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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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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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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28

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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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It Really is a Wonderful Life

Thoughts from the Porch

Dropping in at our local big box retailer this weekend reminded me the Christmas season has begun in earnest. Despite the media prophecies of retail’s slow, painful death it was readily apparent that not everyone has switched to online shopping.

I try to avoid such visits any time of year but especially at Christmas time. They’re a reminder of all things negative about the Holidays: crowded stores, pushy and frustrated shoppers, rampant consumerism – the list goes on. In a season of giving, faith, and family I have a difficult time with all the hurried rudeness, impatience, and meltdown tantrums by parents and children alike.

That being said…

I got cover crops in at Opal’s Farm before the cold front and accompanying rain passed through yesterday. The rain meant I would have all day to catch-up on emails, callbacks, and write. All was going according to plan when I made a grave mistake. I walked through the living room to go out to my truck for a moment my wife was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was at the point in the movie where Jimmy Stewart’s character, a suicidal George Bailey, jumps off the bridge only to be rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence.

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

I won’t bore you with a retelling of the story. Who in the world hasn’t seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” anyway? It’s one of my all-time favorites. One can never see it too often. Suffice to say that all my plans immediately fell to the wayside. I sat down in the chair and didn’t get up until the end of the movie. I mentioned this mistake to my friend Charlie. He reminded me that it wasn’t a mistake, but time well spent…

In the movie, as in every good story, calamity strikes, and George Bailey is backed into a corner. He cries out, “I wish I’d never have been born”. I can relate. I’ve been there: that dark place where the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is a bullet train locomotive closing fast. Everything and everyone would be better off if I weren’t here. In George Bailey’s case (and mine) divine intervention says otherwise…

My favorite part of the film is when Clarence ends his “never been born” vision and an ecstatic George runs through town shouting Merry Christmas to people and buildings alike. He’s part of life once again and never has he been so grateful for his wonderful life. He knows that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. He doesn’t care. Sounds like surrender to me. All I want is to live. My life is incredible no matter what happens

His surrender is met by a myriad of friends and family who come together to save him from disaster and the arrest warrant. By the time the bell rings (and Clarence gets his wings) and everyone breaks out in a joyful rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” I’m bawling like a baby (at least on the inside – I still don’t like to cry in front of people. It’s that old “guy” thing…). As one whose been rescued from a life of desperation and degradation I am flooded with gratitude no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie.

The Never Ending Story

Maybe that’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a Christmas tradition for so many people. Like Christmas itself, it shines a ray of light, a ray of hope, into an oft dark world. It reminds us that, while the war may not be over, hang in there because good will ultimately triumph. That’s the general theme in any good story. God has been telling and retelling that story throughout human history. Every writer, every good storyteller, simply puts a different spin on the story He’s been writing for eternity. It makes since to me since we were created in His image.

Sometimes frustration with the consumer culture that surrounds Christmas gets in the way. Sometimes I simply to hear another retelling of the eternal story. I get back on track. I remember the “greatest story ever told”. Suddenly, Christmas becomes alive again. God came down to live with us. He loves us and sent a reminder that a new heaven and a new earth is not only possible, but certain. Love will win out, and, as the Apostle John reminds us, what is God but love?

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

As I sit here at my trusty old roll top desk this morning I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. The creator of the universe came down as one of us! He lived among us and showed us what it is to truly love one another. He showed us that a new way was possible. He reminded us that Abba hears our cries even when we think He doesn’t. Above all, He reminds us that the story has already been written so we can enjoy life and enjoy abundantly. It really is a wonderful life I have today.

I’m going back to the big box store later. I don’t know if the craziness has changed but my perspective has. Christmas has a way of doing that, especially when I remember what Christmas truly means.

“Emmanuel – God with us…”

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Time to Celebrate

Thoughts From the Porch

I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.

I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.

It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…

Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.

I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!

Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.

Blessed more than I deserve

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.

Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…

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Enjoy the Feast!

Thoughts From the Porch

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the good old USA. To my friends here I wish a happy feast day filled with family, good friends, and food. We’re having an intimate family dinner here at the Joel home.

As our family has grown, so to has the amount of scheduling going into the holidays. Kids and grandkids balance time with in-laws, other grandparents, and our extended family. Thanksgiving becomes several days long. The final get-together for our family will be on Saturday. In-laws and outlaws, you know…

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I will be joining my oldest son for breakfast. Over the past year we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in a long time. He calls every morning on his way to work. It’s one of the joys of my morning. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to the diner…

Photo by Saif Selim on Pexels.com