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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!

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It May Be January but Spring is Here

Down On the Farm

This morning’s rain chose a perfect time to stop work at Opal’s Farm for two reasons. One, I had to make a visit to the veterinarian today (a not so good reason) instead of the farm. Two, we made serious headway on planting yesterday.

Our middle fur baby, Maggie, came in from her morning duties outside with her right eye swollen shut. A couple of hours later the swelling had taken over the right side of her face. A huge shout out to Penny Paws Vet Clinic in Richland Hills for seeing her so quickly. It turns out it was an allergic reaction to either a spider bite or bee sting.  She’s well on her way to recovery.

There’s not much worse than seeing your kids hurt. Pet parents know what I mean. Margaret and I have grown kids. We love them more than we can say, but hey, they don’t keep us warm at night…

Spring Planting has officially begun!

Although the target date was February 15th, we were able to kick off the Spring planting early. Big thanks go to Charlie Blaylock at Shines Farmstand for the onion sets (all 2,000 of them) and to our volunteers, Brenda and Kiersten, for helping get the first two beds planted. All those little green shoots are drinking in today’s rain, Jameson the Farm Dog is on pest control duty, and all is well down on the farm…

Kiersten’s laying ’em down!

Thank you to all the people that called following the news story on NBC5 offering to volunteer at Opal’s Farm. We’re busy getting our volunteer sign-up and schedule for Spring. We can’t wait to see you and play in the dirt together!

I also would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Blue Zones Project Fort Worth for the basket from The Table Market and Culinary Studio (the spicy carrots are amazing!). You are truly a blessing!

From The Table at Dickson Jenkins Plaza, 120 St. Louis, Suite 1038, Fort Worth
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Simply Beautiful…

Down On the Farm

It’s hard to believe it’s January and our first year at Opal’s Farm is behind us. I’m busy preparing for the first Spring planting starting February 15th. It’s hard to believe it’s only five short weeks away.

We’ve been fortunate to experience above-average temperatures and a much drier winter this year. It’s a bit of a two-edged sword – the rain is sorely need and appreciated but sunshine means more time to get ready for Spring. Not a bad problem to have, mind you…

This weekend was one of those times when the Texas winter is truly appreciated. It was warm enough the no coat or jacket was required and yet cool enough to avoid being drenched in sweat. I’d like to think I get more work done on such days, but I’m prone to taking more frequent breaks to simply drink in the sunshine and peacefulness.

A Winter day in Cowtown

The wind was absent, the river like glass. The freeway seemed miles away. Cyclist and joggers, often with dogs in tow, dotted Trinity Trails on both sides of the river. A couple of them stopped to check in on the progress of the farm. One older gentleman told tales of his own childhood on a farm in Central Texas. Time stopped and I was transported to Limestone County several decades ago. His recollections shone in vivid detail. The Fort Worth skyline faded away for a moment.

Something special happens at Opal’s Farm and not just on days like this weekend. Everything slows down, people talk to one another, and a sense of community and belonging happens. There’s something intangible taking place, bringing joy to the farm, and making memories come alive.

Jameson is ready to work…

There’s a special spirit taking place wherever food is involved. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite activities is breaking bread with friends. Growing the food amplifies that spirit. It carries us back to a simpler time when we were connected to the world around us. Thus, we are more connected to one another.

If you’d like to connect, to get your hands dirty, or just talk for a while and take it all in, stop by and see us sometime. Maybe you can soak in that spirit as well and be a part of our little farming community. We’re just a stone’s throw from downtown and it might just slow things down a bit. We could all use that, right?

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You Give Us Freedom to Grow

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.

Maggie “I’m so sorry!”

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 important time.

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.

The turnips and radishes are almost ready…

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 personal here…

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 personal.

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

 Please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and click on the Opal’s Farm page to donate today.

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It’s a Tough Job, But Somebody’s Got to Do It

Down On the Farm: Hey! Jameson here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. Every farm needs a dog to make sure everything flows smoothly. My human, Greg, he may be the farm manager but I’m the one who keeps it on track. That is just what I do!

Jameson on Patrol

Being as farm dog is hard work. First thing in the morning I patrol the perimeter. We started with an acre and it makes for a long walk. Next season we’ll be enlarging the garden, with more of our five acres cultivated. That may be more to patrol but I’m up for it.

Sometimes I go well beyond the confines of the farm. I’ll take off down Trinity Trail and Greg inevitably yells “Jameson” every time I get out of sight. Having my quiet stroll interrupted gets on my nerve, but I know Greg can’t do his job without my supervision…

Then I take a hike through the underbrush around the farm. You know, make sure no uninvited guests or other pesky critters are about. We’ve had a bout with furry little long-tailed rodents eating holes in the cantaloupe and watermelon. I’m proud to report that several melons have been saved due to the diligence of yours truly.

After all that work, I get to enjoy a nap in the shade of the truck or, even better, take a bath in the Trinity River. It’s usually a short one though. There’s work to be done and if I don’t keep an eye on things, who will?

Nap time or play time?

I love it when volunteers come to work at Opal’s Farm. All those extra hands get so much done! I really stay on guard when they’re there. I love our volunteers!

I hope you come to see us at Opal’s Farm. We’re doing great things and would love for you to be a part of it all. Besides, volunteers mean more people to scratch my ears…

I better get off for now. My human is coming and it’s off to the farm. See you soon!

I took a break over the last few weeks due to the heat. I guess that is why they call them the “dog days of summer”. Don’t worry though. Now that Fall is finally be here, I’ll be a fixture at the farm. My human, Greg, did a good job during the hottest days of summer heat but I know he missed my wit and wisdom…

By the way, I forgot to mention you can contribute to Opal’s Farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org or through our Facebook page. To volunteer, simply go to our website, click on Opal’s Farm page and then click on the sign up to volunteer button. See ya!

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Dogs Don’t Just Eat Homework

I have no idea why this posted as “Auto Draft” but here’s the real headline…

Thoughts From the Porch: Last night filled with great music, hot coffee, and a chance to check the emails filling my inbox from the last few days. It may not be most folk’s idea of a great Saturday night but it’s fine by me. To sit and get caught up, especially in air-conditioned comfort, is a golden opportunity indeed.

I get a LOT of emails. Most get a quick scan and deleted but there are a few newsletters I read religiously. Pet MD sent their weekly update. Anything benefitting our fur babies is of utmost importance. We strive to be the best pet parents possible and always look for helpful tips to keep our pets in good health.

As a writer of content and copy I know the value of a great headline. This week’s Pet MD had one of the best I’ve seen – “What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Weed?” It got my attention right away. I’m not sure I would’ve been asking that question publicly. I did notice that it said weed and not “my” weed. You know, just in case…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To be honest, I never thought of asking that question, but apparently, marijuana toxicity in dogs is on the rise; especially in states where it is now legal. Although I no longer indulge in THC (I’m in recovery, not judging), I imagine I would be mildly pissed if my dog ate my weed. From what I understand, the dime bag is a thing of the past…

How do you know if your dog ate your weed? According to PET MD, Clinical signs include:

  • Incoordination
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Low heart rate
  • Dribbling urine
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Low or high body temperature”

I would personally add to the list empty packages of Oreo cookies and Hostess Twinkies scattered about the house, a lack of motivation to chase the squirrel ten feet away, and an abnormal fascination with the television. Just saying…

During my younger and far more foolish years I had a Golden Retriever who once ate half a pan of THC-infused brownies (where they came from, I’ll never tell!). Had I known the potential for life-threatening illness I might not have had such a good laugh (after my initial anger over the lost and somewhat expensive brownies, of course). The THC made her quite content to lay on the edge of the porch and watch the cars pass by. I assume she enjoyed the rest of her evening. I know I did.

If I’d known then, what I know now…

Fortunately, my dog survived her momentary intoxication without any ill effects. In fact, she slept it off until the next afternoon. However, I did notice she was unusually attentive to the sound of storage baggies opening. Had I known about weed toxicity back then I might have been a bit worried, but all’s well that ends well…

The take-away from all this is don’t get your dog high, no matter how much they enjoy it, either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not good for them. Store your weed (and your cookies) out of reach. Keep your weed and your pet safe and secure.

Have a great weekend my friends…

Photo by Michael Fischer on Pexels.com
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Escape Artists and Neighbors

Life loves to grant opportunities for introspection and growth. Sometimes they come from unexpected, and often, unpleasant places.

Sadie, our Rottweiler/we’re not sure what else, is the happiest dog that has ever graced our home. She’s the smallest of our three rescue pups but has been known to take on a pit bull that made the mistake of jumping into our (more appropriately “her”) backyard. She’s sweet, gentle, and incredibly smart. The “smart” part can sometimes be a problem…

Our little stinker! I can’t stay mad when I see this face…

She recently discovered a space where she can jump the fence into our neighbor’s yard and escape to the front yard. She loves to explore, and our cul-de-sac offers endless opportunities. Our other two dogs, Jameson and Maggie, are bigger and I just assumed she had found a hole somewhere to crawl through. After several attempts to block any small holes she might have found, our neighbor informed me where she was jumping the fence. Our neighbor went on to explain that he didn’t want her in his yard. He has a two-year old daughter and was fearful of Sadie. I dutifully affixed a guard to prevent her from jumping in the same spot.

Did I mention Sadie was incredibly bright? She apparently found another spot. I put her in the house and tried to figure out where she was jumping the fence. It wasn’t long before the White Settlement Police came knocking on my door asking about the “dog problem”.

I’m somewhat ashamed of my initial response. While I was quite friendly to our local law enforcement (who threatened us with “doggie jail”), I wasn’t so gracious thinking about our neighbor. I fantasized all the possible ways I could make his life miserable. After all, we had put up with the chaos coming from their house – the noise, the loud swearing at the kids, and the dog who stayed on our front porch rather than in their backyard (a cute little cuss who ate our cat’s food) and never said a word. They, they, they! Mouthing off to anyone who would listen (sorry Son for interfering with the hockey game), I made for a great self-righteous, pompous victim…

Self-righteous anger doesn’t serve me well. I had time to calm down and go on to bed. Sleep is amazing. I awoke with a far calmer attitude: that is until my morning routine was broken by having to take time to take Sadie out on her leash. Agitation quickly returned.

I finally grabbed my coffee and greeted the morning in my usual way with morning prayer and meditation on the porch. However, thoughts of the previous evening’s police visit kept interfering with my prayers. Suddenly, I remembered Jesus’ words:

“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend (or in this case, a neighbor) has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5.23-24 The Message)

I didn’t think it wise to go to my neighbor at six o’clock in the morning. I pondered the situation further. I began to look at the incident from God’s perspective, forcing me to look inward rather than outward toward my neighbor. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.

A little back story is in order…

We live in a well-kept, older working-class neighborhood. Most of our neighbors have lived here for years. They are either retired military or retired Lockheed Martin employees. The only time children are playing outside is when grandkids (or great-grandkids) come to visit, so it tends to be quiet.

The neighborhood demographics are changing. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here. There’s more younger people, families, and racially and culturally diverse residents. Several of the older residents on the block have passed away over the last couple of years. Their children, who already have places of their own, usually put the homes up for sale. The housing market is tight in our area, so a couple of the houses have been purchased by investors to either “flip” or keep as rental properties. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here.

The house next door is one such property. It’s always been bit more run down than other homes on the block. It’s been bought and sold a couple of time in the last year and a half. The first owners did little in the way of improvements so when the present owners began working hard to bring it up to current building code, we were thrilled.

New Neighbors…

We watched with a degree of trepidation as the new family moved in next door. They were loud and seemed to have a hundred people helping them. After they settled in, we learned all the “helpers” were family members. It turned out they had ten children and one on the way. So much for our quiet little cul-de-sac!

The solitude of my evening porch time has often been broken since they arrived; by the younger one’s screaming and crying and the parents yelling at them with a variety of swearing and threats. The two and three-year-old kids have repeatedly been found walking around the block without parental supervision (or clothes). The older ones often block the street playing basketball daring neighbor’s vehicles to interrupt them. It goes without saying that our new neighbors are difficult to live with. No wonder I felt justified in my anger about the dog incident.

Unfortunately, justification only goes so far. It’s a great substitute for reality. Was I mad because they called the cops on my dog or was it because I couldn’t stop Sadie from getting out? Who was I upset with? What was I afraid of? It always seems to come down to fear.

The questioning began growing deeper and deeper. The guy had told me he was concerned about his two-year old. I know Sadie wouldn’t hurt a fly, but does he?  Could I not see he had a point? The deeper I looked inside the less I could point fingers at him. I hate it when that happens!

Shifting Perspectives

One of my favorite prayers is the “Saint Francis Prayer”, especially when the line asking to “understand, rather than be understood”. It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget it when things don’t go my way. While I’m grateful my perception, my thoughts, and my actions are less self-centered than they used to be, I still have days when the world just needs to “do as I say”. Father may know best. I do not.

I probably won’t be running next door and apologize for my ill thoughts. Thank God for the pause button between my thoughts and my actions. I tend to re-act slower and think a bit more before acting these days. I don’t appear to step on as many toes and quite frankly, making amends and corrective action is not on my favorite list of things to do. As my friend Jim used to say, “Crow is best eaten fresh…”

What I will do is pray to “understand, rather than be understood” and stay here on the porch enjoying my morning coffee. It’s funny how much easier it is to bask in the peace and solitude that follows a bit of understanding…

Would you call the “Doggie Police”?