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Fighting Hunger One Meal at a Time

We are incredibly grateful for Noelle Walker at NBC 5 DFW for her series on “Fighting Hunger” and for the segment on our work at Opal’s Farm. The story aired yesterday on NBC 5: First at Four. The link to the story is at https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/fighting-hunger-urban-farming-in-fort-worths-food-desert/2292808/

I love the opportunity to tell a wider audience about Opal’s Farm. The farm is my personal passion. Ending food insecurity is my reason for getting up in the morning. I know what it’s like to be hungry. No one, especially a child, should have to go to bed hungry.

While I’m well aware of the statistics: one in seven children in Tarrant County face food insecurity. There are over forty food deserts in Tarrant County. Neighborhoods that rely on dollar stores or convenience marts for their groceries often face higher rates of obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a myriad of other health problems. I know those statistics, but I learned a new one from Ms. Walker’s news story today: Tarrant County is one of the top ten most food insecure counties in America.

Let that sink in for a moment…

Tarrant Country is in the top ten most food insecure counties in the country. Not in the state, not in the region. In the country!

I’m angry about that. Fort Worth is my home. I grew up here and fell in love with the history and the culture of Cowtown. Whether it’s the 136th edition of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo or an art exhibit at the Kimball my hometown has something to offer to everyone. Well, almost everyone…

I’m angry because, quite frankly, we’re better than that. I’m upset and maybe you are, too…

Since the NBC 5 story ran I’ve received dozens of emails and social media messages from people who believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm; who believe that an urban farm is just what is needed today. I’ve heard from older folks who remember the old “Greek” farm that was where Opal’s Farm is today. I’ve heard from young folks that want to be a part of a food “revolution” right here in Cowtown.

Opal’s Farm is a hands on way to address the needs of our neighbors. Not only those who struggle with poverty but those families that often work multiple jobs and still face hunger. That’s the reality many of our neighbors live with.

This first year has been tremendously exciting and, to be honest, a little scary. I remember the first time I walked around the levee after the Tarrant Regional Water District had disked and cleared the entire acreage for us. I couldn’t help but feel like I was wa-a-a-y in over my head. It was so big; much bigger than the community gardens I’d built before. What had I committed to?

According to the ancient Taoist proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, so that’s just what we did. We took it one step at a time. There were many missteps along the way. The learning curve was steep and the work overwhelming at times. Still, step by step, bed by bed, seed by seed, Opal’s Farm began to take shape and seeds turned into a harvest that surprised all of us. Talk about starting on a wing and a prayer…

Our second year promises an even more bountiful harvest than our first. We will feed more people than last year, but we need your help. Opal’s Farm is in desperate need of donations to fund the coming year. We are expanding into our second acre. This will allow us to offer a wider variety of produce to the neighborhoods we serve.

The thing I love the most about Fort Worth is the people. We’re a big city (16th largest in the country!) but we haven’t lost that “small town” feel. We’re neighbors here. Neighbors help each other out. Help us help your neighbors with a donation to Opal’s Farm today.

Go to www.unityunlimited.org right now! Click on Opal’s Farm and you’ll find a “donate now” button to make your safe and secure donation to Opal’s Farm. You’ll also find a “Sign Up” button if you’d like to be a farmer right along beside us. We love working beside our volunteers!

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. Your donation today will ensure that one person, one child goes to be with a full tummy because your dollar went to the produce we grew and brought to their neighborhood. That’s not just neighborly, it’s the right thing to do.

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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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The Best of is You!

Down on the Farm

Christmas came early for Opal’s Farm! Thanks to Blue Zones Project Fort Worth we now have a beautiful stainless-steel washing station for our produce!!!!!!! It will speed up the process of washing and bringing produce to market. I can’t imagine a better Christmas present! Thank you, Blue Zones Project for an amazing gift.

The perfect Christmas present!

I was so thankful for Saturday’s rain and a day off. The previous four days of unseasonably warm December weather kept me super busy! Make hay while the sun shines, right? I got to spend a couple of hours catching up on the news. Mostly it’s the end of the year or end of the decade “best and worst of” lists.

I sat down and tried to think of a “best of” list for our first year at Opal’s Farm. There were too many “best of” moments to list. Moreover, once I created the list, I’d feel obligated to rank them. That, my friends, is impossible. You’ve made each chapter in the story of Opal’s Farm better than the one before.

While 2019 has exceeded all expectations 2020 will be even better! Help us end food deserts in Tarrant County with your gift today. Help us bring the blessing of nutrition and health to your neighbors.

 You can donate through our Facebook page or go to www.unityunlimited.org

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Listen to Your Elders

Down on the Farm

I admit I was a bit delusional after the fall harvest was over. I had this idea in my head that things around Opal’s Farm would slow down some for the winter months. The last couple of weeks have shattered such illusions. It’s going to be a race to get ready for Spring!

In spite of our busy season ahead, the last couple of days have provided both a break from farm labor and an extreme delight. I’ve been able to spend them with Ms. Opal, our namesake. On Tuesday we spent the afternoon delivering food boxes from the Community Food Bank. It’s a regular thing for her every week. She calls me to help on occasion and I’m honored she asked. I get to spend this afternoon with her as well.

Most of you know about Ms. Opal. Her “Walk to DC” to honor and request a Federal holiday for Juneteenth has been all over the media. She’s a legend in Fort Worth for her community and civil rights activism. Her image is depicted on the Black History mosaic mural at the Downtown Trinity Metro station (“I’m the little old lady in the white tennis shoes”). She holds a place in Fort Worth Independent School District’s “Wall of Honor”. She’s met with Presidents, whether it be the President of America, of various universities, or of corporations large and small, to spread her message of love, unity, and of course, Juneteenth. She lives out Dr. King’s words, “No man is free until all men are free”.

My lovely wife, Margaret, with our hero Ms. Opal
(sorry I’m a lousy photographer) at “Juneteenth: The Play”.

Yesterday, we met with Anthony Drake at the McCart WalMart (super center #2978). They have blessed Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm with incredible donations to Unity’s various programs. Yesterday, we were picked up apples and oranges for some 150 kid’s Christmas “stockings”. We had to wait some time for the extra busy store manager to come up front so we could check out. As Ms. Opal and I waited, our conversation was often interrupted when she would take off to hand out cards about her “Walk to DC”. She is the most purpose-driven lady I’ve ever known. There’s no such thing as idle time when Ms. Opal is around.

She started writing her thoughts down more formally lately under the title, “Musings of an Old Lady”. I loved what she wrote but I’m not sure about the title. Ms. Opal may be 93 but she’s certainly no “old” lady. Her endless energy and drive are hard to keep up with for anyone. I’ve never met someone who exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to “love God and love others” quite like she does.

As she told me more of her “musings” I thought what a great addition to our blog and social media. Sadly, younger people often ignore those who have been around for many years (I still don’t want to say old when Ms. Opal is involved…). I know this because my friends and I were the same way. Youth has two extremes: either “I know everything” or “why bother”. There are some are young people who are wise beyond their youth, but they’re a small minority.

Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to listen my elders. I wish it had been sooner but, as my Dad used to remind me, “Wish in one hand, crap in the other, and see which one gets full first…”.

Older people possess a wealth of experience and wisdom: the proper application of their accumulated knowledge. They offer things no institution of higher learning can match. Getting to spend time with Ms. Opal has unlocked the door to a whole new world of history and experience. I often feel cheated when I realize the wealth of information I never received.

It was her vision that made Opal’s Farm (and my awesome job) possible. The thread running through everything Ms. Opal does is simple: get to know one another, particularly those who aren’t like you. Knowing someone different helps dispel the fear of the “other”. It doesn’t take a grand social program to do that. We can do it ourselves every day. Are we willing?

I think “Musings of an Old Lady” would be a perfect addition to this blog. Ms. Opal will be sending me her musings periodically. I can’t wait to share them with you…

You can read more about Miss Opal’s “Walk to DC” at www.opalswalk2dc.com. To learn more about Ms. Opal or to became a financial supporter of our work at Opal’s Farm please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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Hold On, Spring's Coming

Down on the Farm

What an incredible week! Opal’s Farm truly is a community effort. We’re so proud to be a part of such a vibrant community; people committed to food justice and healthy food for all. Things have really been happening, especially since Giving Tuesday. Thank each one of you who donated on Giving Tuesday, both through our social media pages and through our website, www.unityunlimited.org.

Tender young growth tips of Austrian winter peas. The greens taste like sweet sugar snap peas, but have the texture of lettuce. The pea pods are also good young, or left to mature and used as dried peas, can be used to make an unforgettable split pea soup.
Austrian Snow (or winter) Peas

Winter doesn’t slow us down at Opal’s Farm. The Kohlrabi seed generously provided by The Taste Project is coming in as well as sugar snap peas, green peas, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. We’re also trying a new cover crop this winter – Austrian Snow Peas.

What are those you ask?

Austrian Snow Peas are part of the legume family. They help fix nitrogen into the soil and their long-term flowering is attractive to pollinators. They grow slowly in the winter, withstanding harsh frosts, but grow quickly in the Spring helping with weed control. Not only are they a great cover crop, they also provide great winter greens. The shoots and young pods taste like sugar snap peas with a texture like lettuce. Most of us aren’t familiar with them, but area chefs will be delighted!

Building the Soil

We’ve also been busy preparing for Spring planting. Believe it or not, it’s only two months until potatoes and onions go in! Thank you, Charlie Blaylock (Shines Farmstand), for helping us in preparing and planning for our Spring crops.

Good soil health is critical for regenerative, organic farming. The best way to build the soil is through composting. We’ve been busy spreading compost over our beds with light hay covering to aid our Spring crops.

Spreading compost to improve soil health

Brittany Rosenberg and the City of Fort Worth Code Compliance Department’s Rethinking Waste program has helped us with picking up compostable food waste from places like Sur La Table (thanks Danielle!). They’re working on other sources to help with our composting as well as limiting what goes into our local landfills. Talk about an all-around win-win!

The Tarrant Area Food Bank has been a great source of support for Opal’s Farm. Lauren Hickman works with their teaching garden and the Cooking Matters program at TAFB. With Lauren’s assistance we are now picking up compostable food waste from the Culinary School of Fort Worth. We can’t even begin to put into words how grateful we are for Lauren and the Culinary School of Fort Worth. Their help is making a huge impact on what we will be able to do with our Spring planting!

***Just so you know… the Culinary School of Fort Worth took the initiative to begin composting on their own. They provided an easy system for TAFB and Opal’s Farm to pick up compost and return the containers on a regular schedule. We’d love to talk to your store or restaurant.

Last, but most certainly not least, we are so thankful to be a part of Grow Southeast. A very special thanks to the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Roderick Miles from County Commissioner Brook’s office for their commitment to urban farming and the health and vitality of our neighborhoods. This week they helped us secure an end-dump truckload of compost from Silver Creek Materials. I can already taste the tomatoes that will be growing in those beds this Spring!

Thank you Tarrant County Healthy Collaboration!

I could go on and on. The list seems endless. Thank you so much for the love and support you’ve brought to us in this, our first year of farming. We’d love to have you come out and “play in the dirt” with us. Go to the Opal’s Farm page at www.unityunlimited.org for a volunteer sign-up or to donate today.

Come on down. Overalls are optional…

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How to Have Happy Holidays

Down on the Farm

I need to confess something. I skipped the traditional Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboy game. I ate more than I should have yesterday, especially the desserts. Although our Thanksgiving celebration was small, a couple of the kids and a few good friends, there was an overabundance of food. We all ate until our tummies were full and then added a tad more for insurance. I trust many of you did the same. Unfortunately, many of your neighbors did not.

Most of us don’t deal with food insecurity. We hop in the car and head to the grocery store. The option for healthy eating habits with lots fresh fruits and vegetables have a wide array to choose from. We make our selections and go home. That’s not the case for many of our neighbors right here in Tarrant County.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

According to the Taste Project, “In the state of Texas alone food insecurity is higher than the national average at 17 percent. In Fort Worth’s Tarrant county community food insecurity is at 18.1 percent. That is 2.7 percent above the national average covering a total of 340,620 people who are food insecure” (italics mine). Those 340,260 people can’t guarantee they will have enough to eat today. Thanksgiving for them is often a reminder how precarious their situation is.

The mission of Opal’s Farm is to end food insecurity in Tarrant County, one neighborhood at a time. Everyone has the right to healthy food no matter where they live. If they can’t get to the store, we bring the grocery store to them. Moreover, we seek to educate our often-neglected neighbors in the preparation and health benefits of nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. We believe in a three-prong approach to ending hunger in Fort Worth:

  1. Through growing organic fresh produce on our five-acre farm and bringing it to affected neighborhoods.
  2. Through education programs such for children and adults that let everyone know how important a healthy diet is, how prepare fresh food, and how to develop their own farming skills to offer a hand up, not just a hand-out.
  3. Through employment and job training, especially for those who have difficulty finding employment due to previous felony incarceration or other life-altering events.

If you’d like to join our mission, we have a golden opportunity this coming Tuesday. Facebook announced that it will provide matching contributions for much of what is donated on Giving Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019.

That means you dollar doubled and has a greater impact for Opal’s Farm. Imagine one seed becoming, one meal becoming two, and each family fed becoming two families fed. Most importantly, those people may be the people down the street of next door to you. Every dollar stays in Fort Worth!

Please plan your donation today and make your donation on Giving Tuesday, December 3rd, and join us on our mission.

You can also donate through our website, www.unityunlimited.com

Become an urban farmer today…

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From Opal's Farm to You

Down on the Farm

Today we’re thankful for all of your support through our first year at Opal’s Farm. So far this year we have provided almost two tons of fresh, healthy vegetables to our neighbors, food banks, and of course, Cowtown Farmer’s Market. That’s just from our first acre! Imagine what we’ll do in the coming year with more help and support from people like you.

What a view!

Today we’d like to say how grateful we are for our great partners and sponsors, volunteers, and customers!

Zimmerer Kubota was our very first partner. Brandon Hendrickson, at the North Fort Worth store, came alongside us and provided the tractor needed to prepare the land for planting. Moreover, he’s always ready to help Opal’s Farm meet our equipment needs. We can’t thank Sam Zimmerer, Brandon, and Zimmerer Kubota enough for their commitment to make Fort Worth a great place to live!

Container King in Sanger, Texas donated a forty-foot shipping container to use as our “barn” (Happy Thanksgiving Paula Pacinins and crew!). A barn isn’t of much use without all kinds of tools and farming supplies, though. Natasha Neiderhart, the Store Manager at the White Settlement Home Depot (it’s always been my favorite store!) and Team Depot jumped in to fill our barn with all the tools and supplies necessary to start our first season. There aren’t enough words to express our gratitude for their sponsorship.

We can’t forget the Marty V. Leonard Foundation, the Rainwater Foundation, the Dee Kelly Foundation, and all our financial sponsors and donors that helped us take root and grow. Your support and contributions saw us through the tough times of first year farming. We are looking forward to a bountiful coming year with your continued assistance.

Starting any farm, especially a non-profit urban farm, is tough going. It takes several seasons to regenerate the soil for effective farming and higher yields. There are constant weeds to fight since the soil hasn’t been worked in many, many years. Money is always tight. Many foundations or donors like to see something besides a vacant field before contributing to an idea. Our friends at Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration ( www.healthytarrant.org ) and Blue Zones Project  https://info.bluezonesproject.com/live-long-fort-worth  have been invaluable in terms of contributions, whether volunteering or supplies.

Enter Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand. Before the first spade broke ground, Charlie was beside us to plan and consult every step of the way. When money was unavailable for seed, Charlie stepped in and donated seed. When I had questions or simply needed a pep talk, Charlie was there. Because of Charlie we haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. We’ve been able to move forward quickly toward our goals. Charlie was featured in the winter issue of Edible DFW Magazine. Check out https://www.edibledfw.com/winter-2019-20/how-charlie-shines-a-light-on-fort-worth/…  Personally, Charlie has been my mentor and friend since the day we met. Read the article and get a sense of how blessed we are to have Charlie for a friend and partner.

Last, but definitely not least, is the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD). Without them Opal’s Farm wouldn’t exist. Together with Ms. Opal Lee, they envisioned a farm along the banks of the Trinity that could work to end food deserts and food insecurity. Thank you for your belief in us and your unbelievable support.

I know I haven’t named everyone. We’ve had so many folks help us with time, labor, and donations that I know I would leave someone out (That’s what happens as you get older…). Please know we’re so grateful for each and every one of you.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!