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Meet Ethan Hawk

I had coffee on the porch this morning wearing comfortable sweatpants and a t-shirt. I had to switch the sweatpants out for shorts! It’s been an up and down Fall temperature-wise. December is following the same train. The long-term forecast says I have another three to four weeks before the real winter weather hits (think second week in January y’all…) so I’ll get the row covers and the low tunnels ready. Winter is turning out to be a great season for Opal’s Farm.

The ultimate mission of Opal’s Farm and all of Unity Unlimited is to build a strong local community. Opal’s has always included the soil, the wildlife, and their habitat in that community. Just as all of God’s kids have a basic human right to the food we grow, all creation is sacred, given life by the creator.  Therefore, we are stewards and custodians of a sacred gift – one that is especially holy right here in the middle of Fort Worth.

We’ve always had an abundance of wildlife frequenting the farm. Three coyotes are seen regularly early in the mornings. Great Blue Herons nest on a tree-covered sand bar on the south end of the farm. Egrets are in abundance. This time of year, we also get the many geese, ducks, and cormorants migrating towards warmer climes. The Trinity River is often covered with huge flocks of ducks, geese, and sea gulls all sitting together. Sometimes we just have to stop working and marvel at the choreography of hundreds of them taking off from the water in their assigned flight crews.

We’ve recently discovered a new visitor – a bobcat that keeps ripping the Agribon covers and leaving headless field mice (and a lot of tracks) as gifts for us each morning. We’ve also found a ton of tiny native toads where our new beds are going. We have a farm turtle named Myrtle who trudges across the fields from time to time. We have the full complement of field mice, songbirds, other small field critters, and nutrias from the river.

My favorite though is our resident Cooper’s Hawk, Ethan (it was either Ethan or Tony but since he doesn’t have a skateboard…). Ethan has become quite a fixture at the farm. He moved into the big oak tree next to the farm last year. He even brought a mate with him this Spring, although we rarely see her. Our bird problems have been minimal since Ethan’s been around.

I’ve been clearing sections of sorghum and Sudan grass with a bushwhacker/weed trimmer and Ethan has started to stand behind me and wait until my bushwacker chases field mice into the open. It’s become a great place to hunt, and he stands closer to me each day. Close enough that I backed into him the other. He does not seem to be concerned about Amber and I. I don’t wish to anthropomorphize but I’m sure he understands us when we’re talking to him.

I stop to watch Ethan hunt quite often. I’m always enthralled by his beauty and thank God that he’s allowed us to be a part of his world. He’s a constant reminder of how important being a good steward of God’s creation is. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us of how interconnected God’s world is. It’s said he preached to the animals just as he carried the gospel to people. We often fail to remember just how precious all life – the natural world with its myriad of creatures and wonders – truly is. I’m so grateful to be a part of Opal’s Farm and to commune with the Creator and the created.

“God looked over everything He had made; it was good, so very good” (Genesis 1.31)

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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
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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.

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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?

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Freeze One Week, Spring the Next

Good Evening, Cowtown! It’s been a splendid February day at Opal’s Farm (I never dreamed I would use splendid and February in the same sentence…). The jackets came of early as we finished getting the covers on the tomato beds for the Spring. Our potatoes came in and a fifty-pound bag is cut and ready to plant in the morning. We’re happy to announce that Spring planting is underway!

We’ve been absent from Cowtown Farmers Market for the last month. Freeze damage, last week’s  TOFGA Conference, and the market closing for the recent ice storm has left us anxiously anticipating this Saturday – we miss you all and hope you can drop by Cowtown Farmers Market from 8 AM to Noon.

Our resident hawk swooped, down this morning to engage in some helpful pest control. He was carrying off his catch when the crows mobbed up on him and tried to chase him off. The crows are the bullies of the farm. Fortunately, our hawk friend led them past the train trestle and was able to find a quiet spot to eat his lunch in peace.

One of my favorite times at Opal’s Farm is when nature seems to dull the city noise and reveal the beauty that is often overlooked by the fast-paced city life that marks so many of our days. Perhaps it’s growing older, but I find myself reveling in the awe and the beauty of our little place we call home. The farm opened my eyes to the wonders that are right here among us. My son frequently reminds me that I get excited by the silliest things (manure and composting vegetables simply don’t appeal to him the way they do me…).

I get delighted when I turn the compost and steam rises from the soil that will nurture the new Spring beds. I become almost giddy when I see more and more earthworms indicating that we are truly rebuilding our soil knowing I can look forward to a healthy harvest in the months ahead. Ladybugs lie dormant under plant leaves, waiting to devour the pests that appear as the crops grow. The miracle of life awaits me every day and I am awed by the interconnectedness all around me.

I usually arrive as the sun is coming up on days the Grow SE Apprenticeship class is held – the early mornings when the steam rise from the Trinity River and the water is like glass. We have three coyotes that love to come around and keep an eye on us. They don’t run off as quick as they used to, leaving time to watch them as they walk slowly down towards the river.

The egrets often stand guard along the levees – lined up in a single row with equal spacing between them is extraordinary. They take off one by one at precisely timed intervals as I drive down to the pump station. It’s quite a sight and never ceases to amaze me. Now if they’ll only let me take their picture…

We’d love for you to come down and volunteer or just visit. We love to share our little piece of paradise in the shade of downtown Fort Worth. Knowing that what we do is helping our neighbors, our community, makes the day even more special. If you can’t get to Opal’s Farm please come by and see us at Cowtown Farmers Market.

A February morning