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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

Anniversaries, Awe, Children, Community, Democracy, Down On the Farm, Equal Rights, Events, Faith, Family, Farmers Markets, Fireworks, Food Justice, Freedom, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Heroes, History, Honor, Hope, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Persistence, Revival, Service Organizations, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming, What Can I Do

Happy Juneteenth! Happy Freedom Day!

Opal’s Farm celebrated Juneteenth in a big way this year. We missed Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom since we were at Cowtown Farmers Market yesterday, we had a record-breaking day in produce sales at the market! Thank you to all our friends and customers – many of whom were first time visitors to the market – who came out to wish us well and celebrate the Juneteenth weekend with us. You made our day extra special!

We loaded up the market stuff and headed to Panther Island Pavilion for the I Am Juneteenth Festival where we saw many old friends and met many new ones. It was even bigger and better that last years party and highlighted Freedom Day for us all. Many new vendors and food trucks came, and all ate well. Thank you, Miss JoAnn, and Miss Mattie’s Food Truck for the amazing food! You hold a special place in our heart. We look forward to seeing you every chance we get (and tomatoes are coming your way!).

The Dock Bookstore sat up right across from us, which was a real treat. The Dock has been at Meadowbrook and Handley Drive for fourteen years. Please drop by sometime to enjoy what a bookstore is supposed to be. Celebrate and support our local businesses that are so vital to our community.

The music and entertainment were terrific. Fireworks ended the evening of celebration with a spectacular show reminding each one of us that freedom is to be celebrated from June 19th through July 4th. It’s freedom for all of us regardless of race, religion, or politics. It’s time to celebrate our shared humanity and press on to a better community.

Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom 2022 –
Miss Opal and Unity’s Executive Director Ms. Dione Sims

Ms. Opal addressed the crowd and then came to our booth to meet, greet, and sign copies of her children’s book, Juneteenth. I watched as the line grew long to meet “The Grandmother of Juneteenth”. Parents asks for pictures of Ms. Opal with their kids and themselves. They wanted their children to understand the history of Juneteenth and Ms. Opal’s life of advocacy and activism. I was mesmerized by the way she touches the hearts of everyone she meets, but especially the children. The message she sends is always the same – there’s much to be done. Know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going. Acknowledge the past so we can all move forward. Love others – especially in the small ways – and remember we all bleed red, we’re all brothers and sisters, and above all, each one of us are God’s children. Treat God’s kids well.

On this special Juneteenth – Freedom Day – I can’t think of anything better to do than that…

Ms. Opal and Gubernatorial Candidate
Beto O’Rourke
Adoption, Awe, Children, Connection, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Grief, History, Kentucky, Listening, Love, Marriage, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality, Spring, Summer, Thoughts From the Porch

Family Reunions With a Brand New Family

North Texas has been in various stages of drought since last summer. Rain has been sparse this Spring, but timing is everything – it came just in time to relieve my anxiety about leaving town (and the farm) over Memorial Day weekend. I attended a family reunion at the family farm in Kentucky and quite frankly, I’m still feeling overwhelmed by this family I never knew I had.

A little backstory – you need to know that I’m adopted. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents one could ask for. Mom and Dad always told me that I was special because I was chosen – hand-picked if you will. Dad passed in 2002 and Mom passed away in 2017. Rarely a day passes without thinking about them.

I had taken a DNA test sometime ago and last Spring I got serious about finding my birth mother. I found an incredible Facebook group called DNA Detectives. I asked for some help and was amazed at how quickly they found my biological parents. I sent a letter to my birth mother, and she called a few days later. At sixty-two years old a new chapter of my life began. I have been doubly blessed with Mom and Momma.

We talked weekly and learned that I had five half-siblings, two younger brothers and three sisters. My eldest son, Adrian, and I went to Kentucky in September to meet them in person. Margaret and I returned to Kentucky in November and spent Thanksgiving week with my newfound family. I spent a few days in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend for the family reunion and met a plethora of cousins, nieces, and nephews that came from Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky to be with my Momma at Flint Ridge, our family farm.

Flint Ridge – the McCuddy family home – the house was built in 1804 and purchased by Napoleon McCuddy in 1829
The old smokehouse at Flint Ridge – the cracks in the walls were from the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

I introduced myself to one of my cousins and the response was “Oh, so you’re the subject of all the conversations the last few days”. I think it was meant positively though given the welcome I received from the family.

I can’t explain what it feels like to be among a crowd of people who look like you. I’m told that I favor my grandfather, and I look just like my Uncle David, both of whom passed away before I knew them, but the pictures are awesome. I apparently also look like my cousin Tommy because I was mistaken for him a couple of times.

I believed what my father had always told me about being special until I found out the rest of my world found being “special” really being “different”. I guess that why I felt at ease with all these people. I wasn’t different. I was like a whole room full of people that looked like me and felt a part of.

I talked, laughed, and did a lot of careful listening to the stories of my family. I think nurture is way overrated as a major influence in development. This last year has taught me that genes are far more responsible for who I am than my environment ever could be. Momma told me that when she visited Flint Ridge many years ago that something happened when she crossed the Tennessee River – it was where she belonged. I knew exactly what she meant.

One of my happiest moments of the weekend is when my cousin Brian said He wished I grown up with them. My cousins knew how to have fun. My brother Mark and I have talked about this. He always wanted a brother and so did I. Between talking to him and talking to Momma I’ve concluded that three boys with the same appetite would’ve put Momma in the poor house. Mark and I would have been good for one another or really, really bad…

I’ve learned that I am my mother’s son. I am just like her in so many ways, even down to the foods we like and dislike. I’ve come to know how blessed I am to have a momma who loves me and has for the sixty-two years we were apart. Last August I received my “first” birthday card from Momma.

I’m blessed to come from “good stock” – I could listen to the story of my grandparent’s relationship for hours – how my grandfather turned his back on fortune and chose love instead. Someday I’ll be able to share that one, but not today.

During a lull in the festivities, I walked off by myself to the family cemetery. I looked at the headstones. The names and dates told a rich history of the McCuddy family, my family. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small container that held some of my son Jeremy’s ashes. Jeremy led me to this place. He often asked me why I didn’t put more effort into finding my birth mother. It was his sudden death that pushed me to share my DNA results with total strangers on Facebook and find my momma. It was somehow fitting that some of his ashes rest at Flint Ridge among his ancestors – his blood.

May 29th was the first day of the reunion and the second anniversary of Jeremy’s death. God has a way of holding broken hearts close to his heart. That day will always be bittersweet – a reminder that God wraps us all in arms of love and family.

Communication, Community, Creation, Down On the Farm, Farmers Markets, Food Equality, Gratitude, Opal's Farm, Regeneration, Service to Others, Spirituality, Springtime, Summer, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming

Summer Treats!

The summer heat started earlier than usual this year. May was a little scary because it was so hot and dry. We are listed in the severe drought range like much of Texas, but we’ve had rain over the last couple of weeks that has made the farm erupt with new veggies. The Cowtown Neighborhood Markets have started for the summer and Opal’s Farm is having a banner year. Sales have been up and, most importantly, our local neighborhoods are getting fresh, local produce! We’re always at Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning and be on Thursdays for the remainder of the summer.

The okra is coming along
The Butternut Squash is almost ready
Pumpkins for Halloween anyone?
The Zucchini is truly a “Gold Mine”
Awe, Choices, Connection, Creation, Emotional Health, Fall, Gratitude, Miracles, Practice, Regeneration, Serenity, Simplicity, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Spiders and Miracle Cures

I came home Saturday from dinner with my wife at the rehabilitation hospital. She’s made incredible progress since her back surgery and should be coming home soon. My step-kid is out with her friends for a birthday celebration. The house was quiet. The dogs were happy to see me but quite content to remain comfortably splayed on the love seat and sofa. I made a pot of coffee and headed out to my chair on the front porch to enjoy the cool May evening brought to me by the cold front that blew in this afternoon. The northerly breeze chased away the record-breaking ninety-degree heat that made the last fifteen days drag on and on…

I sat on the porch for a long time. I was captivated by what turned out to be a tiny spider that seemed to hang in mid-air from my porch facia. He was so small I initially thought it to be the remnants of yesterday’s dinner for a much larger arachnid or maybe just a bit of leaf debris from the wind that had gotten caught on a strand of spider’s silk. I’d noticed it yesterday but let it be. Not so today though.

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

I went to clean the speck of hanging debris when suddenly it began moving across a very fine web draped across the expanse of the front porch. I stopped and was immediately intrigued by the tiny creature before me. He couldn’t have been more than a quarter-of-an inch in circumference even with his miniature legs fully extended. As he settled into the new spot on the web, he pulled his legs up close to his body and remained motionless; waiting for a dinner that may take hours to come.

I sat back down in the chair. This tiny speck had been hanging there for the last couple of days and I’d never taken time to see it for what it was – an intricate web wholly spun by a creature so minute I’d thought it to be airborne trash. It occurred to me how much wonder I miss in an average day. I’ve prided myself on being able to stop and see the magnificent creation God has made but lately I’ve suffered from a serious case of “busyness”. Busyness is a terrible sickness.

The last month has been filled with meetings, the hospital, classes, presentations, and struggling to keep the farm irrigated during the hottest start to May on record and severe drought. Add to those the normal farming duties – harvesting and selling at Cowtown as well as a new farmers market – and there’s little time to sit, write, and notice the beauty that’s just waiting for me. While all those things are important, I’m convinced human beings were never meant to multitask…

Take my teensy little spider friend. I’m not sure how long it took to create his engineering masterpiece. All I know is that it wasn’t there one day, and it was the next. It was singleness of purpose that brought about a small miracle. Spiders may measure time differently than people, for all I know, but I don’t know of any humans that could build such a marvel in one night. The world has an abundance of such marvels. Many of them right outside my front door.

This morning I decide to take a moment to sit, enjoy my coffee, and put all else to the side. Busyness fights me all the way, but I need the medicine of quiet and relaxation to stop and take in this day that the Lord has made. Listening and watching one of God’s tiny, overlooked creatures put things in perspective – at least for today. What’s on your front porch?