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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Finding Your “Why”: Part Three

I must apologize for the delay in posting the third reason to become an Opal’s Farm volunteer or sponsor. It’s been quite a week at the farm. Over an acre of beds are finished and several hundred feet of landscape fabric were laid around the perimeter to help deter the infamous weeds from encroaching on the finished product. Unfortunately, the weekend storms ripped the fabric from the landscape staples requiring repair just in time for more severe weather. Such is the farm life…

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a young man named Brendan O’Connell regarding Opal’s Farm He had seen a news story about the farm on KERA 90.1 and reached out to me for a farm tour. He has become a volunteer for Opal’s Farm and exemplifies a big “why” for anyone. So, without further ado I turn the spotlight on Brendan.

Brendan graduated from Fort Worth Country Day School last year. He decided to take a “gap year’ after high school and will start at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in August. However, he isn’t using the gap year to take it easy. He’s volunteered at a local low-income clinic as a Nurse’s Assistant and started at the farm this past week.

His interest in urban farming began six years when he started his own garden and raising food for his family. He told me he developed an interest in “the relationships between agriculture, public health and medicine, and the economic dynamics” that affect marginalized communities and food deserts. He’s thrilled that an urban farm has come to Fort Worth wants to learn as much as he can while he’s here.

He has been invaluable since he started. I can’t begin to tell you how much we’ve been able to accomplish in short order. He goes well beyond interest in the farm. I asked him about his “why”. I mean no offense, but he’s not your typical nineteen-year-old.

His original email offered some insight as to his motivation, but it goes beyond mere intellectual curiosity. He’s genuinely concerned about the common good; about our community. He sees Opal’s Farm as a solution to the issues of access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being of neglected neighborhoods. An urban farm enables all our community to thrive and become a better place to live.

One Acre Down…

His interest will help in his future studies. Beyond that, it fills a desire to be part of the solution for food justice and the health of each of us.

I often tell Brendan how grateful I am for his service. What I’ve failed to communicate though, is the gratitude I feel for everyone who looks beyond themselves to the community and the common good. I’m hopeful for the future of my hometown, and by extension, my world, when I see young people like Brendan committed to the solutions.

If you’re still searching for your “why” I have some more ideas coming. In the meantime, if you can’t volunteer at this time please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and make your secure donation to the future of Fort Worth’s neighborhoods.

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Finding Your “Why”: Part Two

I spent last Friday morning at the farm with a prospective donor. We talked about the mission and purpose of Opal’s Farm for over an hour. The farm is about more than simply providing access for fresh produce to a largely forgotten neighborhood. It’s about building a better Fort Worth and serving our community. While that’s a worthy mission, the means by which we accomplish that mission is the tangible “goods” that the local community receives. What makes Opal’s Farm so special and why should you be a part of it? This is the second reason “why”.

Last Friday, we talked about “dirt therapy” and the physical and emotional well-being that comes from working the soil. The sense of community, of connection, and the increased physical activity shared with others of like mind is amazing. Even though that’s reason enough for anyone to come out and work or support the farm, your “why” might be as simple as providing food for your neighbors.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

When I was talking to our prospective donor the other day, I mentioned that Ms. Opal had been late for a dinner meeting the evening before because she had to drive a long way to get lettuce for the salad. He looked at me with a bit of confusion, “Why couldn’t she go to a store around here?”, he asked.

I told him that there was no store around here. The closest one was several miles south of the neighborhood. I explained to him that United Riverside, our neighborhood, is a food desert. The USDA defines a food desert as anyplace were access to fresh, healthy food is more than one mile away. He was a bit shocked that there were over forty food deserts listed in Tarrant County alone.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Everyone touts the great economy and growth Fort Worth has experienced over the last few years. Politicians and business leaders point to the success Fort Worth and the growing economy has had. We often don’t hear the grim statistics and the reality for many of our neighbors. I’ve thrown them out there many times before, but statistics are often abstract and overwhelming.

In Tarrant County, one in four children go to bed hungry each night. One in four, 25%! For blacks and Latinos, the number is even more staggering – one in three children face hunger. That’s 33% of kids right here in Tarrant County!

What can you do about it? Now that you know the numbers it’s overwhelming. When a problem is of a scale that’s overwhelming it can foster inaction. It’s easy to say, “I can’t help everybody” and so no one gets help.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa. It’s at the bottom of every email I send out. It says, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” We do what we can, and Opal’s Farm provides the “why”. Through a simple farm we begin tackling the issues of food success and food scarcity. We can’t feed all of Fort Worth, but we can bring health and vitality to a neighborhood through each season’s harvest. You have to start somewhere…

Maybe you’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the size of the problem. Maybe you feel like you don’t make a difference. Maybe, just maybe, you do. Helping at Opal’s Farm, whether by donating or volunteering is the first step. It’s something tangible.

Mother Teresa said something else that always comes to mind, too. She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” I’m no math genius but I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of small acts with great love constitutes a big thing.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

If you’re wanting to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of others please consider your donation or volunteer at Opal’s Farm. If you’re still not sure, I’ll give you another reason “why” tomorrow…

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Finding Your Why Down on the Farm: Part One

“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.

Jameson the Farm Dog takes a much needed break!

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.

Reason #1:

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…

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A Little Clarity is in Order…

I sat down to go through our social media posts and comments this morning and I had to take a hard look at how we post for the farm. I often post articles from my blog on WordPress to Opal’s Farm page as well. It was brought to my attention that I could communicate the purpose, goals, and impact of the farm more clearly. I appreciate any comments coming from our supporters and other urban farmers. One thing I have learned is that it truly takes a ‘village’ of people to make the farm and, everything else positive in life, a success!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521). Thanks, Jeff!

Starting the beds

While our Mission Statement is written in the “About Us” section of the page, it can be easily overshadowed by other postings (including links to my own blog…). Our Mission Statement sums up our overall goal in a simple fashion – “Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.” However, mission statements make more sense when they are broken down into bit-sized chunks and we certainly want to bring clarity of purpose to our supporters, followers, and ‘farmers’.

Statement of Purpose

Opal’s Farm is a model for regenerative, organic agriculture that:

  • addresses the elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
  • offers education in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
  • creates jobs, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income community members.

We developed our statement of purpose by listening to the community and getting input from other successful urban farming projects. Ms. Opal Lee, who as many of you know, is our namesake, is the President Emeritus of the Community Food Bank in the United Riverside neighborhood of Fort Worth. She spent many hours speaking to the folks served by the food bank and found that many of those folks had issues with finding employment paying a living wage because of previous incarceration. Moreover, they would be willing to grow their own food and exercise a degree of self and community-reliance. As a result, the vision of Opal’s Farm was born.

Once the vision became a reality, we began to seek guidance from other successful urban farm projects. Bonton Farms, located in the Bonton neighborhood south of downtown Dallas, provided much of the model for Opal’s Farm, especially in developing economic sustainability. Paul Quinn College offered support. God opened so many doors and people came from out of the proverbial woodwork to help Opal’s Farm.

The start of the 70 beds we made so far!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot makes the first delivery to Opal’s Farm- – Thanks Jeff!

Charlie Blaylock, of Shines Farmstand and the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, has been our closest consultant and friend. Paula Pacanins with Container King provided a shipping container to store our equipment. Natasha Neidhart, Store Manager for the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521), and Jeff Williams, the Assistant Manager and Capitan of Team Depot partnered with us to provide substantial support in tools, equipment, and supplies. Brandon Hendrickson, the Rental Manager at Zimmerer Kubota provided us with a tractor and farm implements to plow the almost 4 acres that makes up the total area of Opal’s Farm.

We also have the support, and are a member of, Grow Southeast, a coalition of growers dedicated to building urban farms and gardens throughout the southeast side of Tarrant County. The Healthy Tarrant County Collaborative purchased a BCS tractor for all the growers to share as they built and prepared beds for planting. So far, we’ve built 70 beds (a whopping 28,000 square feet!) in the last four days because of their help. TCU has come alongside of Opal’s Farm as well through the Tarrant County Food Policy Council. Students are assisting in a variety of ways this semester to make the farm a success. Last, but most certainly not least, is the Trinity River Water District that provided the acreage and believed in Ms. Opal’s dream. Without them, none of this would be possible.

What I’m trying to say in all of this is that Opal’s Farm is about Fort Worth, about our community, and our home. That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important. Each of us has an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors. We can’t do it alone. We need each of you – individuals, businesses, and organizations to bring health and vitality to the community. This is very real work, with very real results.

People often ask me if this is a “faith-based” project. I’m not trying to be funny when I say the honest answer is yes, and no. We believe that one’s faith is best reflected in the actions one takes, not merely words. Our faith is reflected in the lives we change and the people who are united in making a better place for everyone. Fresh produce is the means to the real end: helping others. Faith says, always err on the side of love” and that always benefits all of us.

Future posts will include articles from my blog and updates on the farm. It’s not to promote the writing business of one individual but to share what’s going on and how everyone can be a part. Mother Teresa was once asked about her work among the disenfranchised and poor in India. Her response was, “Come see”. Come see what we’re doing at the farm and we might just make a farmer out of you.

You can learn more about Ms. Opal and Opal’s Farm on our website, www.unityunlimited.org and our Facebook page. You can also make a secure donation online.

In the meantime – “Come see…”

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Cloudy and Cool

Thoughts From the Porch: I got up early this morning expecting a heavy rain, but found dry ground and overcast skies instead. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the weather folks were so insistent it’d be raining this morning, I planned to stay home and work about the house. As it is, I’ll take advantage of the dry weather to squeeze another day’s work out of Opal’s Farm. One can never tell how many dry days lay ahead. Such is Spring in Texas…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I thoroughly enjoy my days at the farm. It can be frustrating being a “start-up”: money is always tight (and sometimes non-existent – hint, hint…) and grants are difficult unless you’ve been around a while. I’m so thankful for partners like the White Settlement Home Depot store and Team Depot, Zimmerer Kubota, Healthy Tarrant Collaborative, and Container King for providing the support and tools that make Opal’s Farm a success.

The first year of farming is the most difficult. It’s extremely labor intensive. There’s infrastructure to be built and is contingent on the weather and volunteers to help with the work. We’ve been blessed with volunteers. TCU student interns are working on social media, fundraising and marketing. Riverside Arts District has provided neighborhood support for the farm. I receive calls inquiring, “can I volunteer?” The answer is a resounding yes. You have no idea how much we love our volunteers!

Well, I’m off to the farm again. Before I go, I want to remind you to go to Opal’s Farm Facebook Page or to www.unityunlimited/opalsfarm.org to make your secure donation today.

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Sunshine and Sunburns

Spring officially arrived this week and I have the sunburn to prove it. I’m not bragging, mind you. I feel guilty for even mentioning this because I know some folks are still dealing with the effects of a lingering winter. I lived in Colorado for many years. Sporadic winter storms could pester everyone until April sometimes. Planting ones garden often had to wait until May. Heck, I remember going over Monument Pass in white-out conditions on June 6th. Apparently, it set the record for latest snow on Colorado’s front range.


If you’re feeling a bit envious of our warmer weather, please know Spring in North Texas can be a bit tricky as we make up the southern end of “Tornado Alley”. Severe thunderstorms are our version of ‘Bomb’ cyclones and blizzard conditions. They just don’t last as long.

The sunshine brought a busy week to Opal’s Farm. Thanks to Zimmerer Kubota and the tractor they provided, the plowing is finished, and bed preparation has begun. The first season of farming is the most difficult simply because all the ‘infrastructure’ must be built (from the ground up – no pun intended). Organic farming becomes easier with each passing growing season because more organic material is put back into the soil.

Caring for the soil is why we call it regenerative agriculture. We rebuild and renew the soil instead of draining it dry of nutrients through chemical applications of herbicides, insecticides, and typical commercial fertilizers. Caring for the soil is also the way we practice stewardship of the creation we get to enjoy. Most importantly, care brings a bountiful harvest for our community.

Today’s post will be short. The sun is shining, and wet weather is coming this weekend so it’s time to get busy. This afternoon, Texas Christian University (TCU) students working with the Tarrant Food Policy Council are coming out for a photo shoot at the farm. We are so grateful for TCU, their support, and their work to make urban agriculture a success in Fort Worth. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Dr. Aftandilian’s class for each and every one of his students who are working with Grow Southeast and Opal’s Farm. Thank you, TCU!

Just a reminder – we can’t do it without all of you. WE love our volunteers and donors. You can always donate to Opal’s Farm by going to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/unityunlimited or directly to http://www.unity unlimited.org. Make sure you note that it’s for Opal’s Farm.

Well folks, I’m off. See you at the farm…