of their properties for some small, local farming operations.

We’ve also made a proposal that concerns the Fairview hospital in Costa Mesa. It was built to house 4,000 disabled persons but now houses 200. Nationally there’s been a trend against mass housing—to integrate people in communities and group homes. The state of California wants to shut down these massive mental hospitals—that land will be repurposed. We’ve already gone to the city of Costa Mesa and to the state and have asked for some acreage for a local farming operation. That doesn’t mean we’ll get it, but we’ve included our request. We’re hoping to at least get five acres. Also: the hospital plans to build a little village for people who remain there. There’s a program called AgrAbility, which integrates disabled persons into agricultural production. We’d like to help integrate this into being part of the therapy.

Grow Local OC: What’s your goal for the OC Food Bank in the coming years?

Mark Lowry: More partnerships. We’ve had some great success in transforming parcels of idle land into productive use. We want to identify new partners that have idle land. Some of those projects may be little and some could be large in scope. But you can’t drive through our community without finding vacant lots. For example, there’s a company that’s been very supportive of the Food Bank—a very progressive company—that is moving to a 14-acre facility that has a lot of surplus land. And there’s a local meat manufacturer that has a normal, run-of-the-mill lawn in front of its building—we’ve met with them a few times and told them we’d like to put in a community garden here.

Everything from partnering with local businesses and helping them build small parcels, to working on projects like the Fairview hospital. We’ve done it before—we’ve proven the concept can be done—and we use those projects as success stories to go to others to identify those farmer/partners, too.

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Mark Lowry will also be participating in the upcoming Grow Local OC Conference on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. To hear him speak about food access, food bank farms and more, click here:http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

6 Food Orgs Working to Fight Hunger and Build Community in Orange County

Orange County Food Access Coalition takes advantage of the county’s robust fruit harvest to   help meet food equity challenges. (photo courtesy Christina Hall/Orange County Food Access Coalition)

Orange County Food Access Coalition takes advantage of the county’s robust fruit harvest to help meet food equity challenges. (photo courtesy Christina Hall/Orange County Food Access Coalition)

Given its aura of affluence thanks to popular culture, it comes as a shock to many when they learn that Orange County has a surprisingly serious hunger problem. According to Feeding America’s most recent Map the Meal Gap 2016 data, 10.9 percent of county residents (approximately 335,000 people) experienced food insecurity in 2014. Of that number, 141,170 were under the age of 18. With about 750,000 children residing in Orange County, this means that one in five of the county’s young residents suffer some kind of food insecurity. County seniors suffer too, as recent data indicates some 44 percent of residents aged 65 and over struggle with accessing the healthcare, housing—and food–they need.

The list below includes a few of the Orange County organizations working to not only lower those numbers and increase access to fresh and nutritious food for those citizens who cannot afford to purchase it, but also to strengthen community via local food system development efforts. Read more

Coalition Fights Food Waste to End Hunger in Orange County

When Santa Ana pediatrician and Orange County Public Health Officer Eric Handler ran into Mark Lowry of the Orange County Food Bank some years ago, he had two questions for him:

  1. Do you have enough food in your food bank?
  2. If we captured all food waste, could we end hunger in Orange County?

Lowry’s answer to the first question was no, and his answer to the second question was yes. This interaction led to the formation of the Waste Not OC Coalition in 2012.

With an overarching goal to eradicate hunger in Orange County, the Waste Not OC Coalition recovers food by connecting restaurants and grocery stores with food recovery agencies. It distributes that food by connecting people in need with food pantries. It also educates donors, recipients and the general public about the importance of food donation and how to safely handle donated food. Read more

DTSA Farmers’ Market’s Spring Return Offers Community More Local Food and Increased Access

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers' Market has returned. Photo courtesty DTSA Farmers' Market.

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market has returned. Photo courtesty DTSA Farmers’ Market.

The Downtown Santa Ana Certified Famers’ Market (DTSA Farmers’ Market) is back in action this spring working to provide local residents and restaurants with farm fresh food as well as improve access to healthy produce for the underserved in the community.

Although the DTSA Farmers’ Market did not operate this past winter, its absence allowed the market’s managers to make some much-needed changes and improvements to the it’s physical structure and seller roster.

“Our winter closure was due to some shake-ups with vendors combined with timing issues with the season,” Sonora Ortiz, market manager of the DTSA Farmers’ Market, says. “It afforded us an opportunity to make some changes the community had been asking for, but we couldn’t address [these] while being open every week.”

While one of the Market’s goals is to get food to its Santa Ana customers, it’s also dedicated to promoting awareness, and making sure the public knows good food is available. “Our goal is doing our best to make healthy and ethical food accessible through any and all means possible—education, awareness, Market Match, EBT, WIC, etc.,” Ortiz says. Ortiz adds that this is the Market’s second year participating in Market Match. “We are excited to have just kicked off the grant’s second year by increasing our match amount to $15.”

The Market also is highly active in the community through its work with local organizations.

“We work closely with Slow Food OC, the OC chapter of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, and OC Food Access Coalition (Christina Hall is on our Advisory Committee),” Ortiz says. “We also are connected with the urban agriculture movement in Santa Ana and do what we can to support their efforts, including helping them sell at the Market or to local restaurants.”

“We get a lot of community support and input (for which we are very grateful),” Ortiz says. “All of us behind the Market are a part of the Santa Ana community in our own rights, so this is just an extension of that.”

The Santa Ana Market also works to improve the local food system.

“We work with local growers, local food artisans (particularly with East End Kitchens to get community members who want to sell their food at the Market and grow their businesses), and are building a market-wide compost program with our friends at the Heritage Museum of OC to decrease our food waste while helping community agriculture projects.”

Ortiz explains that one of the Market’s main challenges has been outreach, and promoting its day and time change.

“As much as we are thrilled to shift to Sundays as folks have wanted, it’s been difficult to get the word out about Sunday after having been open on Thursdays for so long,” Ortiz explains.

Although the time change is causing issues now, Ortiz is confident that the Market will continue to grow in the years to come.

“In five years, we hope the Market will continue to thrive and meet the community’s wants and needs while inspiring more local production, and supporting more education and healthy lifestyle choices,” Ortiz adds.

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Grow Local OC” Conference in Orange County, CA to Examine Future of Urban Food Systems

grow local oc conference future of urban food systems orange county(Orange County, CA) – Grow Local OC: The Future of Urban Food Systems, slated for Thursday and Friday, November 10-11, 2016, will explore innovative urban food system developments underway in Orange County and cities across the country that increase the supply of locally grown food in the marketplace, tackle food poverty and access challenges, improve health outcomes, and support entrepreneurship in urban and indoor farming.

On day one of the conference attendees will convene at the Titan Student Union at California State University, Fullerton for a series of panels and keynotes that will explore a variety of topics, including: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Urban Food Production; Expanding Local Food Access; Building a Regional Food System Infrastructure; The Confluence of Food System and Community Development; and more. Read more

Community Garden Rises in Stanton to Bolster Health Outcomes and Increase Food Access

Volunteers work at the Stanton Community Garden located in Stanton, California. (photo courtesy Lisa Wagner/Orange County United Way)

Volunteers work at the Stanton Community Garden located in Stanton, California. (photo courtesy Lisa Wagner/Orange County United Way)

A desire for better health outcomes among Orange County’s youth population was one of the main drivers for the development of the Stanton Community Garden.

“We want to increase the number of healthy children in Orange County,” says Orange County United Way volunteer engagement manager Kautrina Morgan. “That’s the big picture.”

The City of Stanton is somewhat of a food desert, according to Morgan. She says the western Orange County city has its share of liquor stores, and that the obesity rate of its residents is high.

The new community garden, a collaboration between the City of Stanton, Orange County United Way, and Community Action Partnership of Orange County, directly addresses these problems by putting land to good use, producing healthy food, and combating obesity through nutrition and food education, she says. Read more