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Just a Reminder

I know you’re going to get tired of hearing this – Opal’s Farm is having a ribbon cutting on February 15th! I just can’t help myself. I’m compelled to shout it from the rooftops!

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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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Build It and They Will Come…

Thoughts from the Porch: There is a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that has become a mantra of sorts in my life. “Build it and they will come”. I’m not planning on building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, but I am part of building a farm in the middle of a city. While it’s not the same thing, a farm in the middle of a sprawling urban area makes as much sense as a baseball field in a corn patch.

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Kevin Costner’s character wondered why anyone would travel to a cornfield in the middle of Iowa to watch a baseball game. Investing in such a baseball field defied common sense. It meant using their acreage for cash crops and their life savings in a venture that seemed a failure from the start. But, they built anyway. The movie ends with traffic coming from all directions to the “Field of Dreams”.

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Success seemed unlikely, the future unsure. It made absolutely no ‘common’ sense, but our hero stepped out in faith and did “the next right thing”. God took care of the results and the results were amazing. Still, it too an action and a step into the unknown. It meant trading common sense for uncommon sense and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

I was thinking about all of this when I returned from a budget meeting for Opal’s Farm. The good news is that the lease has been signed and everything is moving forward. The bad news is that we’re still well short of our initial start up needs. There are materials to be purchased, employees to be trained and paid, and time and money to meet those needs has suddenly grown shorter. Still, I keep hearing this still, quiet voice repeating, “Build it and they will come.”

I look back at all the events that have brought us to this point. Just like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams”, each of the right people have appeared at the right time to create Opal’s Farm. One by one we’ve partnered with the right people and organizations to take the right steps in building Opal’s Farm. Like the old baseball heroes in the movie, they’ve appeared at just the right time and just the right place. Organizations like Grow Southeast, Silver Creek Materials, the Tarrant Regional Water District, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand, and our County Extension office have stepped in one by one to lead and guide us toward our common mission.

My own involvement came about as a bit of a fluke. I found out about the farm through my son, Jeremy. He had talked to some people about an art collective project in another part of Fort Worth. They also expressed an interest in what was to become Opal’s Farm. I contacted them and though they soon stepped out of the project, I began attending Grow Southeast, a collaboration between a number of local farmers and organizations dedicated to bringing healthy food to Tarrant County. Through Grow Southeast, I contacted Ms. Opal and the process began.

Although an urban farm has long been a dream for both Ms. Opal and I, dreams require action to become reality. The time was right to step out in faith, to build it without the assurance that funds would be in place. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve felt like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. But everything has come together, and Opal’s Farm is moving forward.

Experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to take chances knowing that I’m responsible for the action and leave the results up to a power far greater than me. “Build it and they will come”. Common sense becoming uncommon sense…

 The people are in place. The land is in place. Building starts now. With your help, we can build it one step at a time, doing ‘the next right thing”. leave the

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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.

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The Global Day of Giving – #givingtuesday

Thoughts from the Porch on #Giving Tuesday:

2018

It dawned on me after my second cup of coffee that November is almost over. I know.“Duh”, right? It’s just that I don’t know where the year has gone. It seems to have blown through here like last week’s cold front, chilled to the bone one day and seventy degrees the next. The race toward Christmas is on and the New Year looms large on the horizon

The holiday season is my favorite time of year. Not becauseof Christmas, mind you, but because of the introspection it brings. December 1stis more special than any other day of the year. It brought about a psychic change, a rebirth, and a new direction to my life. Ironically, it was the direction I’d longed for since my youth. “Lost dreams awaken, and newpossibilities arise”. They really do.

This past year has been unbelievably special. I began a new business, writing content and copy, and in doing so, I unknowingly unleashed mypassion. Through a unique series of events, I met some incredible people, Ms. Opal Lee for one, and began to see something I’d only dreamed about for a long time –an urban farm – become a reality. Opal’s Farm is that place – a place for growing, learning, and community.

 To be honest, I never imagined myself becoming a farmer. Mymother used to send me out to pull weeds as a form of punishment when I was young. It didn’t exactly hold pleasant memories. I never thought I’d come to find joy in it. But I have, and each of those gardens drove me to this amazing project called Opal’s Farm.

When I was younger, I left college full of ideals and ready to change the world. Most of us did. But as I got older and raised my boys, I became less idealistic and, if I’m honest, more cynical. The world I wanted to change became smaller and smaller until I was my world. That seems to be pervasive in our culture. Who of us hasn’t been taught to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and “look out for number one”? The more I bought into that world, the less I was part of this one.

It will have been thirteen years ago this December 1st that my world began to change. Circumstances brought me to a garden I started taking care of because I had nowhere else to be. I began to enjoy pulling weeds.To make a long story short – I liked playing in the dirt!

 Over the last thirteen years, I have been honored toparticipate in building and managing several garden projects. I’ve watched a face light up when a young man tastes a fresh tomato for the first time. I’ve seen community begin when people come together and relish in the first harvest. I’ve witnessed people regain health of body and spirit as they work together in the garden. I’ve come to believe that simple farming can change a life. It’s changed mine.

Our Mission – “Opal’s Farm restores hope andvitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.”  – is becoming a reality. Right in the middle of the city, it provides not just food, but jobs and training as well. It creates opportunity. This is a model for conservation and sustainability, not just for Fort Worth, but for other communities as well.

Today is #GivingTuesday. It offers a uniqueopportunity to double you impact through Facebook’s matching funds. Please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/donate/2246575222246012/.Give today and help us change the world one bite at a time.

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Make it all sound good or just tell it like it is?

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Several years ago, the comic George Carlin did a stand-up routine about our changing vocabulary. You know, how we sanitize terms to make them soundless harsh. “Shell-shock” became “battle fatigue” and later, post-traumatic stress disorder. Sounds so much better, right?

I always laugh when I hear our local weather folks talk about ‘winter precipitation events’. Seriously? I remember when they used to call it snow…

 Now we’ve come up with a similar vocabulary for something near and dear to my heart – ‘food insecurity”. What does that really mean?

 It’s a nice way of saying your neighbors go to bed hungry. That’s right. I said your neighbors. And not ‘insecure’  – hungry

People right here in Tarrant County. They may be across town or they might be right next door. Our  neighbors…

Here’s another one – ‘food scarcity’.  It means that your neighbors don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food. They live in ‘food deserts’ – places where the only ‘food’ store is a local convenience store. The choices are over-priced and often unaffordable, canned, highly processed and ‘junk’ foods – foods that fail to meet even basic nutritional needs. Foods filled with empty calories that fail to satisfy even the smallest of tummies…

The bottom line – no one should go to bed hungry, especially the one in five children that do so every single night in Tarrant County.

So, what do we do about it?

 Opal’s Farm is part of the answer. Opal’s Farm is a two-acreurban farm on the banks of the Trinity River just east of Downtown Fort Worth. Opal’s Farm grows organic, healthy produce – distributing it in Fort Worth’s ‘food deserts’.

 More than that, Opal’s Farm provides jobs, training, and educational tools to address the issues facing often overlooked neighborhoods right here in Tarrant County. We believe that an agricultural intervention can make a difference – restoring health, vitality, and community to our neglected neighbors.

 In this “giving season” of thanksgiving and sharing, it’seasy to feel overwhelmed when planning year-end contributions to the multitude of wonderful non-profit organizations asking for help. I hope you consider Opal’s Farm when making your decision.

 Today, you canmake a difference – right here, rightnow, and for Fort Worth’s future. Opal’s Farm is a long-term, sustainable solution for all of us.

That’s why I’m asking for your help today. Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, the Global Day of Giving. On #GivingTuesday your contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar, going twice as far to help Opal’s Farm keep growing. Go to our Facebook page today at https://www.facebook.com/donate/2246575222246012/

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Can a Tomato Change the World?

Thoughts From the Porch: I need to get a little personal here. I have an issue that’s close to the heart and after this week, I’m driven to share it with you. I haven’t spent much time on the porch. The early blast of Arctic weather has limited my time there. It must’ve delivered some silent signal to our trees last night. They seemed to release all their leaves at once. Except for the few bold ‘hangers-on’, the yard, sidewalk, and most of the porch is covered in dead and dying leaves.

My tomato and pepper plants succumbed to the freeze. I knew it was coming. The cycle of the seasons is inevitable. I know the time will always come to say goodbye to homegrown tomatoes for the winter. I had hoped we’d somehow escape the unusually early frost. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to tasty, fresh tomatoes, even if it’s only temporary.

I spent this last couple of weeks working on grant applications for Opal’s Farm. Everything met with our Director’s approval and I’m submitting them this morning. I haven’t written grants in many years, so there’s more than a little fear there. Did I do it right? What if they don’t come through? What if, what if, what if…

I want to do well: for the farm and as a writer. I guess I’ll find out how well I did when the grants are awarded.

I’d like to be offering a grand update on our progress, but the wet Fall weather has slowed tilling and bed preparation to a crawl. There’s still much to be done in this holiday (and giving) season. November 27th is the Global Day of Giving. I hope that you’ll keep Opal’s Farm in mind if such days are more convenient for you. Please remember though, donations aren’t contingent on special ‘giving days’, they are accepted 24/7, 365 days a year!

Professionally, I write strong appeal letters for non-profit organizations. Opal’s Farm is intensely personal to me and far more than just another job. For those of you who don’t know about the farm, our Mission Statement is:

Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.”

Personal experience has taught me that ‘playing in the dirt’ has the power to change lives and communities and provide solutions to problems far beyond food deserts and food scarcity. If that were all it did it would be a noble undertaking, but it’s much bigger than that.

Several years ago, I was working on a community garden in a local westside neighborhood for B.U.R.N. Ministries. Some of the young men who were in the youth program came to help one day when harvesting had begun. One of the young men asked me what “those are” as I was picking tomatoes. The question kind of took me back. I just assumed everyone knew what they were.

You see, he had grown up in an urban food desert. Most of his diet had consisted of processed foods from the local dollar and convenience stores. He had no idea what fresh produce looked like!

I pulled a tomato off the vine, wiped it off, handed it to him, and invited him to try it. He was reluctant at first. He took a small bite. I watched as his face went from a turned-up nose to a beaming smile. “That’s really good”, he said as he devoured the rest of the tomato. “Can I have another one?”

I’m not saying that one tomato is going to change the world. But I couldn’t help but notice how it changed his face and his perception. It was like shining a light in to a dark place. Once he ‘saw’ the opportunity in front of him he was able to taste the goodness of God’s world. I’d like to think it provided more than simply a great taste sensation. I’d like to think it provided hope.

That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important: to people, to the community, and to the next generation. A simple tomato has the power to change everything. That’s why I’m so passionate about a couple of acres and some wonderful produce.

I could go on and on. Educating people, feeding folks, and empowering individuals for stewardship and the opportunity to leave things a little better than they found it leaves me humbled and in awe of God’s creation.

As a professional writer, I’m supposed to craft my words carefully and ask you to be a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. I’d love for you to be a ‘farmer’, right alongside us whether it be with financial support or digging in the dirt. Moreover, I’m not too proud to beg. My wife always reminds me, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”. This is a golden opportunity to make a difference; to do something tangible. Right here. Right now.

So, I implore you to join us! You can reach us at:

 

Opal’s Farm

C/O Unity Unlimited, Inc.

2119 Harrison Avenue

Fort Worth, TX 76110

 

Or contact us through my website:  www.gregoryjoel.com

On the “Contact Form” below