Several weeks ago we were privileged to be a part of the Blue Zones Project Fort Worth’s “TransFORTmation” campaign. The first You Tube video became available this morning. We couldn’t wait the share it with you. It was perfect timing as always – #GivingTuesday!
Down On the Farm: Fall is a busy time at Opal’s Farm. There
is winter produce such as Kohlrabi, cabbage, and spinach and cover crops to be
planted. There’s rebuilding beds and design changes to be made for Spring, irrigation
infrastructure to be built, and the ever-persistent weeds and grasses to be
dealt with. I only wish the Bermuda grass did as well at my house!
Most of you know that September brought record-breaking heat and only a trace of rain. We had to irrigate more than usual, and the carrots had to be replanted in October, but we still had radishes, turnips, greens, beets, and Butternut squash to take to market. Unfortunately, above average temperatures were followed by an unexpected early freeze. We are probably winding down our market stand for the rest of 2019.
When we finally had some rain, it lasted for a few days. We
love rain though and, as for me, I had the first day off in three months! “Make
hay while the sun shines”, my Dad used to say so I did so. When the sun and
warm Fall weather returned, I looked at the spot on the Trinity River where we
set up our pump. I soon found out the negative consequences of the welcomed
It was obvious that I had some cleaning up to do before I could use the pump again. You see, when it rained the river rose a bit. As it receded, all the trash that washed downstream came to rest on the banks of Opal’s Farm. Plastic bottles and straws, Styrofoam cups, and an odd assortment of empty chewing tobacco tins, single gloves and plain old litter were strewn about the bank and floating nearby. The place where our suction hose usually sits and where we get our water to prime the pump was thick with flotsam. Everything had to be scooped up before we could irrigate.
I mention this not only because it causes a lot of work
better spent on the farm itself, but because everyone needs to know that litter
on our streets has a way of ending up in the Trinity. Storm drains and precipitation
runoff means that the plastic bags blowing down your street will likely end up
along our banks or worse yet, much farther downstream.
In October, we had the privilege of being an exhibitor at the Tarrant Regional Water District’s Trinity Trash Bash. Nearly 4,000 volunteers spent Saturday collecting over 28,000 pounds of trash. Let that one sink in – 28,000 pounds! Unfortunately, it’s only a fraction of the litter and illegal dumping that goes on all along the watershed.
I appreciate all the volunteers who take it on themselves to
address the debris in the river. It’s such a vital part of Fort Worth. Whether
it’s biking or running along the Trinity Trails, rowing or boating, or catching
a concert at Panther Island Pavilion the river is something we all enjoy. Here
at Opal’s Farm it’s part of our life blood, whether it’s for irrigation or just
taking a moment to enjoy a little bit of peace and beauty after a long day of
Before you throw that candy wrapper down think about where
it ends up. Solving our litter problem is something everyone has a part in, not
just 4,000 volunteers on a Saturday. Who knows, if each of us took a moment to clean
up our little part of the world maybe those volunteers could spend their time
on other ways of making Fort Worth and the Trinity River a better place!
“Jesus wasn’t executed because he went around healing people; he was crucified as the worst kind of criminal because his Gospel message was viewed as dangerous by the ruling class. In fact, the entire Gospel of Luke is one long lesson in speaking truth to power—to the corrupt elite in Jerusalem. If we Christians claim to have anything to do with Jesus, then we must inherently be engaged with the political issues of our time.” – Peter Armstrong
This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the
Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last
couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words
don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.
Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of
weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to
recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after
she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.
We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.
Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was
no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than
one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive
skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She
really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…
Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple
of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her
leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has
eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.
This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the
hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial
difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me
wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over
and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful
“village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most
because of the people that fill our lives.
That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has
wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting
has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops,
building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation
system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely
As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.
None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.
Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.
Along the way there have been many volunteers who have
lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of
fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in
Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us
through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project,
Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply
make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t
forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan
O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.
“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s
Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside
us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty
to ask you for more.
While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools,
supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash
position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most
non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit
When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I
spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew
finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty
that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were
supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing
that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what
God called us to do.
For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been
erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never
more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more
precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.
We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust
that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”.
That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and
Business, especially farming, requires planning for the
coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as
we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved
soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased
yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and
the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an
initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind
donations we’ve received from our sponsors.
Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm
grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly
be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm
and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your
support. We know this is a “we” project.
I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season
of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500,
each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more
urgent to help Opal’s Farm
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.
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.
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”