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
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…
I haven’t written from the porch for the past couple of weeks. Time has been short. I’m playing catch up from a recent two-day stint in the hospital (long story but everything’s okay). They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I guess that’s why doctors only “practice” medicine…
I could use the whole hospital thing to explain my lack of recent communication, but I won’t. The truth is a bit uglier than that. The reality is there’s been some doubt and depression going on the last few days. When I started writing “Thoughts From the Porch”, my intent was to only write positive, encouraging words. God knows there’s enough negative crap out there!
Unfortunately, life isn’t always happy, joyous, and free.
Life shows up in some awful ways. Even when I feel I’m on the path God has
chosen for me it can have some serious rough spots. I would be dishonest if I
didn’t share those as well. I may not write in a manner comparable to great
authors or even my fellow writers on WordPress, but I’ve learned to be
truthful, to be authentic, and to be myself regardless of how I’d like to be.
The truth is that I haven’t liked myself very much the last
few days. Sometimes, the truth sucks. As my friend Edgar always tells me, “The
truth will set you free, but it’ll really piss you off first.” Quite frankly,
I’ve been pissed.
Margaret and I have struggled financially over the last few
months. Work has been slow as most of my time is spent on the urban farm
project, Opal’s Farm. Most of you know my passion for the project. Margaret and
I prayed diligently before taking on this task. We went into it with eyes
wide-open. We knew money would be tight until we gained sponsors and had our
first harvest. Looking back over the last few months, hell, even over our
lifetime, we can see God’s thread all the way through. He stands with us
through all the difficult times. Bills get paid, we eat regularly, and most of
the time life is good despite the setbacks that come with our chosen path.
However, there are times when an awareness
of God’s providence is insufficient to stave off the blues.
In lieu of our smaller income we’ve been forced to put off
needed home repairs and tighten our money belt in ways neither of us have
experienced, at least in our lives together. Add to that Margaret’s chronic
pain, limited mobility, and the depression that rears its ugly head as a
result. Frustration and stress mounts despite our faith in the Almighty. It’s a
recipe for doubt, fear, and self-loathing, for me at least, and it has been
simmering for quite a while. Yesterday it came to a boil…
A serious case of the “F..k Its”.
Yes, folks, expletive laced prayers, lamentations of “poor
me”, and drowning in a cesspool of comparing myself to everyone else. I threw a
temper tantrum! Why me?
I imagine some of you can relate. It felt as though my world had fallen apart and God was nowhere to be
found. He always seems to be playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when I need Him: just like
with everything else in my world. I
immediately decided to quit the farm, stop writing, and start looking out for
Number One. I’d probably have to become a greeter at WalMart (no offense
intended – all work is important). A career in bank robbery seemed a
viable alternative to the present financial hardships. You must take it, because no one’s going to give to you, right?
If it sounds a bit extreme, it is. I tend to go for
extremes. A friend once told me that “balance is the beam I trip on while
running between extremes”. Yep!
I always feel like such a spoiled brat after these not-so-little
tantrums. It doesn’t take as long as it used to getting over these fits of
doubt, frustration, and fear (that’s really what the tantrum is about…). I find
relief in the fact they don’t happen very often anymore, but I sure hate it
when they do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with this
Fortunately, sanity returns, I own my behavior, make amends
for the harsh words and actions, and find forgiveness and gratitude for everything
I do have. First and foremost, I have a Heavenly Father who appreciates my
authenticity. I’m sure most church folks would be shocked by how I “pray”. It’s
not always pious and formal. Still, God allows me to express my doubts and
fears. He listens. He understands and He loves me right where I’m at –
expletives and all. He allows my rants and then holds me close to remind me
that I’m loved and it’s okay to be human. I’m His child.
Somewhere in this process I find peace. The situation hasn’t
changed at all, but I have.
Healing the Blind…
My tantrums always begin with tunnel vision and outright
blindness. The world is out of focus, blurred with pain and frustration, and I
can only see myself, my needs, and my wants. When I finally grow tired of
emotional blindness, I hear Jesus’ question to the blind man at the Pool of Siloam,
“Do you want to be healed?”
It sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Sure, I want to
be healed, but… I tend to find excuses, much like the guy at the Pool, until
finally, I can see again.
Restoration of sight, healing, takes place in miraculous
ways for me. It happened the other night. Blinded by my self-centered fear and
doubt, I stormed out to the porch to be alone. I stood there, blindly staring
into the night, when a tiny spider and his (or her – I’m not sure how to tell
the difference) web began to take focus.
As my vision sharpened, the intricacy and size of the web
grew. I saw his tiny legs shooting across the web with new silken strands. The
minute strands vibrated in the wind but never strayed apart. It seemed
It sounds silly to be so intrigued by a simple spider web, but I’m kind of a simple guy, I guess. However, this tiny spider is building his web in the same place on our porch every Spring. He’ll stay until Fall, building his net every evening and waiting for the meal he knows will come. I’m no expert on spider species identification, but it’s always appears to be the same species year after year. It’s always a smaller version that grows to be the same as the one last year.
While I’m no Arachnologist, our little eight-legged friend is
probably last year’s offspring. I had the privilege of seeing all the little ones
bursting from their egg sac last year. Their home and ours are one in the same.
I get to watch the intricate, complex beauty of this tiny creature every
evening. Clarity had returned.
Our hardships and my frustration faded into the darkness of
the evening. I could see, and more importantly, see that our difficulties were
nothing, that God was still (and always is) faithful. Life may have its
difficulties, but grace changes how I see them. Difficulties become
opportunities to grow in ways I can’t even imagine.
If a tiny spider ca open a world of grace and heal blindness,
how much more can I be a vessel of grace?
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.
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
Porch time has been nonexistent for the last week. I knew rain was coming over the past weekend (after all, it is the Main Street Arts Festival weekend here and it always rains), so I took advantage of the sunny, dry days to work on Opal’s Farm. We had a ninety-degree day, which is fifteen degrees above average for this time of year. I’m sweating (no pun intended) the heat coming early and fast like it did last year. More severe thunderstorms are predicted for this evening. It looks like desk duty is on for the rest of the day…
I was driving home Monday evening and noticed that Saturday’s rain brought an explosion of color to the landscape. The Bluebonnets have been up for a couple of weeks, but the other flowers seemed unsure as to whether they should make their appearance as well. I guess the weekend storms were the signal. Primrose, One-Eyed Susan’s, Buttercups, and Indian Paintbrush: the list goes on. It amazes me how one day they’re absent and the next they’re in their full splendor. Poof! It’s magical…
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.
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.
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”
“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…
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!
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:
elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
creates jobs, job
training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income
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.
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.