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Ups and Downs – New People and Thefts

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’ve written a blog post until I saw there was no September posts. Here it is the 25th and the month is almost over. It’s not like nothing has been happening. In fact, it’s busier than ever – some good and some well, you know…

Opal’s Farm started September with hiring a new Assistant Farm Manager, Amber Carr. In three short weeks she’s come to be loved and appreciated by each of us. We have long been trying to grow into the next phase of Opal’s Farm and we finally can do just that. Amber interned with Charlie Blaylock at Shines Farmstand for the last year and brings a wealth of knowledge and incredible drive to Opal’s. We are blessed to have her with us.

Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator is no longer a “volunteer” Volunteer Coordinator! We were able to hire Stacey on part-time thanks to a salary grant from the Rainwater Foundation and Grow Southeast. Stacey has been with Opal’s as a volunteer since Spring of 2020 and she is greatly appreciated.

We had a major glitch in operations last Tuesday. We found the fence down and the doors to our shipping container were wide open. About $15,000 worth of equipment was stolen. The thieves cut the fence and loaded everything on our trailer and took off. While it is fortunate that our new Kubota tractor was not touched, the BCS tractor and rotary plow that builds our beds is gone. We now park the Kubota off-site for security reasons. The police said that several sites were hit in the last couple of weeks. Apparently, these people are professional thieves. Given the tools necessary to cause the break-in damage it makes sense…

They weren’t messing around.

For this reason, we are setting up a Go Fund Me account to help replace the stolen equipment and install additional security measures. While no security systems are perfect, we try to give thieves reason to think twice before attempting to break in. You can always donate directly to Unity Unlimited and the Opal’s Farm page. Please be sure to mark what it’s for.

I know the North Texas Giving Day was last Wednesday, but we are asking to consider this a special, immediate need. This has hampered and slowed our operations in many ways. Anything you can give would be a great help and so appreciated.

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What’s Plan B?

A researcher from the City of Austin called me a couple of years ago to ask some questions about having an urban farm on a floodplain similar to Opal’s. The city had recently bought out a thousand homes because of flooding on Williamson and Onion Creek. They wanted to build an urban farm on the property and much like governments do, they had to do a study first. Not that it’s a negative mind you. One should “count the cost” before jumping in, but the city was overthinking the whole project. That tends to happen a lot…

Anyway, this nice grad student from the University of Texas called to pick my brain and had a very long list of questions to be answered. Our conversation went well. Yes, there are challenges to urban farming and no, they’re not that big a deal. Farming teaches us how to work with nature and not against it. Moreover, it’s always a risk since nature tends to win no matter what we do. That’s just the way it is. Resilience must be a core value.

She asked me a question I’d never thought of before: what is your Plan B if it floods? It took me back a bit. “What do you mean by Plan B?”

She went on to explain that they were on a twenty-five-year flood plain and they needed a Plan B if it flooded there. I had to laugh and then remember I was talking to a researcher for the city. Cities have a need to put everything in a plan. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t work like that. I guess that’s why I love it so much. There’s never a dull moment.

I informed her that we had no “Plan B”. If it floods, we rebuild the beds and replant. What else is there to do? Maybe that’s a tad easier for me to say since we are on a hundred-year floodplain and have never had to deal with flooding – at least until this week.

The local media is calling this week’s rain historic. We received a month’s rainfall in a day – fifteen inches at Opal’s Farm. The Trinity River breached a section of the levee and flooded the back half of the farm. I was finally able to drive down there by Wednesday. Walking the beds and negotiating some of the still standing water I was surprised to find the back road covered in dead fish – hundreds of them. The levee is slightly lower on the south end of the farm and had washed over that section and when it receded, it left our finned friends high and dry. It was a first for us.

Needless to say…

We spent the rest of the week on “Plan B” – clean up, rebuild, and replant. We were unable to make Cowtown Farmers Market this week, but we should be there next week. We didn’t lose any of our existing crops although everything was covered in mud. The rain and the cooler nights have led the tomatoes to bloom in force and begin setting tomatoes again. Everything is a vibrant green on the farm once more. The dead fish have been added to the compost pile, so I assume we don’t have to spend anything on fish emulsion. The rain brought us down for “Extreme Drought” stage to “Severe Drought” stage. After all, resilience is one of our core values…

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My Own Mind…

There are sometimes when I’m glad there is nobody else at the farm with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love our volunteers and they take a huge burden off my back. Still, there are times when it’s just me and the farm. Everything else seems far away. The soil becomes a part of me. The plants are greener, the pace slower, and all is right with my world.

It probably helps that we finally received some measurable rain after sixty-eight days without. It wasn’t much and it didn’t affect my work – the tractor hardly threw up any mud after the sun came out – but the cooler temperatures and the sprouts of green across a sea of drought-brown reminded me of the ever-present circle of life at the farm. Drought and intense heat bring a sense of hopelessness with it. It begins to weigh heavily and it’s easy to simply go through the day without noticing the wonder of God’s creation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose father farmed tobacco in Tennessee. His father always told him that farmers loved the rain and had to appreciate droughts because it gave them the opportunity to find new ways of growing. Opportunity instead of problem – where have I heard that one before…

The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced that I too, can be grateful for drought. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (even drought), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present you requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.4-7).

This summer helped me find new processes to make Opal’s Farm more successful and get more healthy, fresh produce to our community. God sends everything in it’s time. The rain came just when we needed it the most. The farm is a constant reminder of the ebb and flow of life, of nature. I’ve forgotten that at times. It was okay before I got there, and it will be there when I’m gone…

I take care of the plowing, planting, and building new beds when I’m by myself. I relax, stick on the headphones with some great music (and the Bluetooth to hear the phone over the tractor), and go with the flow of the day. I heard a Lyle Lovett song that I’ve decoded to make my own. I get it and it sums up my days pretty well. Hope you enjoy it…

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But New Mexico Is Not That Far…

I’ve been working on this post for a week, and to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to write it. I’ve kind of been dreading August. It’s a little long so please bear with me…

Things are going well at Opal’s Farm. We’ve held on to the tomatoes and peppers through this crazy hot summer and even have new crops coming in. Thanks to Grow SE and the Rainwater Foundation we have a new Kubota MX 5400 tractor, a Land Pride tiller attachment, and pallet forks to facilitate our future growth and composting. They have also helped us hire an Assistant Farm Manager who I’ll introduce soon. We have wonderful volunteers who brave the intense Texas sun to come out and work at the farm (early in the morning of course!). The Cowtown Farmers Market has a new place to go to that even has shade and picnic tables. We are truly blessed!

So, what’s so difficult to write? This all sounds great! Well…

One of our (especially my) best friends and mentor, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand will be leaving Fort Worth and moving to New Mexico next week. We’ve known the move was coming for many months but now it’s too real. Laura Blaylock retired from the Tarrant Regional Water District on Friday (and I noticed that most of the furniture was already gone when we had our last Grow SE Zoom meeting) and they had their last day at the Cowtown Farmers Market this past Saturday. Although I’m thrilled for their new adventure (it was 72 degrees last time I talked to Charlie in New Mexico! I’m so jealous.), I’m sad to see them leave.

I’m not sure Opal’s Farm would still be growing had it not been for Charlie. When I pulled around the corner for the first time and saw the five acres plowed I thought “What have I gotten myself into? I’m so over my head”. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie outside a Grow SE meeting a few months earlier. I had a feeling it was going to be okay. Some people are just destined to cross one’s path. They are truly a gift.

Over the last three-and-a half years, Charlie has helped guide me through the process of making Opal’s a going concern. He’s taken hours out of his schedule to meet with me, listen to my problems, and helped find solutions to make Opal’s a successful urban farm. There have been times I thought we weren’t going to make it and Charlie was always there to cheer me on. Most importantly, he and Laura took time to invite me into their lives and build an incredible friendship.

I know I’m not the only one that has benefited from knowing Charlie and Laura. Charlie has been a blessing to the local farming and food community. His work with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the Cowtown Farmers Market, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and Grow SE has helped start several urban farms in Fort Worth. His commitment to access to fresh, local food and the farmers in and around Fort Worth will be missed. I can only hope that I’ll be able to follow in his footsteps and help others as he has helped me.

Charlie and Laura made sure their farm was left in capable hands. Becca Knutson, the Cowtown Farmers Market manager will be moving in and taking over Charlie’s labor of love. She’s been making the transition for several months now. She’ll continue bringing great organically grown fresh produce to Cowtown each week (and she’s a fantastic manager as well!).

Cowtown Farmers Market will be having its first market at the new location at the Grand Pavilion in Veterans Park this Saturday. It’s somewhat bittersweet for me. Charlie and Laura will be stopping by to be with us one last time, but not as vendors. They’ll be leaving the following week to new endeavors and much cooler weather. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do without my Laura hugs to get me through market (she gives the best hugs ever!).

Charlie and Laura, please know you’re loved and appreciated so much for all you do. I know that New Mexico will be better for your residence there and frankly, I would be right behind you if I could. It’s beautiful there and I’m happy you both get to enjoy mountain living. I may not have Apple Facetime but I already have an app for my Android so I can see your smiles. I promise I won’t be calling every day, but I can tell you I’m grateful for cell phones (this once anyway…). Be safe in your travels and keep me updated on the new adventure.

P.S. – Tell Dusty to call me. He has a place right here for the holidays. I love you both and already miss you!

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A Prayer For Today

“Love won’t be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged, who frankly teach us that we know very little about love.” – Fr. Richard Rohr

The was first thing I read this morning. It pierced my heart with its truth.

Opal’s Farm is close to the homeless missions and camps in Fort Worth. If I don’t make the light at Riverside and Lancaster Avenues, I’m going to have to deal with someone panhandling on the corner. I usually don’t carry cash and I feel bad that I can’t throw some money their way. I know what it’s like to be hungry. People say it just goes to drugs and alcohol, but that’s not always true. I’ve seen folks immediately walk to the convenience store across the street and come out with food instead of beer. Besides, I know what it is to need a fix, get sick without it, and be out of resources or credit.

I try to acknowledge the various characters I see while stopped at the light on most days. I know what it’s like to feel unseen and written off as inconsequential, to somehow be sub-human because of my status in the social hierarchy.  A pastor friend once told me that homeless folks told him over and over that they’d just like to be seen – to be acknowledged – to feel human.

Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything to give” can lead to some eye-opening conversations in the two minutes it takes for the light to change. A life story can be told in those two minutes. I’ve even found a couple of folks who I save a little cash for just so I can brighten their day a bit just as they have brightened mine. To paraphrase Ms. Opal, I can’t help everyone, but I can help someone.

Sometimes that same “I don’t have anything” can turn into an aggressive confrontation. The streets are ripe with mental illness and substance abuse that often leads to strange and threatening behavior from the street denizens. I find myself becoming jaded and cynical toward the very people with whom I had compassion for a moment ago. Fear does that. It’s times like these that remind me that I have a long way to go in loving others. It reminds me that love is a verb, an action word reflected in the things I do and not what I say.

I was always told that the opposite of fear was faith. I’m sure today that fear is not the opposite of faith – I can be fearful and still have an albeit small degree of faith. Fear is really the opposite of love when it comes down to it. Sometimes it keeps me from loving those that need to be loved the most. Maybe that’s why “Don’t be afraid” is found so many times throughout the Bible.

“Perfect love casts put all fear…”

When I remember the promise, it makes it easier to see people for who they are. Humans created in the image of a loving God, the image of love itself. I have so far to go but this has always been the starting point – trying to remember that there is no “other”, that we’re each a reflection of God- the imago dei. I can begin to escape the judgment, the separation, and the self-righteousness of the old tapes that play in my head.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”

– Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality

Just for today, just for this moment, God please help me to see you in everyone I’ll meet today. Let me learn how to love with the same abandon as you. I’ll be leaving for the farm soon. I’ll be stopping at the light at Riverside and Lancaster. Help me be the light today…   

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