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.
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.
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?
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
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!
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?
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!
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…
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:
Sensitivity to loud noises
Low heart rate
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…
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…
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
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.
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…
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.
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
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!
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…
“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.
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.
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…
It’s quiet down on Opal’s Farm. The rain has been falling since the pre-dawn hours and work came to a halt. Jameson the Farm Dog curled up next to my desk when the thunder rumbled earlier and hasn’t moved since. He’s not a big fan of thunderstorms. I’m convinced it’s due to the many nights in a kennel at the shelter. I can only imagine how it must feel to be alone with thunder crashing outside and a hundred other dogs barking. I’d be scared too…
Needless to say, I’m working inside today. You can’t plow in the mud and stuck tractors are not much fun…