She was walking down the road to the farm. I couldn’t make out who it might be. It wasn’t unusual to have new volunteers park at the gate and walk down. The “No Motorized Vehicles” sign doesn’t apply to the farm volunteers, but new folks don’t always know that.
It became clear that she wasn’t a volunteer as she got closer. Her pink top wasn’t a blouse but a cropped tank top. Her pants were a dinghy tan and her feet bare. It was a warm winter day, but winter, nonetheless. Maybe it was all she had. The clothes obviously hadn’t been washed in a long while.
The arms were quickly swaying back and forth, hands pointed outward. It was the addict’s walk – “schizting” and talking to herself. In my old life I would’ve called it the “hoe stro’” and laughed at her. Today, it simply made me sad.
It may have been fifteen years since I found myself in her shoes – or lack of them – but I still have enough street sense to know to keep my eye on any addict. Stuff tends to disappear quickly. Addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to the “getting and using and finding means to get more”. I figured she was going to ask for money, but she walked on by without so much as a word or a sideways glance.
I continued working, making sure to keep her in my peripheral vision. She stopped by the old compost pile at the south end of the farm. She looked carefully as she started walking slowly around the pile. Then it hit me – she was looking for something to eat.
I pick up culled produce from a couple of local grocery stores and add them to the compost area each Monday. It makes for great soil amendments, but I’m always saddened to see the amount of food that gets wasted each weekend. I realize stores aren’t supposed to sell products past their “Sell by” date. I know how people are about “ugly” produce – stuff that isn’t picture perfect. Much of what I pick up is still good to eat.
Many times, I’ve made food boxes to give away instead of throwing it all in the compost. Most Mondays I leave a good box of produce next to the pile. The farm is surrounded by hidden homeless camps and I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe that’s what the young woman was looking for. Maybe she learned that something to eat could be found by the compost heap.
She had stopped circling the pile and stood there; sad eyes cast toward the ground. I put down my garden hoe and began walking towards her. She didn’t see me at first. She stood silently and never looked my way. As I got closer, her face came into focus. She must have been quite an attractive young lady at one time, but now her face was dirty, tired, and weathered, her eyes sunken and hollow. She probably wasn’t over thirty but looked to be much older. Hard living tends to age one quickly.
She looked up and saw me walking toward her. Her eyes showed fear and she hurried toward the river. One needs to be careful on the streets, especially a woman. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stopped and watched her disappear down the levee, headed for the river.
I wished there had been a box of food there. I wished she’d stopped for a minute and let me offer her some of the snacks I keep in my truck. I wished that she – that no one – had to pick through a compost pile just to have something to eat. I hurt for her.
She soon reappeared, made it up to the Trinity Trail, and walked out of sight. I went on about my work, but I couldn’t shake the image of her despair and shuffling searching. The lines on her face were burned into my memory. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had a home to go to and people who cared about her. My heart broke for her. Empathy is a bitch sometimes.
When I first started fundraising for Opal’s Farm, I threw out a lot of statistics about food insecurity, food “deserts” (a misnomer but I’m not going to get into that now…), and our city’s low-income neighborhoods and how the farm would make a positive impact on it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see past a statistic, to see the face of someone else. I can’t empathize with a statistic.
Statistics are great, collecting data important and necessary, but it’s easy to see large numbers and be blinded to the individual. Quantification and identification aren’t solutions. Statistical data generates a lot of sympathy (usually in the form of pity), meetings and commissions but little action…
The young lady searching for food in the compost is more than a statistic. So is the old man I see regularly outside the neighborhood convenience store asking for change or simply something to eat. So are the kids who rely on a free school lunch to make sure they have something that day.
It’s easy to be overlooked or lumped into a category that makes them “the other” if one is just a statistic. Numbers can be overwhelming – “there’s nothing I can do so I’ll let someone else take care of it”. Just say “There but for the grace of God go I ” and go on about business…
There is something each one of us can do – a starting point for all our problems. We can stop. We can see the face behind the number. We can listen. Statistics don’t move people to action. People move people to action. Listening moves people to action. Seeing people as children of the same God and the same humanity as we are moves people to action.
In the oft-quoted passage in Matthew 25, Jesus says,
“I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was homeless, and you gave me a room, I was shivering, and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me”
I need eyes that see – really see – and ears that listen – not just hear – to do something for the “overlooked or ignored”. I begin the process of identification that allows me to serve the God in each and everyone of us. I can’t think of a better way to live…
I awoke to the sound of rumbling thunder and a soaking rain on Sunday morning. It looks like the pump will get to stay in the barn for a few days. I get to stay home update you all on the farm and enjoy the rest of Sunday with my wife. Opal’s Farm gets a well-deserved shower. It’s a win/win for everyone!
I’d like to thank Roman for all the hard work. Roman is one of the Tarleton State interns with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Grow SE. He’s completed many of his field hours literally in the field! He’s been an unbelievable help to Opal’s Farm – getting tilling, new infrastructure, and preparing beds for Spring (and some great conversation as well!). Roman, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas break. Thank you for all you do!
I’d also like to apologize for the scheduling conflicts that prevented us from setting up at the Tributary Café for Holiday Open Streets on Race Street. As we begin to hire new employees in the coming year we will be able to make more markets like these.
As 2020 draws to a close (Thank God!), We’ve been looking at how we can serve the community better. Our second year as brought so many blessings to the farm – our yields are up twice as much as last year and getting better.
- Grant money was made available through Healthy Tarrant Collaboration and the United Way to improve our overall soil health, provide more variety in the produce we grow, and make key infrastructure purchases.
- Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota made it possible to expand our production area by providing us with a tractor that shortens the time (and labor!) to grow more food.
- J. Davis Tree Care has brought over truckloads of woods chips from their yard. Much of it is already composted and applied directly to productions. The chips that aren’t composted cover the walkways and help with weed control.
- The White Settlement Home Depot (store #8521) has been a huge sponsor of Opal’s Farm and came through again this season. Natasha Neidhart, the Store Manager and District Captain for Team Depot (the Home Depot Foundation) pulled together our wish list and added things we needed and didn’t even think of. We couldn’t ask for a better partner and friend of Opal’s Farm. We give them a tremendous “shout out” and an even bigger “thank you”.
- Blue Zones Project Fort Worth has been one of our biggest fans and supporters in so many ways – financially, volunteering, and setting up compost pick-ups with Elrod’s Grocery on the Northside and Foodland near the farm. Our composting program has drastically improved since last year. Thank you, Brenda Patton and Blue Zones!
- I wouldn’t even think of forgetting to thank our biggest supporter, the Tarrant Regional Water District. Not only did they grant the acreage for Opal’s Farm, but they have also supported us in far too many ways to mention. They will be assisting us with new irrigation means in the coming months. That will improve our irrigation dramatically and make it more efficient. Efficiency leads to increased yields in both quantity and quality.
We hope the changes will be exciting to you as well. We want to make Opal’s Farm more accessible to everyone.
One of the Core Values of Opal’s Farm is the practice of regenerative urban farming. We take the role of stewards of the land and resources we’ve been granted very seriously. From the outset we were determined to farm organically and recycle as much as possible to build our soil health and limit waste. One of the ways we practice that is composting.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is between thirty and forty percent of the nation’s food supply. Research shows that the average American ends up throwing away $53.81 worth of spoiled food a week from their fridge, or $2,798 every year (Could you use almost $3,00 extra?) – and that doesn’t include commercial and restaurant waste (the restaurant industry estimates food waste related costs to be $162 billion a year).
What happens to all that waste? Not only is it a major contributor to food insecurity – it ends up in local landfills where it generates 1.3 pounds of methane emissions for every pound of wasted produce. Landfills are responsible for almost 15 percent of the country’s methane emissions and organic matter makes up the largest percentage of total landfill mass (22 percent).
Landfill space isn’t an abstract “someone else’s” problem. The City of Fort Worth’s landfill is filling to quickly. Although designed to last another fifty years, increased population and throwing out recyclable items has shortened landfill life to less than half of that. A new landfill is a major infrastructure investment that will surely affect every citizen’s pocketbook.
Opal’s Farm applauds the efforts like the City’s Residential Food Scrap Composting Pilot Program. It addresses individual residences. Efforts are also being made through the Code Compliance Department and the Blue Zones Project Fort Worth to gain commercial participation.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 5 percent of food waste gets composted, which means 95 percent doesn’t…
Opal’s Farm uses 100% of organic waste created on the Farm. We started a compost program last year at the farm. Unsalable produce, hay donated by the Tarrant Regional Water District, and goat manure from Latte-Da-Dairies got us started. Grass, weeds, and plant refuse from the previous growing season was added. In Fall of last year, J. Davis Tree Company began bringing their wood chips by the truckload – much of already composted. The original compost pile has yielded approximately 20 yards (2 dump trucks) of rich composted soil for bed/soil development.
This year we added food scraps from the Culinary School of Fort Worth (thanks to Lauren at the Tarrant Area Food Bank Learning Garden for the hook-up!). A couple of months later, Blue Zones Fort Worth introduced us to Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket at 1524 NW 25th Street. Each Monday, the Produce Manager, Angelica, provides us with the unsaleable produce from the weekend. We’re averaging about 200 pounds per week from there.
We began picking up the culled produce from Foodland on 1212 Ayers Avenue a couple of weeks later. We consistently add 200-400 pounds of food waste that would have gone to the landfill. Moreover, all the produce boxes are broken down and recycled to lay beneath the woodchips we spread on our walkways. It’s an excellent form of natural weed control.
The result is a dark, rich compost that is added to the soil to build soil health and increase the yields from our tasty, locally grown produce. It’s a win-win for us, for the stores, and for our community.
We Can Do More
We give a huge shout out to Elrod’s and to Foodland for their excellent corporate citizenship. Other grocery chains have chosen to waste their produce rather than recycle it to local urban farms. We understand the lability concerns they have expressed but cannot understand to unwillingness to compost: a way of improving soil health and local crop yields.
Composting is not only beneficial for local urban farms and the municipal landfill. Composting can also provide jobs in our local economy. Someone must pick up the compost and take it to where it will be recycled. The more stores and restaurants that join the recycling effort would expand the pick-up route.
Currently, we can only do our pick-ups one day a week. We’re constrained by time and lack of staff at the farm to pick up all that available. Imagine if part of the training and hiring at Opal’s Farm was composting, pick-up, and delivery to Opal’s, other farms, or to Silver Creek Materials (the local composting firm and one of our vendors). It’d sure be cheaper than new landfill infrastructure (Did that get your attention Mayor Price?). You can urge your local Councilmembers to take a hard look at this. Innovation makes Fort Worth…
It takes money to implement such a program. ReFed, “a multi-stakeholder nonprofit, powered by an influential network of the nation’s leading business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste” ( https://www.refed.com/about ), has laid out an excellent Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste. It can be done. Something to think about…