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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.

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Happy Early Thanksgiving!

Margaret and I will be leaving in the morning for Kentucky to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Wow! I never dreamed I’d be writing that one. (If you’ve followed my family journey at www.gregoryjoel.com you know why I say that…) Momma told me last night that she hoped Margaret won’t be overwhelmed by the crowd descending on Momma’s house for the holiday (I have a BIG family – never thought I’d say that one either!). Rest assured Momma – Margaret’s ready! I can’t even begin to put into words the joy I’m feeling.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting Opal’s Farm ready for Thanksgiving and my vacation – and I mean “vacation” – haven’t said that one in ten years…). I’ll be unplugging from phones and computers for the next nine days. Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator, will be handling everything at the farm. She may be in desperate need of volunteers if we get a freeze warning next week. We have a ton of tomatoes on the vine that we’ll need to pick quickly. Stacey can be reached at opalsvolunteers@gmail.com. Also, please remember that #GivingTuesday, a day of global giving, coming up after the holiday!

We’ll also be taking a break from Cowtown Farmers Market for the next two Saturdays. We’ll be back in force throughout the remainder of the holiday season so come get your fresh, local produce for Christmas!

I won’t be able to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving next week, so I’ll say it today. I hope our friends and family have a great Thanksgiving. I hope this holiday season brings joy and gratitude for the blessings we have received. Sometimes those blessings are disguised by the obstacles that we find along the way. The pandemic and the losses that have accompanied it have been brutal, but like Opal’s Farm, we’re getting past those to find the joy and peace that come from God’s awesome creation.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Love each other a little better and be thankful. Take care!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
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New Beginnings at the Farm

The Fall crops are in and doing well. The greens are abundant, the tomatoes ripening quickly, and the peppers have been supercharged by the cool night air. We’re taking more and more to market and more coming in the next two weeks. Come and see us at Cowtown Farmers Market and prepare for the holidays!

This is our favorite time of year at Opal’s Farm. The mornings have a slight chill in the air. The summer heat is left behind. The high temperatures hover around seventy to eighty degrees – perfect weather for working. There’s time to clean old beds and prepare new ones for Spring.

The pace seems more relaxed and laid-back. It’s also the perfect time to reflect on our mission, our vision, and our values and focus on the truly important things Opal’s Farm is about. Are we staying the course? How can we do things better? It’s a time to refocus, make sure we’re following the best path toward our goals, and look forward to the coming year (yes, friends, it’s only two months away…).

Our Mission Statement

Building vibrant local communities through regenerative urban farming, faithful gathering, and lasting fellowship

Our Vision

We imagine a world where diversity is evident, opportunities are plentiful, and divisions are crossed, all in pursuit of lasting unity. Opal’s Farm creates community empowerment through food. Through our work we hope to generate a replicable model of community building, engagement, and empowerment.

In keeping with our Mission Opal’s Farm is proud to be part of the Farm Manager Apprenticeship program starting on Wednesday, November 3rd. Grow SE, with a grant from the United Way, is beginning a nine-month Apprenticeship Program for three new farmers from Southeast Fort Worth.

They will be working side by side Grow SE farmers to learn how to plan, build, and grow their own crops using regenerative, organic means of building healthy soil and healthy plants. They’ll each build their own fifth of an acre plot, from planting to harvest, and then market their crops. They will take the knowledge and experienced they gain to their respective communities in Southeast Fort Worth – joining the urban agriculture movement to bring healthy fresh produce to neighborhoods that need it most.

We’ll be introducing you to the inspiring young men in coming posts and keep you updated on our progress.

We’d love to have you come out (weather permitting) on Wednesday, November 3rd at 10:00 AM and celebrate the beginning of the Farm Manager Apprenticeship Program with us. Come meet our new farmers and be a part of the Opal’s community.

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Technology? Yes and No…

(portions are rebloged from October 2018)

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write and post a lot on social media for Opal’s Farm. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was sort of Caller ID in the sixties. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice. I usually find research on the internet (ever careful to check facts and sources) preferable to the long hours spent in the library, but the library smells of books and newsprint unlike the sterile internet. Unfortunately, technology is frightfully impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice Jim, my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships and they are difficult to find inside a cell phone of computer screen. So before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll try the office supply store and see if they have a Rolodex…

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com
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The Unofficial End of Summer

It’s nine o’clock on Labor Day evening. A cool front blew through yesterday and the low nineties seems like a harbinger of the coming Fall. The nights need to cool off a bit before we can finish the fall planting, but there’s still plenty to do at Opal’s Farm.

August is one of our slowest market months of the year. It’s too hot to have much of a harvest. The tomatoes go dormant awaiting the cooler nights of Fall. We skipped market for August and donated the August harvest to some of our neighbors.

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. We’re back at Cowtown Farmers Market. We missed both our fellow farmers and our loyal customers! It was great to see you all again. We’ll be there this coming Saturday with Purple Hull Peas, tomatoes, and five varieties of peppers.

We have a huge demand for our Purple Hull Peas. Half and full bushels are available but you need to place an order earlier in the week so we’ll have them Saturday. Orders will be filled as they come in. Please feel free to call Opal’s Farm at 817.333.8367 and let us know!

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Jamie, Melissa, and the brave volunteers who ventured into the Texas heat to help trellis tomatoes, weed, and harvest this summer. we love and appreciate you all so much.

The days are getting shorter (and hopefully cooler) and our volunteer schedule is picking up. We hope to see you soon at Opal’s Farm.