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Can a Tomato Change the World?

I haven’t had much time to post anything. This was a blog from 2018 and it still applies today!

Thoughts From the Porch: I need to get a little personal here. I have an issue that’s close to the heart and after this week, I’m driven to share it with you. I haven’t spent much time on the porch. The early blast of Arctic weather has limited my time there. It must’ve delivered some silent signal to our trees last night. They seemed to release all their leaves at once. Except for the few bold ‘hangers-on’, the yard, sidewalk, and most of the porch is covered in dead and dying leaves.

My tomato and pepper plants succumbed to the freeze. I knew it was coming. The cycle of the seasons is inevitable. I know the time will always come to say goodbye to homegrown tomatoes for the winter. I had hoped we’d somehow escape the unusually early frost. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to tasty, fresh tomatoes, even if it’s only temporary.

I spent this last couple of weeks working on grant applications for Opal’s Farm. Everything met with our Director’s approval and I’m submitting them this morning. I haven’t written grants in many years, so there’s more than a little fear there. Did I do it right? What if they don’t come through? What if, what if, what if…

I want to do well: for the farm and as a writer. I guess I’ll find out how well I did when the grants are awarded.

I’d like to be offering a grand update on our progress, but the wet Fall weather has slowed tilling and bed preparation to a crawl. There’s still much to be done in this holiday (and giving) season. November 27th is the Global Day of Giving. I hope that you’ll keep Opal’s Farm in mind if such days are more convenient for you. Please remember though, donations aren’t contingent on special ‘giving days’, they are accepted 24/7, 365 days a year!

Personal experience has taught me that ‘playing in the dirt’ has the power to change lives and communities and provide solutions to problems far beyond food deserts and food scarcity. If that were all it did it would be a noble undertaking, but it’s much bigger than that.

Several years ago, I was working on a community garden in a local westside neighborhood for B.U.R.N. Ministries. Some of the young men who were in the youth program came to help one day when harvesting had begun. One of the young men asked me what “those are” as I was picking tomatoes. The question kind of took me back. I just assumed everyone knew what they were.

You see, he had grown up in an urban food desert. Most of his diet had consisted of processed foods from the local dollar and convenience stores. He had no idea what fresh produce looked like!

I pulled a tomato off the vine, wiped it off, handed it to him, and invited him to try it. He was reluctant at first. He took a small bite. I watched as his face went from a turned-up nose to a beaming smile. “That’s really good”, he said as he devoured the rest of the tomato. “Can I have another one?”

I’m not saying that one tomato is going to change the world. But I couldn’t help but notice how it changed his face and his perception. It was like shining a light in to a dark place. Once he ‘saw’ the opportunity in front of him he was able to taste the goodness of God’s world. I’d like to think it provided more than simply a great taste sensation. I’d like to think it provided hope.

That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important: to people, to the community, and to the next generation. A simple tomato has the power to change everything. That’s why I’m so passionate about a couple of acres and some wonderful produce.

I could go on and on. Educating people, feeding folks, and empowering individuals for stewardship and the opportunity to leave things a little better than they found it leaves me humbled and in awe of God’s creation.

As a professional writer, I’m supposed to craft my words carefully and ask you to be a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. I’d love for you to be a ‘farmer’, right alongside us whether it be with financial support or digging in the dirt. Moreover, I’m not too proud to beg. My wife always reminds me, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”. This is a golden opportunity to make a difference; to do something tangible. Right here. Right now.

So, I implore you to join us! You can reach us at:

http://www.unityunlimited.org

http://www.gregoryjoel.com

OpalsFarm on Facebook

@opalsfarm on Twitter

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Ups and Downs – New People and Thefts

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’ve written a blog post until I saw there was no September posts. Here it is the 25th and the month is almost over. It’s not like nothing has been happening. In fact, it’s busier than ever – some good and some well, you know…

Opal’s Farm started September with hiring a new Assistant Farm Manager, Amber Carr. In three short weeks she’s come to be loved and appreciated by each of us. We have long been trying to grow into the next phase of Opal’s Farm and we finally can do just that. Amber interned with Charlie Blaylock at Shines Farmstand for the last year and brings a wealth of knowledge and incredible drive to Opal’s. We are blessed to have her with us.

Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator is no longer a “volunteer” Volunteer Coordinator! We were able to hire Stacey on part-time thanks to a salary grant from the Rainwater Foundation and Grow Southeast. Stacey has been with Opal’s as a volunteer since Spring of 2020 and she is greatly appreciated.

We had a major glitch in operations last Tuesday. We found the fence down and the doors to our shipping container were wide open. About $15,000 worth of equipment was stolen. The thieves cut the fence and loaded everything on our trailer and took off. While it is fortunate that our new Kubota tractor was not touched, the BCS tractor and rotary plow that builds our beds is gone. We now park the Kubota off-site for security reasons. The police said that several sites were hit in the last couple of weeks. Apparently, these people are professional thieves. Given the tools necessary to cause the break-in damage it makes sense…

They weren’t messing around.

For this reason, we are setting up a Go Fund Me account to help replace the stolen equipment and install additional security measures. While no security systems are perfect, we try to give thieves reason to think twice before attempting to break in. You can always donate directly to Unity Unlimited and the Opal’s Farm page. Please be sure to mark what it’s for.

I know the North Texas Giving Day was last Wednesday, but we are asking to consider this a special, immediate need. This has hampered and slowed our operations in many ways. Anything you can give would be a great help and so appreciated.

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What’s Plan B?

A researcher from the City of Austin called me a couple of years ago to ask some questions about having an urban farm on a floodplain similar to Opal’s. The city had recently bought out a thousand homes because of flooding on Williamson and Onion Creek. They wanted to build an urban farm on the property and much like governments do, they had to do a study first. Not that it’s a negative mind you. One should “count the cost” before jumping in, but the city was overthinking the whole project. That tends to happen a lot…

Anyway, this nice grad student from the University of Texas called to pick my brain and had a very long list of questions to be answered. Our conversation went well. Yes, there are challenges to urban farming and no, they’re not that big a deal. Farming teaches us how to work with nature and not against it. Moreover, it’s always a risk since nature tends to win no matter what we do. That’s just the way it is. Resilience must be a core value.

She asked me a question I’d never thought of before: what is your Plan B if it floods? It took me back a bit. “What do you mean by Plan B?”

She went on to explain that they were on a twenty-five-year flood plain and they needed a Plan B if it flooded there. I had to laugh and then remember I was talking to a researcher for the city. Cities have a need to put everything in a plan. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t work like that. I guess that’s why I love it so much. There’s never a dull moment.

I informed her that we had no “Plan B”. If it floods, we rebuild the beds and replant. What else is there to do? Maybe that’s a tad easier for me to say since we are on a hundred-year floodplain and have never had to deal with flooding – at least until this week.

The local media is calling this week’s rain historic. We received a month’s rainfall in a day – fifteen inches at Opal’s Farm. The Trinity River breached a section of the levee and flooded the back half of the farm. I was finally able to drive down there by Wednesday. Walking the beds and negotiating some of the still standing water I was surprised to find the back road covered in dead fish – hundreds of them. The levee is slightly lower on the south end of the farm and had washed over that section and when it receded, it left our finned friends high and dry. It was a first for us.

Needless to say…

We spent the rest of the week on “Plan B” – clean up, rebuild, and replant. We were unable to make Cowtown Farmers Market this week, but we should be there next week. We didn’t lose any of our existing crops although everything was covered in mud. The rain and the cooler nights have led the tomatoes to bloom in force and begin setting tomatoes again. Everything is a vibrant green on the farm once more. The dead fish have been added to the compost pile, so I assume we don’t have to spend anything on fish emulsion. The rain brought us down for “Extreme Drought” stage to “Severe Drought” stage. After all, resilience is one of our core values…

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My Own Mind…

There are sometimes when I’m glad there is nobody else at the farm with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love our volunteers and they take a huge burden off my back. Still, there are times when it’s just me and the farm. Everything else seems far away. The soil becomes a part of me. The plants are greener, the pace slower, and all is right with my world.

It probably helps that we finally received some measurable rain after sixty-eight days without. It wasn’t much and it didn’t affect my work – the tractor hardly threw up any mud after the sun came out – but the cooler temperatures and the sprouts of green across a sea of drought-brown reminded me of the ever-present circle of life at the farm. Drought and intense heat bring a sense of hopelessness with it. It begins to weigh heavily and it’s easy to simply go through the day without noticing the wonder of God’s creation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose father farmed tobacco in Tennessee. His father always told him that farmers loved the rain and had to appreciate droughts because it gave them the opportunity to find new ways of growing. Opportunity instead of problem – where have I heard that one before…

The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced that I too, can be grateful for drought. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (even drought), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present you requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.4-7).

This summer helped me find new processes to make Opal’s Farm more successful and get more healthy, fresh produce to our community. God sends everything in it’s time. The rain came just when we needed it the most. The farm is a constant reminder of the ebb and flow of life, of nature. I’ve forgotten that at times. It was okay before I got there, and it will be there when I’m gone…

I take care of the plowing, planting, and building new beds when I’m by myself. I relax, stick on the headphones with some great music (and the Bluetooth to hear the phone over the tractor), and go with the flow of the day. I heard a Lyle Lovett song that I’ve decoded to make my own. I get it and it sums up my days pretty well. Hope you enjoy it…

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A Christian or a Christian Nationalist?

I found this article on my newsfeed and I felt obliged to pass it on. I’m embarrassed to wear the name Christian in this day and age because this very vocal minority has hijacked my faith. They do not speak for those who follow Jesus and seek to live a “Kingdom life” that includes all of God’s kids…

What Is Christian Nationalism? | Christianity Today

Additionally, Christian nationalism is an ideology held overwhelmingly by white Americans, and it thus tends to exacerbate racial and ethnic cleavages. In recent years, the movement has grown increasingly characterized by fear and by a belief that Christians are victims of persecution. Some are beginning to argue that American Christians need to prepare to fight, physically, to preserve America’s identity, an argument that played into the January 6 riot.

Paul D. Miller