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Meet Megan Penn of Orange Home Grown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Penn.

Megan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Back in 2009, I had just gotten married. I had attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and graduated in 2001. After college, I moved back to my hometown of Orange, CA. Cal Poly was a wonderful place to go to college. There is an amazing Thursday night farmers market where the entire City comes out to buy local produce, listen to music, grab dinner, and just be part of a community. After moving back home and working for a local architecture firm as a senior project planner, I started to get the itch to try to figure out how to start “community-based” farmer’s market in our City. I missed having access to fresh produce and I missed being part of something that brought everyone together (the college students, the local residence, business owners, government employees, etc.).

Back in Orange, I started to run into classmates I knew from grade school. We started chatting and it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who wanted a farmer’s market in Orange, so in 2009 a small group of Orange residents started meeting around kitchen tables and researching how we could start a farmer’s market. We discovered that only a government agency, a farmer, or a nonprofit could run a farmer’s market. Therefore by process of elimination, we knew we needed to start a non-profit. It took us two years of meeting every other week after work, but we finally received our nonprofit status and we opened the doors to the first Saturday farmer’s market here in Orange on May 7, 2011. It was a really amazing day! 1900 people came out to support the grand opening and all of our founders were on cloud 9! All our hard work had paid off and we did it!

Fast forward to 2016. By now I had given birth to two children and was still working fulltime and putting all my extra time and energy into Orange Home Grown. I started to hit a breaking point. I couldn’t give 100% to OHG, to my paying job, and to my family. So I started having conversations with our board and with my husband to figure out what I could to do make sure OHG continued, but that I also didn’t lose my sanity. We needed someone full time representing our organization. We had made a decision to grow the organization but just couldn’t do that without someone stepping into a leadership role.

In May of 2016, I left my career of 14 years a planner/urban designer and stepped into the role of Executive Director for Orange Home Grown. It was a scary decision to make, but since that moment, I haven’t looked back! I haven’t had time to look back because we have been moving full speed ahead ever since. In April 2016, we broke ground in partnership with the Orange Public Library Foundation on the first seed lending library in the City of Orange. Next, we paired up with Chapman University to break ground on the first education farm in the City. We now grow food as a community and host free education classes on a 7,000sf lot in the center of a residential street. We host a weekly pop-up “donation based pay-what-you-can” farm stand. We partnered with the Picerne Family Foundation in 2017 to launch the OHG Youth Food Literacy Program (YFLP).

This is a program for local high school youth to spend a year with Orange Home Grown (OHG) on a journey through the process of food (starting from seeds to the soil, to how it gets sold and into the hands of consumers and restaurants, etc.). We are very excited to have our first class graduating this July with scholarship opportunities at the end of the program. In addition to scholarships that are offered through our YFLP, Orange home-grown has a separate OHG Scholarship program where we have given out 15 scholarship since 2013. I am so proud of what a grassroots organization was able to accomplish with a lot of hard work, passion, and commitment for making our community a better place and supporting the locally grown food revolution.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There are always struggles, but we have managed to jump all the hurdles.

After 6 years of running the Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market at Chapman University’s Villa Park Orchards Packinghouse (the last operating packinghouse in Orange County), we had to relocate the market due to a development project on the site. The University worked with us to find a new home. Unfortunately, the new location was a bit small for our needs, so we approached the City to also partner with them to close a City block in addition to utilizing a university parking lot.

It is always a lot of work maneuvering through the City process with application deadlines and City Council public hearings, but everyone came together and worked hard so that the market didn’t skip a beat. We were able to make a smooth transition to our new location, but this was a huge work effort on OHG’s end.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Orange Home Grown story. Tell us more about the business.
Orange Home Grown (OHG) specializes in creating opportunities for people to come together through local agriculture. We collaborate with other like-minded organizations and businesses. Education is a big focus in all the programs we offer. No other organization in our area provide all the programs that we offer. Entities that run farmer’s markets focus on that solely. The same goes for urban farms and seed lending libraries. We feel the diversity of programs that we offer compliment one another. We provide access, education, and hands-on opportunities around growing food.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
The board members that have been drawn to our organization each bring something different and unique to the table. Each person gives 110% and they are always eager and willing to lend a hand wherever needed. We have become family. I have never met such a dedicated and passionate group of people interested in giving back to their community in this capacity.

Everyone has been drawn to the organization for one reason or another and it has been a very organic process. I think we have been very lucky that such great people have chosen to be part of OHG. They make the organization tick and they bring life to everything we do. I feel that I have been given this opportunity to help guide our organization because of this amazing group of individuals who believe in and support me.

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