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Finding Your “Why”: Part Three

I must apologize for the delay in posting the third reason to become an Opal’s Farm volunteer or sponsor. It’s been quite a week at the farm. Over an acre of beds are finished and several hundred feet of landscape fabric were laid around the perimeter to help deter the infamous weeds from encroaching on the finished product. Unfortunately, the weekend storms ripped the fabric from the landscape staples requiring repair just in time for more severe weather. Such is the farm life…

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a young man named Brendan O’Connell regarding Opal’s Farm He had seen a news story about the farm on KERA 90.1 and reached out to me for a farm tour. He has become a volunteer for Opal’s Farm and exemplifies a big “why” for anyone. So, without further ado I turn the spotlight on Brendan.

Brendan graduated from Fort Worth Country Day School last year. He decided to take a “gap year’ after high school and will start at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in August. However, he isn’t using the gap year to take it easy. He’s volunteered at a local low-income clinic as a Nurse’s Assistant and started at the farm this past week.

His interest in urban farming began six years when he started his own garden and raising food for his family. He told me he developed an interest in “the relationships between agriculture, public health and medicine, and the economic dynamics” that affect marginalized communities and food deserts. He’s thrilled that an urban farm has come to Fort Worth wants to learn as much as he can while he’s here.

He has been invaluable since he started. I can’t begin to tell you how much we’ve been able to accomplish in short order. He goes well beyond interest in the farm. I asked him about his “why”. I mean no offense, but he’s not your typical nineteen-year-old.

His original email offered some insight as to his motivation, but it goes beyond mere intellectual curiosity. He’s genuinely concerned about the common good; about our community. He sees Opal’s Farm as a solution to the issues of access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being of neglected neighborhoods. An urban farm enables all our community to thrive and become a better place to live.

One Acre Down…

His interest will help in his future studies. Beyond that, it fills a desire to be part of the solution for food justice and the health of each of us.

I often tell Brendan how grateful I am for his service. What I’ve failed to communicate though, is the gratitude I feel for everyone who looks beyond themselves to the community and the common good. I’m hopeful for the future of my hometown, and by extension, my world, when I see young people like Brendan committed to the solutions.

If you’re still searching for your “why” I have some more ideas coming. In the meantime, if you can’t volunteer at this time please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and make your secure donation to the future of Fort Worth’s neighborhoods.

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Music to Soothe the Savage Beast?

I was at the desk for a long time last night catching up on paperwork and phone calls. I had a great head of steam and was crossing items off the “to-do list” right and left when my internet radio station hit a string of songs that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had no choice but to push the papers aside, crank the volume, and sing along to Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffet (anything before “Margaritaville”), the Eagles, and a host of other tunes that reminded me that growing up wasn’t all bad; even if it felt that way…

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

It felt that way a lot. Years later I’d ask my friend and mentor, Jim, why I felt so different from everyone else growing up. What was wrong with me and how did I get here? Why was I so uncomfortable being me? He’d smile and reply with one of those West Texas sayings that used to drive me batshit crazy like, “Son, it ain’t important how the mule got in the ditch, it’s how are you gonna get him out”. I’d like to believe I’m a reasonably intelligent individual, but it took a long time to understand what he was saying.

You see, the why didn’t matter. It wasn’t important. “Why” could never change the outcome. I was always asking the wrong question. When the question became “how” as opposed to “why” I began to crawl out of the proverbial ditch I found myself stuck in. I may not have been responsible for falling in the ditch, but I was responsible for getting out. As a result, the climb has been faster than I imagined and slower than I’d like, but the view from the top is well worth it…

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Every now and then I’m reminded I’m on this amazing journey called life, replete with mountains, valleys, obstacles, and wide-open meadows. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t been where I’ve been. Duh, right? Music, like what I heard last night, transports me to the mountaintop where I have a 360-degree view. I can see the past and present and am delighted to revel in the present.

Is there a song (or songs) that take you to your “happy place”?

What makes you stop, crank up the tunes, and relish the moment?

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Finding Your “Why”: Part Two

I spent last Friday morning at the farm with a prospective donor. We talked about the mission and purpose of Opal’s Farm for over an hour. The farm is about more than simply providing access for fresh produce to a largely forgotten neighborhood. It’s about building a better Fort Worth and serving our community. While that’s a worthy mission, the means by which we accomplish that mission is the tangible “goods” that the local community receives. What makes Opal’s Farm so special and why should you be a part of it? This is the second reason “why”.

Last Friday, we talked about “dirt therapy” and the physical and emotional well-being that comes from working the soil. The sense of community, of connection, and the increased physical activity shared with others of like mind is amazing. Even though that’s reason enough for anyone to come out and work or support the farm, your “why” might be as simple as providing food for your neighbors.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

When I was talking to our prospective donor the other day, I mentioned that Ms. Opal had been late for a dinner meeting the evening before because she had to drive a long way to get lettuce for the salad. He looked at me with a bit of confusion, “Why couldn’t she go to a store around here?”, he asked.

I told him that there was no store around here. The closest one was several miles south of the neighborhood. I explained to him that United Riverside, our neighborhood, is a food desert. The USDA defines a food desert as anyplace were access to fresh, healthy food is more than one mile away. He was a bit shocked that there were over forty food deserts listed in Tarrant County alone.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Everyone touts the great economy and growth Fort Worth has experienced over the last few years. Politicians and business leaders point to the success Fort Worth and the growing economy has had. We often don’t hear the grim statistics and the reality for many of our neighbors. I’ve thrown them out there many times before, but statistics are often abstract and overwhelming.

In Tarrant County, one in four children go to bed hungry each night. One in four, 25%! For blacks and Latinos, the number is even more staggering – one in three children face hunger. That’s 33% of kids right here in Tarrant County!

What can you do about it? Now that you know the numbers it’s overwhelming. When a problem is of a scale that’s overwhelming it can foster inaction. It’s easy to say, “I can’t help everybody” and so no one gets help.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa. It’s at the bottom of every email I send out. It says, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” We do what we can, and Opal’s Farm provides the “why”. Through a simple farm we begin tackling the issues of food success and food scarcity. We can’t feed all of Fort Worth, but we can bring health and vitality to a neighborhood through each season’s harvest. You have to start somewhere…

Maybe you’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the size of the problem. Maybe you feel like you don’t make a difference. Maybe, just maybe, you do. Helping at Opal’s Farm, whether by donating or volunteering is the first step. It’s something tangible.

Mother Teresa said something else that always comes to mind, too. She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” I’m no math genius but I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of small acts with great love constitutes a big thing.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

If you’re wanting to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of others please consider your donation or volunteer at Opal’s Farm. If you’re still not sure, I’ll give you another reason “why” tomorrow…

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Kids…

Thoughts From the Porch: Saturday was Margaret’s birthday. Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. April is a good month! I pay little attention to the whole horoscope thing, but I sometimes wonder why my life is filled with so many Aries signs. Could be something to it but who knows?

Sitting on the porch this morning, enjoying the sunrise, I thought back to the day each of my boys were born. My memory isn’t so great anymore. I can’t tell you specifics like the weather and surroundings, unless of course it’s my youngest son. His birth was rather unforgettable. He decided to make his appearance on the very day a hundred-year blizzard hit Denver in 1982. We went to the hospital in a Jeep Wagoneer someone had volunteered to haul the paramedics since the ambulances couldn’t get around. The snow was so deep it took a week to dig out. You don’t forget something like that.

Photo by Silvia Trigo on Pexels.com

Adrian, my older one, had the misfortune to be born in Dallas (that’s the only hospital that honored our insurance). We were concerned that friends and family wouldn’t recognize him as a native Texan and hence, his birthright. We’re not real sure Dallas is really part of Texas. However, he overcame that disability in quick fashion. After much legal (and family) wrangling, his birth certificate mandates his Texas citizenship…

The boys are as different as night and day, and the differences were apparent early on. The standing joke is that Adrian popped out of the birth canal asking if he could rest and get something to eat if that was no problem. He was laid back and easygoing, even as a baby. His brother, however, was the complete opposite. When he made his appearance almost two years later, he instantly demanded to be fed and have the nursery redone to suit his tastes. Anyone who knows them today will see the humor in that.

A father sees their children differently than the rest of the world sees them. Fathers lack objectivity in the perception of their kids: every one of them has the best kids in the world. That’s the way it should be. I don’t want to start an argument with anyone. Please know that since I have the best kids in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t. Most of us have a perception problem when it comes to our children and despite what our culture tells us, it’s not a competition.

I got to spend some time with Adrian yesterday. That’s two weekends in a row and that’s a miracle of biblical proportions. He works a lot and his schedule rarely fits mine. Our times together are few and much farther between than I like. He recently started dating a young lady who is far more attractive and interesting than his old man. I appreciate that she receives more attention than I do. I’d probably be a bit worried if it were otherwise…

Thank you, Son for a great weekend. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I know I did. Funny thing is though, I received the birthday gift – getting to spend time with you.

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Honor Your Wife…

Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.

Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy the company of the best woman I know.

Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life. Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away when I’m with her.

I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.

My Favorite Picture!

I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re not so different after all.

There seems to be one or two constants throughout them all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but he just sat there, silent.

“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”

He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same reply. Now I was ticked off.

I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.

I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.

Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…

Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible. What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.

I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…

So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!

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Finding Your Why Down on the Farm: Part One

“Simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.” – Occam’s Razor

Do you ever get so busy with a project that you overlook the bedrock of its success? Things have been moving quickly at Opal’s Farm: over 30,00 square feet of beds have been prepared and compost is coming. We are busy! We’ve been blessed with good Spring weather and we hope to take advantage of every moment to prepare the acreage for a bountiful harvest.

Jameson the Farm Dog takes a much needed break!

However, one of the TCU students working with us this semester sent me an email that brought me to a grinding halt (by the way, thank you Paris!) She asked a simple question, “Why?”. Why would someone want to volunteer at the Farm? Why would someone want to be a sponsor, a partner, or a “farmer” at Opal’s Farm?

Even as passionate as I am about Opal’s Farm, I had to stop and think hard about the question. In my work as a writer, it’s my job to write a clear concise message and show how a product or service will benefit others. If I’m honest, I’ve done a poor job of communicating that to you. I ask for your forgiveness. Sometimes the simplest question is the simplest solution…

There’s a plethora of reasons one should join us in the task at hand. When Paris asked me the “why” question was specifically regarding “why volunteer?”, so we’ll start there.

Reason #1:

Why volunteer at Opal’s Farm? The simple answer: it’s “Dirt Therapy”. What do I mean by that? If you love to tend your own garden, you know exactly what I mean. Something happens to us when we work with the soil. Study after study has shown improved mental health and relaxation are some of the immediate benefits. The increased physical activity and its benefits are obvious, but “dirt therapy” is something, something deeper.

According to The Immune Advantage (Ellen Mazo and the Editors of Prevention Health Books with Keith Berndtson, M.D.), “a simple gardening project at the University of Texas in Galveston produced uplifting findings among 24 volunteers ranging in age from 63 to 90” that included not only an overall feeling of well-being” but a far deeper spiritual component; one of community.

The book goes on to share the story of Dr. William Thomas, M.D. and founder of the Eden Alternative. He “has proof that people live healthier and longer with daily access to plants, animals, and children”. In the 300-plus nursing homes across the country that follow his program allowing residents their own pets, till their own gardens, and participate in programs with children… residents have fewer infections, fewer falls, and fewer skin wounds”. Moreover, the amount of medication each resident required dropped.

Something happens when people work the earth together, sharing stories and childhood memories. A feeling of well-being and contentment feeling of well-being, of a spiritual connection, takes place. Moreover, the UT-Galveston study showed that “there was no physical decline among the volunteers after 4 months”. Working the soil may not be the proverbial “Fountain of Youth”, but it sure helps.

“Dirt Therapy” is an amazing reason to come down to the farm and join us. We’ll be posting “work days” and someone is usually at Opal’s Farm daily except for Wednesday. We love our volunteers and want to be as flexible as possible to meet varied schedules. It’s always best to call ahead so we’ll be looking for you. The south end of the farm offered the best soil available so we’re often away from the front office/storage container at the north end. If you’d like to schedule a group or simply show up on your own, please know you’re welcome and appreciated!

As I mentioned before, there’s a myriad of reasons “why” you should be a part of Opal’s Farm – far too many to write about here so I’ll be following up with reason number two on Monday. I bet your “why” is on the list…

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A Little Clarity is in Order…

I sat down to go through our social media posts and comments this morning and I had to take a hard look at how we post for the farm. I often post articles from my blog on WordPress to Opal’s Farm page as well. It was brought to my attention that I could communicate the purpose, goals, and impact of the farm more clearly. I appreciate any comments coming from our supporters and other urban farmers. One thing I have learned is that it truly takes a ‘village’ of people to make the farm and, everything else positive in life, a success!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521). Thanks, Jeff!

Starting the beds

While our Mission Statement is written in the “About Us” section of the page, it can be easily overshadowed by other postings (including links to my own blog…). Our Mission Statement sums up our overall goal in a simple fashion – “Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.” However, mission statements make more sense when they are broken down into bit-sized chunks and we certainly want to bring clarity of purpose to our supporters, followers, and ‘farmers’.

Statement of Purpose

Opal’s Farm is a model for regenerative, organic agriculture that:

  • addresses the elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
  • offers education in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
  • creates jobs, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income community members.

We developed our statement of purpose by listening to the community and getting input from other successful urban farming projects. Ms. Opal Lee, who as many of you know, is our namesake, is the President Emeritus of the Community Food Bank in the United Riverside neighborhood of Fort Worth. She spent many hours speaking to the folks served by the food bank and found that many of those folks had issues with finding employment paying a living wage because of previous incarceration. Moreover, they would be willing to grow their own food and exercise a degree of self and community-reliance. As a result, the vision of Opal’s Farm was born.

Once the vision became a reality, we began to seek guidance from other successful urban farm projects. Bonton Farms, located in the Bonton neighborhood south of downtown Dallas, provided much of the model for Opal’s Farm, especially in developing economic sustainability. Paul Quinn College offered support. God opened so many doors and people came from out of the proverbial woodwork to help Opal’s Farm.

The start of the 70 beds we made so far!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot makes the first delivery to Opal’s Farm- – Thanks Jeff!

Charlie Blaylock, of Shines Farmstand and the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, has been our closest consultant and friend. Paula Pacanins with Container King provided a shipping container to store our equipment. Natasha Neidhart, Store Manager for the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521), and Jeff Williams, the Assistant Manager and Capitan of Team Depot partnered with us to provide substantial support in tools, equipment, and supplies. Brandon Hendrickson, the Rental Manager at Zimmerer Kubota provided us with a tractor and farm implements to plow the almost 4 acres that makes up the total area of Opal’s Farm.

We also have the support, and are a member of, Grow Southeast, a coalition of growers dedicated to building urban farms and gardens throughout the southeast side of Tarrant County. The Healthy Tarrant County Collaborative purchased a BCS tractor for all the growers to share as they built and prepared beds for planting. So far, we’ve built 70 beds (a whopping 28,000 square feet!) in the last four days because of their help. TCU has come alongside of Opal’s Farm as well through the Tarrant County Food Policy Council. Students are assisting in a variety of ways this semester to make the farm a success. Last, but most certainly not least, is the Trinity River Water District that provided the acreage and believed in Ms. Opal’s dream. Without them, none of this would be possible.

What I’m trying to say in all of this is that Opal’s Farm is about Fort Worth, about our community, and our home. That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important. Each of us has an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors. We can’t do it alone. We need each of you – individuals, businesses, and organizations to bring health and vitality to the community. This is very real work, with very real results.

People often ask me if this is a “faith-based” project. I’m not trying to be funny when I say the honest answer is yes, and no. We believe that one’s faith is best reflected in the actions one takes, not merely words. Our faith is reflected in the lives we change and the people who are united in making a better place for everyone. Fresh produce is the means to the real end: helping others. Faith says, always err on the side of love” and that always benefits all of us.

Future posts will include articles from my blog and updates on the farm. It’s not to promote the writing business of one individual but to share what’s going on and how everyone can be a part. Mother Teresa was once asked about her work among the disenfranchised and poor in India. Her response was, “Come see”. Come see what we’re doing at the farm and we might just make a farmer out of you.

You can learn more about Ms. Opal and Opal’s Farm on our website, www.unityunlimited.org and our Facebook page. You can also make a secure donation online.

In the meantime – “Come see…”