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Summer Treats!

The summer heat started earlier than usual this year. May was a little scary because it was so hot and dry. We are listed in the severe drought range like much of Texas, but we’ve had rain over the last couple of weeks that has made the farm erupt with new veggies. The Cowtown Neighborhood Markets have started for the summer and Opal’s Farm is having a banner year. Sales have been up and, most importantly, our local neighborhoods are getting fresh, local produce! We’re always at Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning and be on Thursdays for the remainder of the summer.

The okra is coming along
The Butternut Squash is almost ready
Pumpkins for Halloween anyone?
The Zucchini is truly a “Gold Mine”
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What a Difference a Week Makes!

Good morning from Opal’s Farm! I realize that some Opal’s supporters may not share the same scene I have looking out my office door this morning (thanks to all of you across Texas, the nation, and even the globe! We appreciate you all so much). The sun has just come up and it’s a brilliant Spring morning. Last week’s wintry morning has been replaced with cool Spring mornings. The birds are talking loudly amongst each other, and the trees are beginning to bud in radiant greens, whites, and purples. The projected high temperature for today is ninety degrees (in March)!

Spring planting is moving ahead at breakneck speed. Professor David Cole, Stephanie Schmitz, and the students at Tarrant Count College NW’s Horticulture Department grew four hundred tomato plants and one hundred pepper transplants for the farm this year. The one thing we are unable to have has been a greenhouse (no structures on the floodplain) so we can’t start out tomatoes and peppers on time. Providing our transplants saved the farm hundreds of dollars. They’re also bigger and healthier than those that come from our regular vendors. Hopefully, we will be able to provide tomatoes early this year.

All our tomato and pepper plants are in and trellised thanks to our wonderful volunteers. Melissa, Jamie, and Tony came during the week, and we had two great workdays with the Ridglea Presbyterian Student Ministries and The Hills Church Unity Builders Ministry over the last two weekends.

We skipped market this Saturday so we could pick up, deliver, and plant all our transplants. Don’t worry though. We’ll be back next week with more of the organically grown fresh produce you all look for from Opal’s Farm!

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Betting on Spring

I was sitting on the porch drinking coffee and listening to the sweet songs of the mockingbird that perches on our catalpa tree every Spring. When I got to the Opal’s Farm, I saw the first robins skittering across the newly turned soil. We had what I hope is the last freeze this past Friday night. The lettuces and Tokyo Bekana that was beginning to sprout survived with flying colors. I feel ready to say that Spring has finally sprung here in North Texas. Then again, it is North Texas…

I love when the robins flock to the farm. I enjoy watching them because I know that they know where the worms are and earthworms are one indicator of healthy soil. I pulled some turnips yesterday and saw the mycelium covering their roots. My kids laugh at me about how excited I get to see such things but quite frankly, I don’t care. Healthy soils mean healthy plants. Healthy plants mean wonderful flavor and maximum nutritional value for our customers and those we serve!

This Spring promises to be a pronounced difference from last year. The historic 2021 ice storm and the uncommonly wet May caused dramatic losses to our Spring crops. Everything seems to be on track this year for a successful Spring for Opal’s Farm. Our compost pile is growing (Thank you Carpool Compost!) along with our wood chips for mulch (Thank you J Davis Tree Company!). In fact, we have wood chips available to our community if anyone needs some for their Spring gardens!

We weren’t at Cowtown Farmers Market this week, but we will be there next Saturday. It’s been hit and miss since the first of the year. We didn’t even get to go to market from the first week in January until last week. It was so good to see so many of our regular customers and share Saturday morning with our fellow vendors. We missed you all! We have some of the most awesome folks who share their Saturday mornings with us.

Our Spring Volunteer Sign Up calendar will be updated today. Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator, tells me that weekends are beginning to fill up with large groups coming out so be sure and schedule your groups as soon as possible.

We can’t even begin to tell you how excited we are that Spring is finally here. Come and join us as we work the soil, plant Spring crops, and eagerly await the anticipated abundance Opal’s Farm gives us each year!

As always – you can donate to Opal’s Farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org or at our stall at Cowtown Farmers Market. Every dollar you donate to Opal’s Farm is goes to providing a healthy meal to our neighbors. Every dollar you spend at Cowtown Farmers Market helps those with no access to fresh, nutritious produce have a healthy meal and builds our neglected communities!

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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
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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.