Several weeks ago we were privileged to be a part of the Blue Zones Project Fort Worth’s “TransFORTmation” campaign. The first You Tube video became available this morning. We couldn’t wait the share it with you. It was perfect timing as always – #GivingTuesday!
I sat down to check emails before I wrote this. I was astounded by the volume of emails I received about Giving Tuesday. I sat down to write this and, if I’m honest, I wondered if Opal’s Farm email or post would even be read today. We’d be just another one of many organizations working to make our world just a bit better. So many options…
We can’t compete with the big NGOs or service organizations. We are a small but growing (no pun intended) urban farm seeking to bring fresh, healthy food to folks that often don’t have it available. We simply believe that an urban farm can change lives and build community. Our five-acre farm makes a difference!
I could give you all the reasons you need to choose Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm on this special day of giving. I won’t bore you with all the statistics and needs. I’ll just let you know that every dollar you give today is doubled, matched dollar for dollar. We need your help more than ever as we expand our growing area to reach more of your neighbors.
So please push the donate button right now or go the www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm to make your secure Giving Tuesday contribution. When you’ve done that come out and join us at Opal’s Farm and see how your contribution is making Fort Worth a better place – one neighborhood at a time.
I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.
I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.
It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…
I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.
I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!
Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.
I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.
Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).
One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.
Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…
I need to confess something. I skipped the traditional Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboy game. I ate more than I should have yesterday, especially the desserts. Although our Thanksgiving celebration was small, a couple of the kids and a few good friends, there was an overabundance of food. We all ate until our tummies were full and then added a tad more for insurance. I trust many of you did the same. Unfortunately, many of your neighbors did not.
Most of us don’t deal with food insecurity. We hop in the car and head to the grocery store. The option for healthy eating habits with lots fresh fruits and vegetables have a wide array to choose from. We make our selections and go home. That’s not the case for many of our neighbors right here in Tarrant County.
According to the Taste Project, “In the state of Texas alone food insecurity is higher than the national average at 17 percent. In Fort Worth’s Tarrant county community food insecurity is at 18.1 percent. That is 2.7 percent above the national average covering a total of 340,620 people who are food insecure” (italics mine). Those 340,260 people can’t guarantee they will have enough to eat today. Thanksgiving for them is often a reminder how precarious their situation is.
The mission of Opal’s Farm is to end food insecurity in Tarrant County, one neighborhood at a time. Everyone has the right to healthy food no matter where they live. If they can’t get to the store, we bring the grocery store to them. Moreover, we seek to educate our often-neglected neighbors in the preparation and health benefits of nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. We believe in a three-prong approach to ending hunger in Fort Worth:
Through growing organic fresh produce on our five-acre farm and bringing it to affected neighborhoods.
Through education programs such for children and adults that let everyone know how important a healthy diet is, how prepare fresh food, and how to develop their own farming skills to offer a hand up, not just a hand-out.
Through employment and job training, especially for those who have difficulty finding employment due to previous felony incarceration or other life-altering events.
If you’d like to join our mission, we have a golden opportunity this coming Tuesday. Facebook announced that it will provide matching contributions for much of what is donated on Giving Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019.
That means you dollar doubled and has a greater impact for Opal’s Farm. Imagine one seed becoming, one meal becoming two, and each family fed becoming two families fed. Most importantly, those people may be the people down the street of next door to you. Every dollar stays in Fort Worth!
Please plan your donation today and make your donation on Giving Tuesday, December 3rd, and join us on our mission.
This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the
Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last
couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words
don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.
Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of
weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to
recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after
she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.
We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.
Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was
no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than
one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive
skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She
really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…
Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple
of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her
leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has
eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.
This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the
hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial
difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me
wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over
and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful
“village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most
because of the people that fill our lives.
That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has
wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting
has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops,
building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation
system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely
As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.
None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.
Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.
Along the way there have been many volunteers who have
lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of
fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in
Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us
through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project,
Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply
make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t
forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan
O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.
“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s
Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside
us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty
to ask you for more.
While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools,
supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash
position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most
non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit
When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I
spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew
finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty
that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were
supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing
that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what
God called us to do.
For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been
erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never
more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more
precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.
We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust
that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”.
That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and
Business, especially farming, requires planning for the
coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as
we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved
soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased
yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and
the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an
initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind
donations we’ve received from our sponsors.
Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm
grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly
be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm
and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your
support. We know this is a “we” project.
I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season
of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500,
each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more
urgent to help Opal’s Farm
Good morning my friends. It a great Friday! Margaret came home from the hospital yesterday and is on the mend. Thank you for all your prayers, notes, and presence over the last week and a half. I’m always overwhelmed by the “village” surrounding us. We are blessed beyond measure with people God has placed in our lives. We love you guys!
I’m adding a new blog ” Down on the Farm” to the website. It helps save a bit of time with our social media posting for Opal’s Farm. I hope this isn’t taken as self-promotion as I can tell with all certainty that Opal’s Farm is our farm and couldn’t happen were it not for you all. So, without further ado…
Down On the Farm: Happy Friday to you all! It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm despite the stifling heat. Fall planting is progressing. The compost pile is getting bigger thanks to all the hard work of Brittanny Rosenberg with the City of Fort Worth’s Code Compliance Department and Harrison Gibson with the Taste Project. Ann and Johnny with Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound have delivered trailer loads of goat poop and shavings for our beds. My son said he’s never seen anyone get so excited about poop! If he saw how it regenerates the planting beds and the better yields, he’d probably understand my excitement.
Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening of a new documentary called Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. The film is an eye-opener and a must see for each of us. As a farm manager I know how much food is often wasted on the front end of production unless one is committed to composting and rebuilding the soil which the food came from in the first place. As a vendor at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, I see how much food gets overlooked because of its appearance. Finally, as a consumer, I need to reevaluate my own ideas about food and food waste. Thank you to the Tarrant Food Policy Council for holding the event and the work they do so diligently right here in Tarrant County. Thanks again to Brittany for seeing that all the food scraps were to be donated to Opal’s Farm.
I could (and will soon) be writing more
about our food waste and our relationship to the food we consume. What hit me
was not only the film, but the number of great people working on issues of food
justice, food insecurity, and food access. Oftentimes, the stuff that makes the
news can feel overwhelming and create a sense or powerlessness. But we never hear
about the people working quietly behind the scenes to make our world, and our
little piece of it, a better place.
Not Me, Us…
I saw some familiar faces last night.
I met many more working toward the same end. I felt intense gratitude for those
who have come along side to help and guide me toward making Opal’s Farm a
success. Someone mentioned how far I’d brought the farm along. I had to
correct them. We have brought the farm a long way.
Most of you know I love to give ‘shout
outs” and thanks to our volunteers. However, in the rush of day-to-day operations
of the farm I often fail to regularly mention our sponsors and partners: especially
those there from the very start.
For starters, none of this could’ve
happened without our benefactors and friends at the Tarrant Regional Water
District (TRWD). I won’t rehash the story, but they believed in the idea of
Opal’s Farm for several years before Opal’s Farm became a reality. Without
their gift of five acres and their continued support for the farm, 2,000
pounds-plus of fresh food would never have reached Fort Worth neighborhoods so
far. (Side note: TRWD will be holding their annual “Trash Bash”
September 21st. We’ll be there and hope you are too!)
We needed a place to store
equipment and supplies. Since we were on the flood plain, we needed something
temporary, but secure. We were in a quandary until Paula Pacinins and Container
King showed up with an 8’x40’ shipping container to use for storage.
We were ready to start plowing, but
we had no tractor; until Brandon Hendrickson with Zimmerer Kubota entered the
picture. Zimmerer Kubota provided the tractor and implements we needed to turn
the soil and begin building planting beds.
Manually creating planting beds is
a difficult and slow process with shovels and rakes. I wasn’t looking forward
to the slow, tedious process of building beds. During our planning stage of the
farm we had become members of Grow SE, which is a group of folks committed to urban
farming. Grow SE is also a project of Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration.
In March, Linda Fulmer with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration purchased a BCS tractor for each of the Grow SE growers to share. The BCS tractor made quick work of building the beds and off we went!
Shortly after our ribbon cutting in
February, the White Settlement Home Depot steeped in and asked to partner with
Opal’s Farm. Store Manager Natasha Neiderhart and Team Depot Captain and
Assistant Manager Jeff Williams delivered tools, supplies, and everything we
needed to get started our first season.
A little secret – the White
Settlement Home Depot store has always been my favorite! They offer old
fashioned customer service and a feeling of community you don’t always
experience elsewhere. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I’m fiercely loyal to my
Home Depot store!
Brandon Castillo with Cowboy
Compost donated the compost necessary to get our first crop going. By the way,
it was a pleasure to meet you last night, Pete. You all are doing a terrific
The Marty V. Leonard Fund at the
North Texas Community Foundation and the Ken W. Davis Foundation provided the
initial funds to begin Opal’s Farm. We are eternally grateful to Marty Leonard
and to Cullen Davis for their support.
Since the beginning, we have
enjoyed the support of many of our local officials. I know I’m going to omit
someone I shouldn’t because there has been so many. However, I’d still like to
single out Councilperson Kelly Allen Grey. Ms. Grey is the Council member for our
district. She’s working for us to establish neighborhood “pop-up” farmers markets.
The support of the Mayor and each of our Council members is appreciated more
than we can say.
Last, and certainly not least, is
our brother, friend, mentor, and fellow farmer, Charlie Blaylock with Shines
Farmstand. I’ve told you all about Charlie before, but I’m going to tell you
again. My feeble words are not near enough to explain what he means to Opal’s
Farm and me personally. He’s been every step of the way with us. He’s provided
knowledge, guidance, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Starting a farm isn’t
an easy endeavor. Honestly, there’s been more a few times I’ve been a bit
frustrated (that’s an understatement!) and wondered if this project was going
to fly. He’s been there every time to help me (and us) back on track and keep
Because of Charlie’s support, we
haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. That’s important. When I first saw the farm cleared
and how much land there was, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but wonder what
in the world I had gotten myself into. I was full of self-doubt and thought I’d
bitten off far more than I could chew. It was Charlie Blaylock who broke it all
down and showed how to eat one bite at a time.
I know I’m forgetting someone. That tends to happen when you get older. I apologize for the senior moment. Let me be clear, this has never been a “me” deal. It’s always a “we” deal. Opal’s Farm is a vital, active part of Fort Worth because of Fort Worth, because of you all.I can’t forget our volunteers and I’ll tell you about them in a coming post. They have been critical, especially during harvest. But I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and tell you a bit of how much we love and appreciate our sponsors and partners. We are doing this! Thank you for making our community a bit better ad bringing locally grown, fresh produce to or community!