Belief, Citizenship, Community, Education, Faith, Food Justice, Freedom, Generations, Grace, Gratitude, Heroes, History, Honor, Juneteenth, Marginalized, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Parties, Persistence, Politics, Prayer, Public Policy, Racism, Relationships, Role Models, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, Stories, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming

Extra Special Juneteenth (Thank you Ms. Opal!)

The Juneteenth Festival this weekend will be a special celebration, both here in Fort Worth and nationally. A signing ceremony in the East Wing of the White House made Juneteenth, the 19th of June, a National Holiday. Words cannot express the joy and pride I felt as I watched President Biden sign the bill and hand a pen to our beloved Ms. Opal. Many prayers have been answered. Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and sent it over to the House where it passed with bipartisan support on Wednesday. I’m at Opal’s Farm all day so I didn’t here of the passage until last night’s 10 o’clock news. I never call anyone after 10:00 PM (I was taught a call after 10:00 better involve blood or it was completely socially unacceptable), but I had to call Ms. Opal right away. “You did it”, I cried.

“No, WE did it”, she said. “There have been so many people along the way who made this happen”.

I wouldn’t have expected any other answer. That’s the kind of person she is. I’ve learned much about true humility from Ms. Opal, but she earned the title “Mother of Juneteenth” from her many years of persistence and dedication to a vision. Many others worked to make this day a reality, but it was a “little old lady in white tennis shoes that gets in everybody’s business” (her description, not mine) that blazed the path forward.

She personifies Juneteenth. That’s why the holiday has come to mean so much to me. Her constant reminder that “no one’s free until we all are free” echoes through all we do at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’m amazed and proud I get to be a part of it all.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm for the last three years. I’ve listened to the stories and the history that I never knew. One story has always stood out. On Juneteenth, 1929, when she was only twelve years old, her family home was burned down by a white mob upset by a Black family moving into their neighborhood. I’d heard the story through media reports, but it was Ms. Opal who told me the one detail that had the greatest impact on me. She told me she decided that day so long ago “that I was going to hate what they did, but I wasn’t going to hate them” (the white mob).

That a twelve-year-old girl could have that spirit of love and forgiveness was astonishing to me. It makes perfect sense when you see her today. I’ve learned more about loving and forgiving others in the last three years than I did in the previous fifty!

Ms. Opal, I’m so proud to be a small, small part of your journey. Thank you for all you have done – not just for me, but for all of us. I’ve prayed diligently for this day. To see you honored in the East Wing of the White House by President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and so many members of Congress was the

was an honor to know, love, and be loved by you. It still doesn’t make my heart swell as much as when you said you were my grandmother too!

That being said…

Opal’s Farm will not be a Cowtown Farmers Market this weekend. We’ll be with Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal, and hundreds of others for an extra special and one-of-a-kind celebration. Please join us at 10:00 AM for our walk with Ms. Opal from Evans Plaza to the Tarrant County Courthouse. The celebration continues with the I Am Juneteenth Festival at Panther Island Pavilion beginning at 3:00 PM and followed by fireworks at 9 PM. What a better way to begin celebrating freedom for us all.

Image: President Joe Biden hands a pen to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021.
Activism, Choices, Citizenship, Common Sense, Community, Courage, Faith, Fighting Poverty, Food Justice, God's Economics, Hope, Juneteenth, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Persistence, Quotes, Racism, Relationships, Responsibility, Service to Others, Simplicity, Social Justice, Spirituality, Truth, Unity Unlimited, Inc., What Can I Do

Courage

“Better is possible… if we care enough to walk away from what was and brave enough to build something new.” – Seth Godin

Yesterday’s guilty verdict was a step in the right direction – moving away from what has always been. It took courage to take the first step. It took courageous prosecutors, jurors, the Floyd family, and countless protesters to shine a light in the darkness of America’s racism. Yet the question remains – where do we go from here?

We are always asking that question at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. One step we can take together is to go to http://www.opalswalk2dc.com and sign the petition for a Juneteenth Federal holiday.

Ms. Opal – the Grandmother of Juneteenth – constantly reminds us that “no one is free until all of us are free”. Juneteenth is not only the celebration of freedom for black Americans. It offers us all freedom from racism, injustice, and bondage to old ideas – no matter the color of one’s skin.

Celebrate freedom and unity. Sign the petition today.

Remember – It takes even more courage to move farther down the path toward racial justice.

Be courageous and be the change.

Send another 1.5 million petition signatures to Congress

#HomeDepot8521, Activism, Christianity, Citizenship, Community, Connection, Creation, Down On the Farm, Environment, Faith, Fighting Poverty, Food Deserts, Food Equality, Food Insecurity, Food Justice, Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, Grace, Gratitude, Hope, Marginalized, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Pandemics, Persistence, Practice, Prayer, Regeneration, Relationships, Responsibility, Service Organizations, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, Tarrant Regional Water District, Tractors, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming, Volunteers, What Can I Do

Thank You Shoutout DFW!

We had the good fortune of connecting with Gregory Joel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gregory, how does your business help the community?
When we began our Creative Strategy session for 2020 one of the very first questions was “What is food insecurity?” What does that look like and how does it affect the neighborhood, the city, the state, and ultimately, world? The consequences of food insecurity – not having enough to eat, not knowing if one will, and not having access to healthy food – touch virtually every aspect of society. Crime, education, economic opportunity, poverty, health and health care – the list goes on. Lack of healthy food is the root of almost all social problems. Food – healthy food -is a basic human right. Opal’s Farm can’t feed everyone, but we can grow nutritious food for our community and our neighbors. Moreover, we can do it in such a way that leaves the soil and environment in a better place than we found it through regenerative agriculture practices. We imagine a world where diversity is evident, opportunities are plentiful, and divisions are crossed, all in pursuit of lasting unity. We provide a replicable model for other communities to utilize vacant urban land for their own farm and address the same issues of food justice. “If you can’t feed a hundred people then just feed one” – Mother Teresa
 
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I never intended to be a farmer. I majored in Political Science and Radical Political Economy and hoped to teach. Life had other plans. Long story short – I found out about Ms. Opal’s dream of an urban farm in Spring 2018 by accident (although I’m not convinced it was accidental). I had seen several other urban farming ideas come and go, but when I met Ms. Opal I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. The rest of 2018 was spent doing research, developing a business model, working on the lease agreement with Tarrant Regional Water District, and trying to find funding. The rest is history, as they say… We held our ribbon cutting ceremony on February 15, 2019. We didn’t find funding right away. We had in kind donations – a shipping container (our “barn”), some tools, and some seed – but no money. Ms. Opal is fond of reminding me, “We’ve done so much with so little for so long that we can do anything with nothing.’ By April, the planting beds were finished (we started with one acre), we planted our donated seed, and harvested our first produce in May. One of our fellow farmers market growers overheard me tell someone we were a non-profit urban farm and said “all farms are non-profit”. I guess we’re not that unique… Our business model is: ten percent of our produce goes to area food banks. The remainder is split – ideally 50/50 – between retail (farmers market) sales and subsidized (neighborhood) sales. The retail end helps the farm become financially stable. The subsidized portion is to dedicated to local communities without access to fresh produce. The retail sector was closer to 90% in our first year. We had to have money to keep the farm going. Paychecks were usually few and far between and much smaller than hoped for. We weren’t close to following our business model and our mission felt out of reach. October was a bleak month. My savings were gone, the house payment was due, and our mission was far from being achieved. I told my wife that maybe it was time to do something else. I felt like a failure. She looked at me and said, “Give it one more month. This is where God wants you to be.” I don’t wish to preach but I have to tell you what happened the next day. A grant came in from the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Dee Kelley Foundation that paid our bills through the end of the year. I quit worrying about the finances ever since that day. There always seem to be “enough”. In December 2019 we were able to receive grant monies since we were able to show production records from our first year. That allowed us to make some significant investments going forward as well as increase to variety of produce we sell. In our first year, 2019, we produced a little over 4000 pounds of produce. In 2020 we increased our yield more than twofold to 8200 pounds. Through our work with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC, we were able to bring our subsidized sales percentage to 49%. Covid was a challenge for everyone in 2020. However, it had several positive impacts for Opal’s Farm. Our volunteer hours increased as folks found out the farm was a great place for safe, outdoor activity. People also began to pay more attention to where there food comes from and how it’s produced. We’ve developed new relationships on both the retail and subsidized sides of the business model. Donations to area food banks have increased to almost 15%. More people are aware of Opal’s Farm. We have tremendous opportunities for “teaching moments” that we might not have had without the pandemic. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in the last two-plus years is that we have an amazing food justice community in DFW – growers, activists, organizations, and advocates – who work hard to end food insecurity and help all of us live better, healthier lives. Opal’s Farm is proud and honored to be a part of that community. This past year was incredibly difficult for me personally. My youngest son, Jeremy – a local visual artist and curator – passed in May. The farm has been my therapy for the last few months. I’ve always told people about our little oasis in the middle of the city. It means even more to me now. Ultimately, Opal’s isn’t just about the food. It’s about community and people. There’s something special that takes place at the farm. I call it community.
 
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t often get a whole week off at one time! Wow! That’s a difficult question. I’m not really into all the “touristy” stuff. Life is pretty simple these days. One of my biggest joys is simply sharing dinner with friends. Something happens when people break bread together. I’m an introvert but I’m most comfortable with others, especially new people, while eating together. I thought I’d make the rounds of my favorite eating places. Then I realized it would take longer than a week. The food doesn’t have to be tops on my list for favorite places. The memory associated with the place is what I love. When it comes to great food I’d have to stop by Spiral Diner and Bakery on Magnolia and Melt Ice Cream for dessert. Much of Jeremy’s artwork can be seen at several of the places on Magnolia. Jay Wilkinson painted a huge mural of Jeremy on the outside of the Hop Fusion Brewery. Jay is a incredible artist and friend. Jeremy did the murals inside Hop Fusion. I’d take them to Ol’ South Pancake House for a late night breakfast so we could watch the slightly inebriated coming in after the bars close. It’s cheap entertainment! I”d have to take them by Mariachi’s at 4th and Sylvania (right up the street from the farm) for some of the best Mexican food in Fort Worth. I’d have to take them by Opal’s Farm of course. The Cowtown Farmers Market is a must stop for the best local produce in North Texas. Then I would have to introduce them to Fort Worth culture – the idea I can go to the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo and walk over to the Kimball and Amon Carter museums is one of the things I love most about Fort Worth. I can drive five minutes away from my house in the city and suddenly be in the country. You have to love it…
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
We definitely have a lot of shout outs to give! We have been blessed with a dedicated cadre of volunteers, mentors, and sponsors who have helped make Opal’s Farm a reality. First, Opal’s Farm wouldn’t even exist were it not for the vision of Opal Lee – our namesake – and Unity Unlimited, Inc. At 94, Ms. Opal’s activism is still providing hope and inspiration for for us all. It was her work in the city and the Community Food Bank that led to the donation of a free lease from the Tarrant Regional Water District for the farm. Then there’s our mentor and friend, Charlie Blaylock, with Shines Farmstand, He has been with the farm every step of the way – from the initial planning, our first sales at the Cowtown Farmers Market (our retail outlet), and our expansion in the coming year. We could not ask for a better mentor and friend. I don’t have enough space to list each of our friends of the farm who have helped us along the way – Grow SE, Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration, Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, Container King, Zimmerer Kubota, Home Depot Store #8521 are just a few.
Website: www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/opalsfarm/
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/showcase/opals-farm
Twitter: @opalsfarm
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unityunlimited
Nominate Someone: ShoutoutDFW is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.
#BlueZonesProjectFW, Activism, Choices, Citizenship, Community, Down On the Farm, Emotional Health, Environment, Faith, Family, Food Justice, Generations, Giving, Gratitude, Growing Up, Health, History, Honor, Hope, Humility, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Persistence, Plowing, Positive Thinking, Practice, Prayer, Preparation, Quotes, Responsibility, Service to Others, Simplicity, Social Justice, Spiritual Deserts, Spring, The Future, Tractors, Transformation, Uncategorized

Winter Doesn’t Slow Us Down

The intended “I’m going to post every other day in 2021” hasn’t gone as planned. I purposefully avoided calling it a resolution thinking that would help. Resolutions are a set up for failure in my book. major life changes – stopping bad habits and starting new ones – rarely come to fruition no matter how strong my resolve. Besides, the little committee between my ears loves it a resolution falls by the wayside – they love to remind me I’ve failed again. I’ve learned not to give them ammunition to use against me. My brain is often not my friend…

I don’t want to make excuses, but it has been a hectic start to the New Year at Opal’s Farm. We’ve increased the production area by 66%. Planting for early Spring crops is almost completed. Evenings are filled with virtual conferences, classes, and the office “To Do” list. Winter hasn’t slowed us down. Rain is predicted for the next three days. Maybe we can take a breather…

Late last year, we plowed, tilled, and planted an Elbon Rye cover crop on a new 1/3 acre. We’ve been able to take care of a bigger area thanks to the Kubota tractor provided to us by Zimmerer Kubota and a 48” tiller implement purchased for Grow SE growers by Blue Zones Project Fort Worth. WE realized that the tractor would free us up to do an additional section. We added another 1/3 acre and have completed most of the beds. Spring is looking good.

Winter is the time to plant cold friendly spring vegetables. We already had several winter crops in that will produce through early Spring. Now we have our cilantro, snow peas, kale, and onions in. I’d still be planting onions if the Paschal High School Key Club hadn’t been there Saturday morning. The young people were a planting machine! They got in over half (approximately 1500 to 2000 onions) in less than two hours!

The Paschal HS Key Club – These 11 young people gave up another Saturday morning to help Opal’s Farm grow!

We intend to be at Cowtown Farmers Market this Saturday. Come on down shop local!