Down On the Farm: Hey! Jameson here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. Every farm needs a dog to make sure everything flows smoothly. My human, Greg, he may be the farm manager but I’m the one who keeps it on track. That is just what I do!
Being as farm dog is hard work.
First thing in the morning I patrol the perimeter. We started with an acre and
it makes for a long walk. Next season we’ll be enlarging the garden, with more
of our five acres cultivated. That may be more to patrol but I’m up for it.
Sometimes I go well beyond the confines of the farm. I’ll take off down Trinity Trail and Greg inevitably yells “Jameson” every time I get out of sight. Having my quiet stroll interrupted gets on my nerve, but I know Greg can’t do his job without my supervision…
Then I take a hike through the
underbrush around the farm. You know, make sure no uninvited guests or other
pesky critters are about. We’ve had a bout with furry little long-tailed
rodents eating holes in the cantaloupe and watermelon. I’m proud to report that
several melons have been saved due to the diligence of yours truly.
After all that work, I get to enjoy a nap in the shade of the truck or, even better, take a bath in the Trinity River. It’s usually a short one though. There’s work to be done and if I don’t keep an eye on things, who will?
I love it when volunteers come to
work at Opal’s Farm. All those extra hands get so much done! I really stay on
guard when they’re there. I love our volunteers!
I hope you come to see us at Opal’s
Farm. We’re doing great things and would love for you to be a part of it all.
Besides, volunteers mean more people to scratch my ears…
I better get off for now. My human
is coming and it’s off to the farm. See you soon!
I took a break over the last few weeks due to the heat. I guess that is why they call them the “dog days of summer”. Don’t worry though. Now that Fall is finally be here, I’ll be a fixture at the farm. My human, Greg, did a good job during the hottest days of summer heat but I know he missed my wit and wisdom…
By the way, I forgot to mention you can contribute to Opal’s Farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org or through our Facebook page. To volunteer, simply go to our website, click on Opal’s Farm page and then click on the sign up to volunteer button. See ya!
Thoughts From the Porch: I had a meeting this morning that allowed me to have a brief time on the porch. September usually doesn’t allow it. This is our busiest time at Opal’s Farm. There’s new seed to be planted and watered (frequently!). Fall is a great time for crops in Texas although it’s kept me away from the porch temporarily.
The farm is a great substitute for the porch. On the days I
don’t have volunteers working I get to spend some alone time with God: perfect
for prayer and meditation. Things will settle down next week and return to a slightly
normal schedule. Stay tuned. Thoughts From the Porch is just taking a little
hiatus. I’ll be back next week.
I’m adding a new blog ” Down on the Farm” to the website. It helps save a bit of time with our social media posting for Opal’s Farm. I hope this isn’t taken as self-promotion as I can tell with all certainty that Opal’s Farm is our farm and couldn’t happen were it not for you all. So, without further ado…
Down On the Farm: Happy Friday to you all! It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm despite the stifling heat. Fall planting is progressing. The compost pile is getting bigger thanks to all the hard work of Brittanny Rosenberg with the City of Fort Worth’s Code Compliance Department and Harrison Gibson with the Taste Project. Ann and Johnny with Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound have delivered trailer loads of goat poop and shavings for our beds. My son said he’s never seen anyone get so excited about poop! If he saw how it regenerates the planting beds and the better yields, he’d probably understand my excitement.
Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening of a new documentary called Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. The film is an eye-opener and a must see for each of us. As a farm manager I know how much food is often wasted on the front end of production unless one is committed to composting and rebuilding the soil which the food came from in the first place. As a vendor at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, I see how much food gets overlooked because of its appearance. Finally, as a consumer, I need to reevaluate my own ideas about food and food waste. Thank you to the Tarrant Food Policy Council for holding the event and the work they do so diligently right here in Tarrant County. Thanks again to Brittany for seeing that all the food scraps were to be donated to Opal’s Farm.
I could (and will soon) be writing more
about our food waste and our relationship to the food we consume. What hit me
was not only the film, but the number of great people working on issues of food
justice, food insecurity, and food access. Oftentimes, the stuff that makes the
news can feel overwhelming and create a sense or powerlessness. But we never hear
about the people working quietly behind the scenes to make our world, and our
little piece of it, a better place.
Not Me, Us…
I saw some familiar faces last night.
I met many more working toward the same end. I felt intense gratitude for those
who have come along side to help and guide me toward making Opal’s Farm a
success. Someone mentioned how far I’d brought the farm along. I had to
correct them. We have brought the farm a long way.
Most of you know I love to give ‘shout
outs” and thanks to our volunteers. However, in the rush of day-to-day operations
of the farm I often fail to regularly mention our sponsors and partners: especially
those there from the very start.
For starters, none of this could’ve
happened without our benefactors and friends at the Tarrant Regional Water
District (TRWD). I won’t rehash the story, but they believed in the idea of
Opal’s Farm for several years before Opal’s Farm became a reality. Without
their gift of five acres and their continued support for the farm, 2,000
pounds-plus of fresh food would never have reached Fort Worth neighborhoods so
far. (Side note: TRWD will be holding their annual “Trash Bash”
September 21st. We’ll be there and hope you are too!)
We needed a place to store
equipment and supplies. Since we were on the flood plain, we needed something
temporary, but secure. We were in a quandary until Paula Pacinins and Container
King showed up with an 8’x40’ shipping container to use for storage.
We were ready to start plowing, but
we had no tractor; until Brandon Hendrickson with Zimmerer Kubota entered the
picture. Zimmerer Kubota provided the tractor and implements we needed to turn
the soil and begin building planting beds.
Manually creating planting beds is
a difficult and slow process with shovels and rakes. I wasn’t looking forward
to the slow, tedious process of building beds. During our planning stage of the
farm we had become members of Grow SE, which is a group of folks committed to urban
farming. Grow SE is also a project of Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration.
In March, Linda Fulmer with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration purchased a BCS tractor for each of the Grow SE growers to share. The BCS tractor made quick work of building the beds and off we went!
Shortly after our ribbon cutting in
February, the White Settlement Home Depot steeped in and asked to partner with
Opal’s Farm. Store Manager Natasha Neiderhart and Team Depot Captain and
Assistant Manager Jeff Williams delivered tools, supplies, and everything we
needed to get started our first season.
A little secret – the White
Settlement Home Depot store has always been my favorite! They offer old
fashioned customer service and a feeling of community you don’t always
experience elsewhere. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I’m fiercely loyal to my
Home Depot store!
Brandon Castillo with Cowboy
Compost donated the compost necessary to get our first crop going. By the way,
it was a pleasure to meet you last night, Pete. You all are doing a terrific
The Marty V. Leonard Fund at the
North Texas Community Foundation and the Ken W. Davis Foundation provided the
initial funds to begin Opal’s Farm. We are eternally grateful to Marty Leonard
and to Cullen Davis for their support.
Since the beginning, we have
enjoyed the support of many of our local officials. I know I’m going to omit
someone I shouldn’t because there has been so many. However, I’d still like to
single out Councilperson Kelly Allen Grey. Ms. Grey is the Council member for our
district. She’s working for us to establish neighborhood “pop-up” farmers markets.
The support of the Mayor and each of our Council members is appreciated more
than we can say.
Last, and certainly not least, is
our brother, friend, mentor, and fellow farmer, Charlie Blaylock with Shines
Farmstand. I’ve told you all about Charlie before, but I’m going to tell you
again. My feeble words are not near enough to explain what he means to Opal’s
Farm and me personally. He’s been every step of the way with us. He’s provided
knowledge, guidance, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Starting a farm isn’t
an easy endeavor. Honestly, there’s been more a few times I’ve been a bit
frustrated (that’s an understatement!) and wondered if this project was going
to fly. He’s been there every time to help me (and us) back on track and keep
Because of Charlie’s support, we
haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. That’s important. When I first saw the farm cleared
and how much land there was, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but wonder what
in the world I had gotten myself into. I was full of self-doubt and thought I’d
bitten off far more than I could chew. It was Charlie Blaylock who broke it all
down and showed how to eat one bite at a time.
I know I’m forgetting someone. That tends to happen when you get older. I apologize for the senior moment. Let me be clear, this has never been a “me” deal. It’s always a “we” deal. Opal’s Farm is a vital, active part of Fort Worth because of Fort Worth, because of you all.I can’t forget our volunteers and I’ll tell you about them in a coming post. They have been critical, especially during harvest. But I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and tell you a bit of how much we love and appreciate our sponsors and partners. We are doing this! Thank you for making our community a bit better ad bringing locally grown, fresh produce to or community!
Down on the Farm: August is a busy
month at Opal’s Farm. The Texas summer reaches its apex in August and the
Spring garden crops are beginning to peter out. The summer squashes have about
run their course and the purple-hulled and black-eye peas are slowing in the
heat. We’ve been extremely blessed this year to have only had seven one
hundred-degree days. The average number by this time of year is eighteen. We’re
very careful in the heat: slow down, drink lots of water, and take more
frequent breaks in the shade of our only tree. When the “feels like”
temperature is in the triple digits it’s better to be safe than sorry. Heat
stroke is no joke!
The high temperatures haven’t
deterred our volunteers. A huge shout out to Harrison, Chuck,
Becca, and of course, Brendan for helping with harvesting and helping plant the
new Fall crops. As we transition to our fall planting there are beds to be
cleaned out, prepared, and seeded with all the great veggies that come in the
Fall. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love and appreciate our
volunteers and fellow “farmers”.
That’s why it’s difficult to write
today’s blog post. Many of you know one of our volunteers (and my trusted
assistant), Brendan O’Connell. Brendan has been with Opal’s Farm since we began
building the first beds and planting the first seeds. Not only has he put
countless hours of physical labor into the farm, he’s also shared ideas and
opened doors that have made our first growing season a success.
When Brendan contacted me about volunteering back in March, I had no idea how important he would become to Opal’s Farm or how much I would come to value his input, appreciate his hard work, and depend on him. For the first four months, it was Brendan who was right in the thick of things whether it was plowing, planting, or marketing.
One day he mentioned one day that his school needed a title or job description for his volunteer work at the farm. He wasn’t sure what to put down on the paperwork, and quite honestly, neither was I. “Farmhand” was an understatement. He was far more than another hand. I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Until it dawned on me: he was the farm co-manager! It would be unfair to call him anything else. His sense of commitment and dedication to the mission of Opal’s Farm is indescribable.
Unfortunately, I knew his time would
come to an end. You see, Brendan leaves next week for the next step in his life
at Cornell University. He’ll be stopping by Cowtown Farmer’s Market briefly on
Saturday and leaving Tuesday. It’s a bittersweet moment for those of us who’ve
come to know Brendan over the last few months. We are extremely happy (and a
bit proud) for him and his new adventure, but it’s hard to see him leave (even
if we do get to see him at winter break).
Part of me is jealous, Brendan. For
those of you who don’t know, Cornell is in Ithaca, New York. Although Brendan
will be studying hard, he’ll be enjoying much cooler weather than those of us
here at the farm! Moreover, Ithaca has an actual Fall season and with it, the
accompanying explosion of color that will awe any good old Fort Worth native.
Winter will be a bit different from Fort Worth (what’s that white stuff called again?), but I’m happy to hear you bought your winter coat online rather than here. There’s not much of a market here for the kind of coats one you’ll need in New York…
Brendan, thank you for everything you’ve done for Opal’s Farm and thank you Mr. and Mrs. O’Connell for sharing your son with us. God’s blessings upon you all. We wish you adventure, happiness, and success in the coming school year. We look forward to seeing you this winter but please know you will be missed and thought of often.
Thoughts From the Porch: I’m posting this on my business
website as well as the Opal’s Farm Facebook Page. Please bear with me as it has
a bit more to do with Opal’s Farm than just produce. It’s a personal note on
what the farm and working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. has meant to me for the
It’s been two weeks of running! Harvest is coming in at Opal’s Farm. Saturday was the big celebration at TCC South campus with the parade, the entertainment, and seminars and activities all day long. One of our partners and sponsors, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, gave away a semi-trailer full of food to the community.
The Juneteenth events over the last ten days will
culminate with “Juneteenth: The Play” at Will rogers Auditorium tomorrow
evening. Tickets are still available, and proceeds benefit Opal’s Farm. Go
to Opal’s Farm Facebook page or to www.juneteenthftw.com
for details and tickets. It will be a delightful, entertaining, and educational
evening. Most of you know that the Fort Worth Juneteenth celebrations are a
huge part of what our parent non-profit organization, Unity Unlimited, Inc.
does each year.
For those of you who have no idea what Juneteenth is…
“Juneteeth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.” www.juneteenthftw.com
Some Back Story…
One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. My minister
friend, Rusty, had mentioned him in passing one time. I was browsing through
the bookstore and came upon Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. After
reading the author’s note at the beginning I bought a copy. I read it through
in a couple of sittings the first time. I read it much slower a couple of times
after that. I found someone who vocalized much of my spiritual walk; things I
always wanted to say and simply could not find a way to do so. I think I own
the whole Donald Miller catalogue these days…
In “Blue Like Jazz”, Miller tells the story of a
“confession booth” he and his friends built at Reed College. A Google search of
Reed College will say three main things about the school. First, is its
academic reputation as one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.
Second, its liberal political reputation. Third, its permissive policy toward open
drug use and parties. Long story short – it doesn’t harbor a large “Christian”
student population. Intellectual pursuits (and a bit of drug-induced fun) are
often at odds with religious belief.
Miller and a few of his like-minded followers of Jesus had
an idea: set up a “confession booth”, not to take confessions but offer them as
evidence of Christianity’s failings and crimes against humanity – things like
the Crusades, slavery, and Native American genocide. I won’t bore you with the
details (you really should read the book!), but I’ve always loved the idea.
Maybe if much of Christianity was honest enough to admit they’ve screwed up
horribly, genuinely attempt to make amends, then they might have some real good
news to share. (Disclaimer: The
Christian “right” doesn’t speak for many followers of the Rabbi) Just saying…
I mention it because I’ve thought a lot about confession
this morning. In the Twelve Step tradition, introspection, ownership of one’s
actions (good or bad), and admission (confession if you will) to God and
another human being are essential to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth and
building a solid relationship with a Higher Power are essential to recovery.
Moreover, confession allows us to make amends, or make things right, so forgiveness
and recovery (and in this instance, community) can take place. It’s essential
to recovery, our spirit, and the humility that’s as critical as food and water
are to the body.
My work with Unity Unlimited, Inc, Opal’s Farm, and Ms.
Opal herself has led to deep introspection over the last year. I haven’t always
liked what I’ve seen. I’m acutely aware of how old tapes play in my head. I’ve
also learned the value of listening. My Dad used to tell me that I was given
one mouth and two ears so I could listen twice as much as I speak. I must confess
I don’t do that well.
Please forgive my unwillingness to truly listen. Today I
will listen and be a friend and an ally. I’ll seek to learn from other’s
struggles so that I too can walk the path toward freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer once
said that none of us are free until all of us are free. I guess that’s why the
last week of Juneteenth celebrations have affected so deeply. When I fail to
listen, I rob myself of the chance for emancipation from old ideas and blind
myself to new possibilities.
I believe in the old saying that “confession is good for the soul”. I look forward to taking our walk together.
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
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”