Today is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the good old USA. To my friends here I wish a happy feast day filled with family, good friends, and food. We’re having an intimate family dinner here at the Joel home.
As our family has grown, so to has the amount of scheduling going into the holidays. Kids and grandkids balance time with in-laws, other grandparents, and our extended family. Thanksgiving becomes several days long. The final get-together for our family will be on Saturday. In-laws and outlaws, you know…
I will be joining my oldest son for breakfast. Over the past year we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in a long time. He calls every morning on his way to work. It’s one of the joys of my morning. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to the diner…
Do you ever get brain worms? You know, those pesky little
musical ditties that play over and over in your head. No matter what you’re
doing the song or musical rift won’t go away. In fact, the more you try to
think of something else the more persistent the song becomes. Sometimes they’re
simply the last song you hear on the radio and other times it comes out of
nowhere. Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources.
Let me explain…
After an early freeze it’s been a string of beautiful Fall
days here in North Texas. The sun was bright, trees have turned to true Fall
colors, and the birds celebrate the morning in song. The coffee was fuller in
flavor and I relished in the November morning in shorts and a t-shirt. Truly a
I was reading about Jesus’ first recorded miracle at a
marriage feast in Cana: turning the water into wine. About halfway through I started
humming a Kevin Fowler song, “The Lord Loves a Drinking Man”. Honestly,
it isn’t the most spiritual thing to pop up during my prayer and meditation
time. Click on the link and you’ll see what I mean.
Jesus turned the water to wine and “any man who can do
that is a good friend of mine”. Yep…
Changing Water into Wine
John’s retelling of the miracle at Cana offers a brief
glimpse into his kingdom. He says time and time again the kingdom of God is
like a wedding feast and the Jews in Palestine knew how to throw a wedding
feast. Family and friends came together from all over the region. The finest
food was prepared, and the best wine was brought out first. The party was going
to go on for a while so serve the best wine first and “after the guests have
had their fill bring in the cheap stuff.” John 2.10 (The Message).
It was a big deal. Scholars say their wedding parties lasted
for days. I got a taste of this when I was a groomsman in an Irish Catholic
wedding. The reception was in the Coors Brewery Workers Union Hall if that offers
you a clue. They prefer Irish whiskey to wine and that’s probably a story for another
time, but I digress…
I’d like to think that God’s kingdom is a big celebration. The idea of sitting around singing angelic hymns for eternity sounds a bit boring. God’s kingdom is one of love, joy, and a heck-u-va party. I can’t think of anything better to celebrate.
Wine into Water
Ironically, for people like me Jesus seemed to have worked His
miracle in reverse. He changed the wine into water. For me this is the most
amazing miracle of all. Trapped in a swirling whirlpool of cheap wine (among
other things) and total self-obsession, He lifted me to a life I never dreamed
possible. He invited me into the feast (an analogy He uses often). I know
longer settle for scraps of life. I have a seat at Abba’s table: and what a
party it is.
I can only imagine that if this party is so good now, then
how much more so will the big feast be?
I’m unbelievably thrilled and amazed at just how much He loved this drinking (among other things!) man. I’m happy His miracles aren’t contingent on my false piety and spiritual correctness; that His love is unconditional. He always works the right miracle whether it’s wine into water, or water into wine. Whatever you’re drinking, come on in and join the feast…
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
Down On the Farm: Fall has finally hit North Texas for real. The last few mornings were cool enough for long sleeves and the afternoons just warm enough to shed the flannel shirt and soak in the October sun. The turnips, radishes, and beets will be making their appearance at Cowtown Farmer’s Market next Saturday. The okra is still going strong (3 five gallon buckets this week so far!). Every time I think the purple hulled peas are ready to pull up another round of them appear. We’ll also have plenty of butternut squash.
I love the farm and wish all of you could experience it the
way I do. Watching something grow, serving others, creating something wonderful
in the middle of the city I love – all these things are amazing. I can’t
believe I get to do this every day.
I was wrapping up for the day when I found another reason that I love Opal’s Farm so much. I had pulled the pump up from the river and was about to head back to the “barn”. I was about to out the tools in the truck when I noticed how still and peaceful the evening was. The river was punctuated with tiny circles as fish fed on the various insects flying too close to the water. The evening sun was beginning to sink in the west and rays of sunlight hit in ways I had previously failed to notice. Even the noise of cars on the nearby interstates seemed almost non-existent.
It occurred to me how blessed I was to be in that moment, in
that place. There, right across the river from downtown Fort Worth, I was in a
place of amazing beauty and stillness normally reserved for places far from an
It’s my hope you’ll join us at Opal’s Farm. Please go to our
website, www.unityunlimited.org and
sign-up today. Fall is the perfect time to experience the farm – not too hot,
not too cold – and we’d love to see you.
As always, you can also use the website to donate to Opal’s
Farm. We have much work to do finishing Fall and getting ready for Spring. We
can’t do it without your help! See you soon!
Down On the Farm: Hey! Jameson here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. Every farm needs a dog to make sure everything flows smoothly. My human, Greg, he may be the farm manager but I’m the one who keeps it on track. That is just what I do!
Being as farm dog is hard work.
First thing in the morning I patrol the perimeter. We started with an acre and
it makes for a long walk. Next season we’ll be enlarging the garden, with more
of our five acres cultivated. That may be more to patrol but I’m up for it.
Sometimes I go well beyond the confines of the farm. I’ll take off down Trinity Trail and Greg inevitably yells “Jameson” every time I get out of sight. Having my quiet stroll interrupted gets on my nerve, but I know Greg can’t do his job without my supervision…
Then I take a hike through the
underbrush around the farm. You know, make sure no uninvited guests or other
pesky critters are about. We’ve had a bout with furry little long-tailed
rodents eating holes in the cantaloupe and watermelon. I’m proud to report that
several melons have been saved due to the diligence of yours truly.
After all that work, I get to enjoy a nap in the shade of the truck or, even better, take a bath in the Trinity River. It’s usually a short one though. There’s work to be done and if I don’t keep an eye on things, who will?
I love it when volunteers come to
work at Opal’s Farm. All those extra hands get so much done! I really stay on
guard when they’re there. I love our volunteers!
I hope you come to see us at Opal’s
Farm. We’re doing great things and would love for you to be a part of it all.
Besides, volunteers mean more people to scratch my ears…
I better get off for now. My human
is coming and it’s off to the farm. See you soon!
I took a break over the last few weeks due to the heat. I guess that is why they call them the “dog days of summer”. Don’t worry though. Now that Fall is finally be here, I’ll be a fixture at the farm. My human, Greg, did a good job during the hottest days of summer heat but I know he missed my wit and wisdom…
By the way, I forgot to mention you can contribute to Opal’s Farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org or through our Facebook page. To volunteer, simply go to our website, click on Opal’s Farm page and then click on the sign up to volunteer button. See ya!
Thoughts From the Porch: I had a meeting this morning that allowed me to have a brief time on the porch. September usually doesn’t allow it. This is our busiest time at Opal’s Farm. There’s new seed to be planted and watered (frequently!). Fall is a great time for crops in Texas although it’s kept me away from the porch temporarily.
The farm is a great substitute for the porch. On the days I
don’t have volunteers working I get to spend some alone time with God: perfect
for prayer and meditation. Things will settle down next week and return to a slightly
normal schedule. Stay tuned. Thoughts From the Porch is just taking a little
hiatus. I’ll be back next week.
Thoughts from the Porch: It’s the last day of January. It felt like it on the porch. Still, I can enjoy my porch time unlike our neighbors to the north. The record low temperatures remind me how lucky I am to be a Texan where we complain about the cold when the high is in the forties, not forty below. Prayers of warmth are being sent up for the folks in the Midwest. Hang in there, guys…
Being from Texas, I’m
genetically predisposed to be a football fan. Football is most certainly a
religion here. Our football fervor has inspired countless books, several movies
and even a television series, “Friday Night Lights”. Visit any small town on
Friday nights in the Fall and you’ll see what I mean. In the big cities there
are multi-million dollars high school stadiums filled with frenzied fans. Winning
coaches and star players are often held in the same worshipful regard as Davy
Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo. Fans know the stats of every player on
the home team. For a few months of the year, football is king.
When I moved to Colorado in my
early teen years, I was baffled that high school football seemed to take a back
seat to basketball. My dad informed me that football wasn’t revered by the heathens
north of the Red River. Though that might have been true about high school, it
didn’t seem to apply to pro ball. Denver Bronco fans were intense! Colorado had
some redeeming qualities after all!
For many years, my Sunday
afternoons were spent at either the stadium or in front of the television. I
was happy to play Monday morning quarterback with coworkers and friends. God
forbid that I ever miss a Super Bowl, regardless of whether my teams were
playing. I was a football fan!
This coming Sunday is Super
Bowl LIII. It’s unlikely I’ll be tuning in except to see the new crop of Super
Bowl commercials for the year. They’re far more entertaining even if they are
about rampant consumerism. Things have changed over the years. I may see part
of one or two games per season, if I think about it. Watching for a few minutes
seems to be a waste of time. It’s just not the same.
I still make high school games.
I love the school spirit, the energy, and the love of the game. High school
players still play ball because they enjoy it; for the most part anyway. People
still fill the stadium because that’s what we do: support our kids, yell at the
opponents, and then go out for dinner with them after the game. There’s a
certain purity to that.
I don’t follow professional
football much. Not only are the Dallas Cowboys (my favorite team) absent from
the playoffs most years, watching a bunch of prima donnas do put on end zone
theatrics, kind of turns my stomach. It’s far more about money and celebrity than
it is love of the game. Real players and role models are few and far between.
I have mixed emotions about the sport today. The medical community has begun to understand the long-term consequences of the game. It’s not just bad knees and back problems anymore. There’s traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia to think about. I sometimes wonder if allowing my son to play was in his best interests. His college scholarship hopes were cut short by an injury during his senior year.
Despite his injuries, I still
believe in high school football and the purity of the game. He learned a lot
about teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance playing ball. Watching most
(not all, mind you) pro players today those things seem to be absent. I have no
desire to give my time or my dollars to such foolishness.
So, this Sunday will find me
working around the house, catching a movie on Netflix, or sleeping in my
recliner. You won’t find me watching the “Big Game” but, if it’s a Friday night
in November, you might just see me under the Friday night lights.