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Finding Your “Why”: Part Two

I spent last Friday morning at the farm with a prospective donor. We talked about the mission and purpose of Opal’s Farm for over an hour. The farm is about more than simply providing access for fresh produce to a largely forgotten neighborhood. It’s about building a better Fort Worth and serving our community. While that’s a worthy mission, the means by which we accomplish that mission is the tangible “goods” that the local community receives. What makes Opal’s Farm so special and why should you be a part of it? This is the second reason “why”.

Last Friday, we talked about “dirt therapy” and the physical and emotional well-being that comes from working the soil. The sense of community, of connection, and the increased physical activity shared with others of like mind is amazing. Even though that’s reason enough for anyone to come out and work or support the farm, your “why” might be as simple as providing food for your neighbors.

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When I was talking to our prospective donor the other day, I mentioned that Ms. Opal had been late for a dinner meeting the evening before because she had to drive a long way to get lettuce for the salad. He looked at me with a bit of confusion, “Why couldn’t she go to a store around here?”, he asked.

I told him that there was no store around here. The closest one was several miles south of the neighborhood. I explained to him that United Riverside, our neighborhood, is a food desert. The USDA defines a food desert as anyplace were access to fresh, healthy food is more than one mile away. He was a bit shocked that there were over forty food deserts listed in Tarrant County alone.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Everyone touts the great economy and growth Fort Worth has experienced over the last few years. Politicians and business leaders point to the success Fort Worth and the growing economy has had. We often don’t hear the grim statistics and the reality for many of our neighbors. I’ve thrown them out there many times before, but statistics are often abstract and overwhelming.

In Tarrant County, one in four children go to bed hungry each night. One in four, 25%! For blacks and Latinos, the number is even more staggering – one in three children face hunger. That’s 33% of kids right here in Tarrant County!

What can you do about it? Now that you know the numbers it’s overwhelming. When a problem is of a scale that’s overwhelming it can foster inaction. It’s easy to say, “I can’t help everybody” and so no one gets help.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa. It’s at the bottom of every email I send out. It says, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” We do what we can, and Opal’s Farm provides the “why”. Through a simple farm we begin tackling the issues of food success and food scarcity. We can’t feed all of Fort Worth, but we can bring health and vitality to a neighborhood through each season’s harvest. You have to start somewhere…

Maybe you’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the size of the problem. Maybe you feel like you don’t make a difference. Maybe, just maybe, you do. Helping at Opal’s Farm, whether by donating or volunteering is the first step. It’s something tangible.

Mother Teresa said something else that always comes to mind, too. She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” I’m no math genius but I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of small acts with great love constitutes a big thing.

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If you’re wanting to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of others please consider your donation or volunteer at Opal’s Farm. If you’re still not sure, I’ll give you another reason “why” tomorrow…

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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

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Remnants…

Thoughts from the Porch: We had another Arctic visitor yesterday. It’s the time of the year for frequent, though thankfully short-lived, visitations from our far northern neighbors. I awoke to a chill in the house. When the wind chill drops the thermometer, our heater takes a while to catch up in the morning. Jumping out of a cozy, warm bed to shut off the alarm is a bit of a shock on days like these. Such is January in North Texas…

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

This week was one of the few Wednesday’s I missed my Fort Worth Development Group meeting. Ms. Opal and I had a meeting causing a time conflict. The good news is that I got to spend the drive time with one of my heroes for two days in a row. That doesn’t happen often enough for me. Sometimes I just need “Ms. Opal time”.

We were able to spend some time together yesterday discussing business and having good conversation. I brag about Ms. Opal only because she lives the kind of life that I hope to lead: one full of love and service for others. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. It’s a reflection of the loving service of Ms. Opal and the realization of a dream and doing something tangible for the community.

We were speaking about the events of Martin Luther King Day. It’s not simply a commemoration of Dr. King, but a National Day of Service as well. She told me that, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, over 800 people showed up at her small church to meet prior to going out and serving various non-profits throughout Tarrant County. Over 800 people giving up their day off to serve others!

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a politics junkie. I usually spend some time on the newsfeed after my morning quiet time. Sometimes I’m not sure why I do. It’s a long string of cultural insanity, full of stories of human suffering, violence, and hatefulness, particularly as it pertains to our current administration in Washington, D.C. While it usually spurs me on to action, it’s often overwhelming and leaves me feeling a bit hopeless. The future is bleak at times. But…

Then I read or hear things like 800 people that gave their time to serve others. Despite all the negativity that bombards us about society, there is an amazing amount of goodness out there. I forget that sometimes…

It reminds me of the biblical story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. It seems that speaking the truth to a corrupt King wasn’t a good idea, even if it was the right thing to do. In fact, the King was so angry he put a price on Elijah’s head. Poor Elijah ran for his life until he was hiding out in a cave, crying out to God that he was the only good guy left in the world.

I get it. Doing the right thing can be tiring at times and it can feel terribly lonely. Frustration keeps me from seeing any good in the world. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story for old Elijah. You see, God answered him in a still quiet voice, assuring him there was still a remnant of good, godly people in Israel: seven thousand to be exact. He wasn’t alone. It just felt that way.

That isn’t the end of the story for me, either. I guess that’s why I love my “Ms. Opal Time” so much. She reminds me of the goodness in people. God hasn’t spoken to me in a cave (at least not yet), but He always sends me someone like Ms. Opal. I’m not alone. I know of at least 800 other folks working to make our little world a better place…

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

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“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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Be the Candle

“We either add to the darkness of indifference … or we light a candle to see by.” — Madeleine L’Engle

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#24hoursofreality

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a bit chilly this morning. We’ve been having below average temperatures all season long. Last Spring, it was above average temperatures. Ask most folks and they’ll tell you that’s just North Texas weather: eighty degrees one day and twenty the next. Weather has always been a wild ride here. That’s just the way it is, right?

 The reality is that our changing weather one of the consequences of global climate change. Stories of extreme weather – devastating storms, overwhelming floods, intense droughts, – fill the news regularly. While a tiny minority denies the science of climate change, most folks agree action must be taken.

Acknowledging and understanding the problem is the first step in leading to the solution. Today is 24 hours of climate reality, a broadcast from aroundthe world about climate change and a good first step. You can tune in via https://www.24hoursofreality.org

Opal’s Farm is one step toward a broader solution. Taking advantage of urban areas to grow food locally doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things. However, gardens and farming by organic methods are one small thing each of us can do to contribute to our planet’s health.

 Taking care of the soil, protecting our watershed fromharmful toxins, and putting carbon back into the soil is a by-product of the fresh produce we grow. We strive to be good stewards of the creation we livein. It may be one small step, a two-acre project, but it provides a model for others.

 We invite you to listen to Climate Reality’s broadcast andto be a part of Opal’s Farm. Be a part of the solution.