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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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Sabbath Rest?

I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…

Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.

Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…

Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.

However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.

In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.   

I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…

The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…

I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.

It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?

Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.

I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.

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Good Morning and Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend

Good Morning and Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend from Opal’s Farm. It’s been a great week and we’re taking a deserved day off today. Amber has been hard at work preparing our tomato beds and planting some of the blocks already. The weather has been so up and down that the plants might make an early Spring market!

I’ve been madly preparing the beds for our TCU/SSARE research project. Dr. Omar Harvey, the professor in charge of our grant, has done so much to help us find solid numbers to determine best practices and help us direct our resources in a strategic manner.

We’ve also had some great volunteers over the last couple of weeks. The National Charity League, the Young Men’s Service League, and the Fort Worth BaHa’I Faith Center did an outstanding job building beds this past Saturday.

We’d also like to thank Shelly Young with The Hills Church. Ms. Opal and I were on a panel yesterday talking about food insecurity and what steps each of us can take to address it in our community. Shelly did a great job putting this all together and we’d love to thank the Unity Builders ministry at The Hills for having us.

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It’s A New Year!

I went to bed in 2022 and when I woke up it was 2023! That’s how it is for an old farmer. I rarely make it past the ten o’clock news, so I haven’t seen the “ball drop” in years. I hope everyone had a super News Years Eve celebration and wish each one of you a happy and blessed New Year.

I’m starting the New Year right by heading to Opal’s Farm to take advantage of the seventy-seven-degree January 1st here in North Texas. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, so I’ll make “hay while the sun shines”. That’s the way it is here. Christmas week was the severe winter storm that crippled most of the country. Now it’s Springlike for a few days and there’s much work to be done. Spring planting starts in six weeks.

The last two years have been difficult for Opal’s Farm. The weather has been a run between extremes – from the historic freeze of 2021 to the drought and extreme heat of 2022. Rain and lingering summer heat made for arduous fall planting. The recent winter storm, with its sixty mile an hour winds, blew the covers off the low tunnels and most of the fall/winter crop suffered freeze damage. We probably won’t be able to go to Cowtown Farmers Market this month, but we look forward to seeing you in February.

Extreme weather is becoming the new norm as the climate changes. We’re learning to adapt with new cultivars and vegetables that tend to be heat and drought tolerant. We’ll be bringing some new varieties of veggies to market this year. We are finally able to get some transplants started indoors so harvest will be earlier and more abundant than in the past. We’d also like to thank David Cole, Adjunct Professor of Horticulture at Tarrant County College NW Campus. He and his students will be starting our tomato and pepper transplants again this year. We continue the work of organically farming and building soil health. We’re looking forward to the New Year and we hope to serve more fresh, nutritious produce to our community.

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Christmas Feelings and Wishes

The sun is shining brightly reminding us that warmth is on its way after the brutal Arctic front plunged the thermometer for the last couple of days. We took the holidays off from Cowtown Farmers Market for the holidays so we could spend time with family and friends. The fifty-mile-an-hour wind that accompanied the freezing temperatures may have caused a longer absence from market – the low tunnels and bed coverings couldn’t stand up to the wind – but we won’t know the full extent of the damage until next week. At least we haven’t lost power and haven’t had to sleep with four big dogs and in insulated coveralls to stay warm!

I haven’t been able to muster a whole lot of Christmas spirit this year. Grief comes exceptionally strong this time of year – Jeremy was born on Christmas Day – and I associate the holidays with loss. I had planned to go to Kentucky to spend Christmas with Momma and the weather quashed that plan. Upon awakening this morning, I summoned all my energy to fight pulling the covers over my head and sleeping (or at least feigning sleep) until December 26th. I got up, brushed my teeth, and made coffee. I made breakfast for my wife and sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

There are some things I’ve learned about grief, mainly that it never goes away. The stretch of good days begins to become longer with time, but grief will rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient of times – a song, a scene in a movie, the holidays – the list goes on. This year it began early with an art show that was a tribute to Jeremy. Then came Thanksgiving and now Christmas.

Grief may never go away but difficult moments always pass. It will always go to sleep or at least retreat for a time. The retreats last longer than they did after Jeremy died. Greif may be overwhelming at times, but life still goes on. It only feels all consuming. I must no longer let feelings run my life, but I do have to feel them.

As I sat staring at the computer this morning it dawned on me that my grief has consequences not only for me but those close to me as well. I may not want to do Christmas, but my family does. Christmas is Margaret’s favorite holiday. I used to get the tree and Christmas decorations out early so she could wrap the house in decorations and Christmas spirit. Then her mobility became so limited. This year it fell on me to get everything out of the attic which I managed to put off until last week. My step kid was going to do the decorating, but it kept getting put off until finally my wife told me last night that I should put everything back in the attic. “Nobody else thought Christmas was important.” She didn’t say it with malice or sarcasm, but I could feel her disappointment.

So… I’m only going to sit here long enough to tell you that I’m off to set up the Christmas tree and decorate our home for tomorrow.

I want to wish each and every one of you a blessed and Merry Christmas. If you’re having a hard time with the holidays as so many do, please know that you’re not alone. My prayers go out to those for whom Christmas is a reminder of loss and pain. If you’re having a really tough time, I suggest what my friend Jim told me long ago, “If you’re wrapped up in your painful feelings, then go help someone else.” That’s what I’m going to do today. It’s always worked well in the past…