We are asked that question frequently as we move our first third of an acre to bio-intensive farming versus the “tractor” farming we have done for the first four years at Opal’s Farm.. The simplest definition of “bio-intensive farming” is to use organic methods to achieve “maximum yields from a minimum area of land, while simultaneously increasing biodiversity and sustaining the fertility of the soil.”( http://bionica.org/library/biointensive-method/ )
When properly implemented, bio-intensive farming has the potential to:
topsoil at a rate 60 times faster than in nature” (Worldwide Loss of Soil – and a Possible Solution Ecology Action, 1996).
At Opal’s, the third of an acre that is being transformed this Spring has 134 twenty-five-foot beds. Most of these beds are for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants but they also contain some of our carrot crop, radishes, greens, and lettuces/salad mixes. Each of these beds yield produce equal to what our 100-foot rows have done in the past. We hope to add more bio-intensive beds over the coming growing seasons.
Bio-intensive means just that – intensive. Management of these beds requires constant attention, but even the time spent on each bed is lessened as the soil becomes cleaner (less weeds) and healthier. The system is perfect for the home gardener or small producer like Opal’s.
Building the infrastructure for bio-intensive farming is time-consuming. That’s one reason we have not utilized it in the past. We’ve simply not had the labor to build and maintain these beds in the past. Now that we’ve added Amber Carr and Amanda Vogel to our staff, we are able to change our focus, knowing that once the infrastructure is in place we never have to build it again! We’ll be sharing our successes with you over the coming Spring and long-term plans are to have educational classes available to the community.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how much we appreciate the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). On February 23rd, they came in mass with engineers to help design a more efficient irrigation system for us. We already have drip irrigation for our bio-intensive section, but having more efficient water use over the whole farm is something we’ve been striving for since the beginning.
NRCS and its parent agency, the USDA, have begun to concentrate on urban agriculture and smaller producers in a big way. We can lead the way in developing practices and programs right here for future urban farms in North Texas. We would love to thank our Urban Agriculture representative, Michael Higgins, and our NRCS rep for this district, Michael Brookes, for the extra attention and help they are giving Opal’s and urban agriculture throughout the metroplex!
I’ve been a bit testy and irritable the last few weeks (some would argue it’s more than “a bit?”). My life is normally even keeled and drama-free so there’s something, or things, going on. For one, I finally quit smoking for more than a couple of days at a time. Former smokers will know what I mean.
Two, it all started during the holidays which isn’t my favorite time of the year since my son died two-and-a-half years ago. Grief never goes away. It lies just beneath the radar until it suddenly crashes over you in violent waves. It’s usually spurred by birthdays and holidays, of which Christmas is both – Jesus and Jeremy shared the same birthday.
Perhaps last, but definitely not least, is the constant barrage of news media telling me how bad everything is. I’ve cut down on my news intake for the most part, limiting it to NPR in my truck and the local news and weather at night. Such limitations started a wave of withdrawal symptoms from this old Political Science major and news junkie. It’s not that I don’t want to isolate myself from the issues at hand. It’s simply a matter of finding some balance – focusing on the things that I can change and, as the Serenity Prayer says, finding the courage to change the things I can.
I came home from a meeting late last Friday evening. I quickly sat down at my computer to see the news – the Memphis Police Department released the video footage of Tyre Nichols being beaten to death by five Memphis police officers. I was only able to watch portions of the video described as “horrific” by city officials. “Horrific” was not a strong enough adjective. Sickening, inhumane, and criminal were more descriptive. People paid to “protect and serve” beat and kill instead…
Protest erupted across the nation as once again a black man is murdered by the police. The media will give short clips of them, focus on the violent ones – peaceful demonstrations don’t get good ratings – and they’ll stress that each of the former officers involved were also black. Most white folks will see that as validation for their own misguided, overt and covert, beliefs in white supremacy. Right-wing Republicans will invoke fear by saying Democrats want to defund and abolish the police. Democrats will pay lip service to police reform to appease their base and then do nothing. Divisions along racial and political lines will further deepen, and life will go on unchanged until the next black man, and the ones after that, are murdered by the police.
I’m angry and sad, but most of all, I’m tired and frustrated. Tired of hearing another Black man has been killed by the police. The problem remains the same. Government is hopeless – right-wing, left-wing, progressive or Christian nationalist, Democrat of Republican – it does little to change a corrupt and inequitable system. The system is where the problem is and the hardest thing to change. It will be the same old, same old: words, thoughts, prayers for the family, and complete inaction to do anything about the problem. Stories will begin to fade from the media and the cycle begins again.
I’m frustrated by the national insanity I witness around me. If insanity is “doing the same thing expecting different results” then America needs to be locked away in a global sanitarium and undergo some serious shock treatment. I need some serious therapy just to get through this mess. Fortunately, my faith, both in God and in His kids, and the words of Thomas Merton, “To hope is to risk frustration. Therefore, make up your mind to risk frustration.”, remind me that once again, I’m right where I need to be.
When I remember what’s driving the frustration I can begin to seek solutions – what I can do. I find that multi-tasking is more difficult as I get older so I try to focus on my job – growing food and providing access to those who have been abandoned by food apartheid – and do it better than ever. I can see the myriad of people around me who feel the same frustration and yet, keep doing their very best to act in a manner consistent with the idea of hope – hope for truly loving God, loving their neighbor (and not having to ask who their “neighbor” is), and working for the common good through selfless service. I am not alone.
Thank you to all the other frustrated people working toward a world that values each person for who they are no matter what. I’m so grateful for all the frustrated folks who keep forging ahead no matter how far the goal of a beloved society may be. I’m so grateful that although we’re tired we still share frustration with the stratus quo and still remain hopeful that we are bending the long arc of justice to build a place of love, acceptance, and kindness consistent with the real kingdom of God.
I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…
Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…
I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.
Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…
Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.
However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.
In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.
I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.
I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…
The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…
I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.
It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?
Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.
I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.
The sun is shining brightly reminding us that warmth is on its way after the brutal Arctic front plunged the thermometer for the last couple of days. We took the holidays off from Cowtown Farmers Market for the holidays so we could spend time with family and friends. The fifty-mile-an-hour wind that accompanied the freezing temperatures may have caused a longer absence from market – the low tunnels and bed coverings couldn’t stand up to the wind – but we won’t know the full extent of the damage until next week. At least we haven’t lost power and haven’t had to sleep with four big dogs and in insulated coveralls to stay warm!
I haven’t been able to muster a whole lot of Christmas spirit this year. Grief comes exceptionally strong this time of year – Jeremy was born on Christmas Day – and I associate the holidays with loss. I had planned to go to Kentucky to spend Christmas with Momma and the weather quashed that plan. Upon awakening this morning, I summoned all my energy to fight pulling the covers over my head and sleeping (or at least feigning sleep) until December 26th. I got up, brushed my teeth, and made coffee. I made breakfast for my wife and sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while.
There are some things I’ve learned about grief, mainly that it never goes away. The stretch of good days begins to become longer with time, but grief will rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient of times – a song, a scene in a movie, the holidays – the list goes on. This year it began early with an art show that was a tribute to Jeremy. Then came Thanksgiving and now Christmas.
Grief may never go away but difficult moments always pass. It will always go to sleep or at least retreat for a time. The retreats last longer than they did after Jeremy died. Greif may be overwhelming at times, but life still goes on. It only feels all consuming. I must no longer let feelings run my life, but I do have to feel them.
As I sat staring at the computer this morning it dawned on me that my grief has consequences not only for me but those close to me as well. I may not want to do Christmas, but my family does. Christmas is Margaret’s favorite holiday. I used to get the tree and Christmas decorations out early so she could wrap the house in decorations and Christmas spirit. Then her mobility became so limited. This year it fell on me to get everything out of the attic which I managed to put off until last week. My step kid was going to do the decorating, but it kept getting put off until finally my wife told me last night that I should put everything back in the attic. “Nobody else thought Christmas was important.” She didn’t say it with malice or sarcasm, but I could feel her disappointment.
So… I’m only going to sit here long enough to tell you that I’m off to set up the Christmas tree and decorate our home for tomorrow.
I want to wish each and every one of you a blessed and Merry Christmas. If you’re having a hard time with the holidays as so many do, please know that you’re not alone. My prayers go out to those for whom Christmas is a reminder of loss and pain. If you’re having a really tough time, I suggest what my friend Jim told me long ago, “If you’re wrapped up in your painful feelings, then go help someone else.” That’s what I’m going to do today. It’s always worked well in the past…
I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.
I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.
So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.
When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.
I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.
I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.
Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…
This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.
Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…
There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.
I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…