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Waste Not, Want Not: Composting at Opal’s Farm

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.

A Monday Pick up (approximately 400 lbs. that will not go to the landfill

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.

Cardboard boxes from the Monday pick-up – plastic produce containers take our donations to food banks and cardboard is recycled at the farm

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.

The end result – less than 25 lbs goes the landfill (remaining plastic packaging)

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…

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April Showers Bring May Veggies

The clouds grew dark and heavy this morning. Maybe the promised rain was coming after all. The weather folks said it would be here Thursday, moved it to Friday, and then assured us it was coming Saturday or maybe Sunday mid-morning – but hey, this is Texas. I’d about given up hope when I heard the distant roll of thunder. Maybe?

The short version is I didn’t get but a two-minute light sprinkle on the westside, but the farm was soaked by a fifteen-minute downpour. I won’t have another day of hand-watering ahead of me. Let me explain…

The drainplug on our pump shot out of my hand on Friday and rolled into the river rendering the pump useless until I can get the part Monday. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but we just planted three hundred new additional tomato and pepper plants; all of which need to be watered in. Saturday afternoon found me hauling water from the Trinity River up the levee (two five-gallon buckets at a time) and watering the plants one at a time. I’ll do what needs to be done but I’m especially grateful for the shower today…

Opal’s Farm was at the Cowtown Farmers Market for the first time this year. The forecasted rain stayed away and the sun made our first Saturday back even more spectacular. We had sugar snap carrots, and radishes available and were sold out by 1030 AM. We saw several old friends and met many more new ones. We’re always grateful for our regular customers. We missed you guys over the last three months. We’re also grateful to all the new folks we met Saturday and hope to see each of one of you every week. Better yet, come by the farm and give us a hand or take a tour.

The potatoes and onions love the rain

I need to give as shout out to our volunteers this week. We couldn’t have gone to market without your help. Our volunteers are amazing! The number of volunteer hours has skyrocketed in the last three weeks. I hope you can come out and join us!

Tomatoes, Jalapenos, and Anaheim Chili Peppers are in. We were able to get Spaghetti Squash and Cucumbers in as well. Everything else is going great guns and it looks to be an excellent Spring for Opal’s Farm.

Just a word to our friends and customers at Cowtown Farmers Market:

We want you to know how much you are appreciated. So many of you have wanted to support Opal’s vision. Every purchase you make and the donations you give bring fresh produce to the people who need it the most – neighborhoods that have been forgotten by the big grocery store chains, neighborhoods that suffer disproportionate health problems because their only food choices are highly processed canned and junk food full of empty calories. Your dollars not only provide you with the best in locally grown, nutritious fruits and vegetables, but your neighbors as well.

Thank you for being a part of Opal’s Farm! We love you all and hope to see you next week!

Please go to http://www.unityunlimited.org to donate or sign up to volunteer
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And God Said It Was Good…

Thoughts From the Porch

It was unusually quiet on the porch this morning. The birds were still singing, kept in time by the staccato beat of our neighborhood woodpecker, but there was no city sounds in the background – only a peaceful silence. Some would attribute to the “shelter in place” order we’re presently under. I prefer to believe that God quieted the noise so I could hear the beauty of birdsong and bask in the joy of a new morning.

I’ll exchange online church services for working at the farm this morning. A big rain is predicted for tomorrow and there’s tomatoes to get in before it comes. Besides, farming is its own worship service in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from the never-ending process of life, death, and rebirth that only a garden can give.

From the very beginning in the Genesis creation story, God thought a garden was a good place for man to start. He planted a garden and gave it over to the care of the human beings He created in His own image:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’.

God created human beings; He created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Genesis 1.26-28 – The Message- emphasis mine)

Working at the farm is a reminder of God’s instruction to be responsible for the Earth He gave us. I grew up hearing that passage as one of “having dominion over” rather than “taking care of” the gift of creation. I understand the difference today. Working in the soil, watching the crops grow, and seeing the happy faces of the ones who receive our produce is what was intended all along – be responsible and help others…

I take that responsibility serious at Opal’s Farm. That’s why I practice regenerative farming. I want to nourish and replenish the soil and leave it better than I found it. I take care of the gift entrusted to me. That’s what responsibility (and gratitude) is all about. I can’t take care of everything, but I can easily be responsible for my little place in the word. My prayer is that we’ll all do the same.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com
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We’re Growing!

Down On the Farm It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm. We had a bit of a thunderstorm this morning following a week of fantastic weather. Thanks to the Blue Zones Project we have a large sign for the entrance to Opal’s Farm. Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota delivered a tractor to begin plowing our second acre. Several volunteers, new and our regulars showed up to help this week. We hope it chased away the coronavirus blues!

We’ve been so busy this week we almost forgot to wish our fellow farmers a Happy National Agriculture Day. On Tuesday the 24th Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said,

“Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world. Now more than ever it’s important that the American people not forget that. Our farmers are resilient, and during these uncertain times they are still working, day in and day out, to produce what’s needed for our growing population. Today, on National Ag Day, I challenge the American public to keep our farmers, ranchers and producers on their minds – for all their work to provide us a safe, healthy and abundant food supply. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Thank you Blue Zones!

We are grateful to you all as well. Your support is, as always, absolutely amazing! Tuesday was especially eventful. The sign for our barn at Opal’s Farm was installed, letting everyone know about Opal’s Farm. I feel bad singling people out for recognition, but Brenda and Carol with Blue Zones – Fort Worth have been incredible. I know it’s a team effort and I can’t thank Blue Zones enough.

Tuesday also saw the start of our expansion into acre number two. One of our sponsors and great friends, Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, delivered a tractor for us to use in plowing our second acre. We’ll be smothering the area in wood chips to control the weeds and provide compost for the next season. Brandon surprised us with a tractor with an enclosed cab and air conditioning. It was perfect for the above-average temps this week (almost 90 degrees…). Thanks Brandon, Jerry, Sam Zimmerer and all the good folks at the North Fort Worth store.

Jameson the Farm Dog is supervising…

Special thanks go out to Kiersten, Alexis, and Mike for harvesting almost thirty pounds of sugar snap and green peas. You all saved them from my constant snacking as I went down the beds…

It’s a bit muddy following this morning’s rain, but the sun has come out making for a beautiful Saturday. We’re expecting a washout for this coming Monday so I’m off to make hay while the sun shines…

Thanks to everyone at Zimmerer Kubota!
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Spring Has Sprung

Down On the Farm: It started raining in the pre-dawn hours last Friday. It’s been off and on rain, heavy at times, but without the severe thunderstorms that are so frequent in North Texas this time of year. The above-average temperatures we’ve had often contribute more damaging weather.  I may not be able to work at the farm, but I can enjoy the morning a tad longer from the porch.

All around Fort Worth, Dogwoods, Bradford Pears, and Texas Redbuds are bursting with pinks, whites, and reds and emerald greens dots shine throughout the woods. Bluebonnets dot the roadsides. All the other Spring wildflowers are close behind. The vernal equinox may be a few days away, but the flora announces Spring is already here.

Photo by nagaraju gajula on Pexels.com

Down on the farm the green peas are coming along nicely and almost ready to pick. The sugar snap peas aren’t far behind. The carrots need to be thinned and weeds are always an issue no matter what time of year it is. Thanks, Kiersten for all your help weeding!

The early Spring planting is completed. The turnips, beets, spinach, and green onions went in the ground and the rain is a welcome guest. There’s something about heaven sent rain that makes everything grow better. Jamison the Farm Dog is hard at work protecting our new crops from pests!

Jameson hard at work

We added an herb garden this year. We set aside a couple of smaller beds for tarragon, cilantro, and sage so far. The rest – basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme – will go in later this month.

We’ll also be preparing to expand into our second acre. A huge thanks goes out to J. Davis Tree Care Solutions for all the wood chips they’ve dropped off. We’ve been mulching our walkways and furrows. Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, is delivering a tractor after this rain clears out. We’ll be able to plow and cover the new acre with a thick layer of wood chips and cover crops (thanks to Jay Schmigdall!). It will hold down some of the weeds and provide excellent compost and nourishment for new planting.

We also need to give a huge shoutout to Lauren Hickman at the Tarrant Area Food Bank. She provided us with two flats of celebrity tomatoes they raised at their Learning Garden. She’s also been a wonderful help with arranging composting and a great source of wisdom for Opal’s Farm.

The rain meant rescheduling some of our volunteers. Farming, whether urban or rural, is dependent on the weather. Thanks to all for being so understanding. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon.

For those of you who haven’t been out or would like to volunteer at Opal’s Farm please sign up at www.unityunlimited.org. Go to the Opal’s Farm page and click on the sign-up button. Feel free to find a time that works best for you and come join us!