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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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We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

– Mother Teresa

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More than a Number

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.

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

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…

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We’re Growing (as always)…

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”.
Thanks Home Depot!
  • 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.

Please don’t forget Cultural Kitchen this Friday at 12 PM CST – 1 PM CST Hosted by Fort Worth Community Arts CenterThe Arts Council of Fort Worth and Opal’s Farm