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It’s already May!

It’s difficult to believe it’s already May. April flew by in a scurry of activity. What’s even harder to believe is that all the Spring planting is complete except for the okra that goes in next week. Opal’s volunteers stepped it up and made early Spring a huge success!

April showers showed up just in time to give all the veggies a huge growth spurt. We closed out the month moving into “abnormally dry” as opposed to “moderate drought” status that started the month. The official rainfall total was four-and-a-half inches, but we over five inches at Opal’s Farm. The last few days of rain made access and work onerous but also allowed us some time to catch-up on some things we’ve put off due to Spring planting (like this blog…).

On April 24th, we had a group from my son Adrian’s church, The House Fort Worth, come down to the farm. They have regular “Love Your City” workdays and provide volunteers for projects all around Fort Worth. They did an amazing job getting furrows mulched and ready for the coming summer heat! Thanks to each one who came and Pastor Mark Ortiz for getting us on the list!

The House Fort Worth volunteers!

Our National Resource Conservation representative for urban farms, Mr. Michael Higgins put us in touch with two exciting new endeavors for Opal’s Farm. The first one is with Bashira Chowdurry, a native Houstonian working at Auburn University. Bashira is helping us develop new produce such as Bottle Gourd and Bitter Melon, which are staples in South Asian food. The seeds she sent are growing in our test beds. We’re trying them out to see how they work in North Texas. If all goes well, we’ll be able to grow produce for our South Asian community here in Tarrant County.

The second new project is with new immigrants from East Africa. We eagerly gave a third of an acre plot to Sylvia, Christian, and Gerard, new urban farmers here at Opal’s. They have been hard at work preparing beds and getting Spring planting in. It’s exciting to see the passion of our new farmers. My heart jumped a bit when Sylvia said it reminded her of home! We hope to be a part of making them successful as they meet the needs of the East African community and all our neighbors in Fort Worth.

This Spring has brought new volunteers to Opal’s Farm. We’re so happy to share this journey with other people who want to help us address food insecurity and food apartheid here in Fort Worth. Food brings people together. No one should have to be food insecure or denied access to healthy, fresh produce. No one should have to go without the sense of community that we have at the farm. Visit our website www.unityunlimited.org and sign up for your time to farm with us.

If you don’t have time to volunteer right now, please help us with your financial support. Every dollar you contribute goes to helping your neighbors get access to nutritious fresh produce!

P.S. Cowtown Farmers Market is getting busier with all the Spring crops coming in. The varieties of fresh, local produce may sell out so come early every Saturday so you don’t miss out!

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Earth Week Celebrations

Join Opal’s Farm and one billion people from over 193 countries in celebrating Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

Earth Day started in 1970 to increase awareness and mobilize people to address environmental issues that affect our health and well-being all around the world. Opal’s Farm is proud to be a part of the movement to make our environment, our world, and communities a better place. Earth Day is every day at Opal’s Farm!

http://www.earthday.org


When we began Opal’s Farm two years ago, we made a commitment to

-Building vibrant local communities through regenerative urban farming, faithful gathering, and lasting fellowship. 

Why Regenerative Urban Farming?

The first component of regenerative farming is soil health. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants and healthy plants make for healthy people. Soil rich in nutrients means plants richer in nutrients – not to mention the flavor is so much better than those raised with industrial farming methods. Building the soil health is the foundation for the other components or regenerative agriculture – biodiversity, water and cleanliness, and soil carbon sequestration.

My name is Greg Joel. I’m the Farm Manager here at Opal’s Farm. People often ask if we practice “sustainable” farming. The answer is a resounding no! We practice regenerative farming. There’s a huge difference!

“Sustainable” implies keeping things (in our case, the soil) the way they are – to keep them from deteriorating and saving them for future generations to use.

“Regenerative” goes beyond merely preservation of the existing environment. It means to leave it better than you found it – building resources for future generations!

Opal’s never uses chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. These all degrade soil health over time. That’s why so much land has become non-productive. That’s also why many of the vegetables we love have lost the true flavor we love them for.

Texas soil requires amendments such as compost, other organic matter, and organic fertilizers to build healthy soil and increase vegetable yields. Soil needs to be fed just like we do to be healthy and productive. The difference between soil and plain old dirt is that soil is a vibrant environment full of life – microbes, microorganisms, and bacteria that feed the soil and in turn, feed the plants that live there. Dirt is not – it’s void of the living things that make up what we call soil.

We are so grateful for the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) for providing our five acres for urban farming. One of the ways we show our gratitude is farm organically. The last thing we want to do is use substances that run-off into our beloved Trinity River and contaminate the water we all depend on.

This week of Earth Day celebration reminds us of the responsibility we have as good stewards of the land we’ve been given. We’ll be talking more about regenerative urban farming and about the other components of our mission during the coming week.

None of what we do at Opal’s Farm – regenerative urban farming, providing access to healthy, fresh produce in neighborhoods devasted by food apartheid, and uniting the surrounding community could be accomplished without your ongoing support. The notorious February freeze may have been an obstacle for the Spring season, but we’ve come through with flying colors because of the generous support of our friends and neighbors.

Spring has blossomed at Opal’s Farm and we need your support more than ever. Please give to our work with your donation to Opal’s Farm at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm

Join us tomorrow as we get closer to Earth Day 2021!

Thanks for your help Diane!
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Spring is in Full Bloom

What a week it’s been. Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. Today is my son’s fortieth. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Adrian wasn’t sure which of us felt older – me or him. He was quite satisfied to let me feel the pain of aging. I mentioned that they say the sixties are the new forties. He promptly reminded me that only people in their sixties say that…

Spring has sprung in all it’s glory at the farm. The tomatoes and peppers are in with all their trellises in place. All the new seed is popping up. Cantaloupe planting started yesterday. The only thing left is the okra (our famous heirloom okra!). We also have test beds with Asian greens, bottle gourd, and bitter melon (South Asian diet staples) – testing new products for our South Asian community.

We’ve expanded to a second acre for this year. We had originally planned on adding only two thirds of an acre, but the move to tractor farming (made possible by the tractor provided by Zimmerer Kubota and the tiller from Blue Zones Project FW) has enabled us to expand more quickly.

The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) provided us with the best news this year. Sometime within the next week the installation of our new pump will be complete. We can start on the new irrigation system that will free up more time to bring healthy, fresh produce to the neighborhood.

We are incredibly grateful for the Paschal High School Key Club and the Fort Worth Trailblazers Chapter of the National Charity League. The Paschal kids are there every Saturday morning and the Moms and daughters from the Trailblazers have had several workdays over the past few couple of months. We could not have kept to our Spring planting schedule without their help!

We have a couple of immediate needs on our wish list. The recent freeze set us back financially. Market sales have been low as there’s not that much to sell. We recovered quickly with replanting and moving forward, but it’s been difficult. Please consider a donation to Opal’s Farm to help us grow even bigger. You can donate at www.unityunlimited.org anytime. There’s no time like the present!

Roman hard at work

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Brrrrrrrrrrrrr…

 “It’s frigging cold!” I used to laugh it at my neighbors who complained about the cold in in Texas. We’ve had above-average temperatures this year. Fifty degrees is not cold folks. Today? “It’s frigging cold!”

We’ve haven’t gotten above freezing for the last couple of weeks. The high temperatures are only projected to drop for the next few days. The forecast calls for a possible three inches of snow over the weekend and more later in the week. Much of the country is in the deep freeze so we’re not alone. It just doesn’t happen here often, so this is a major “weather event” for us. There was a 133 car pile-up on I-35 yesterday with six fatalities and 80-plus people sent to the hospital…

Opal’s Farm has come to a bit of a stopping point in our late winter planting because of the weather. It didn’t stop the Tarrant Regional Water District though. The started on the infrastructure for our new pump and irrigation this week and are almost finished. I’ve been doing the “Happy Dance” all week. TRWD is so good to Opal’s Farm. The best way I know to show them gratitude is to grow lots of food for our neighbors. TRWD has always believed in Opal’s Farm’s mission and their support has been invaluable.

Please keep us in your prayers as we go through this week and freezing temperatures. We planted all our onions (around 6,000 of them!) in the week before we knew about this coming in. Onions are hearty plants but so many freezing days in a row will inevitably hurt some of them.

I was once asked what our “Plan B” was in the event of a flood or other disaster. It’s simple – we replant! The farm is a great example of what to do in life – replant. Life throws out some hard lessons. Sometimes you just have to replant and go on from there…

I know this has been a tough year on everyone. If you are able, please consider a donation to Opal’s Farm today. You can donate securely at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm.

Stay warm out there folks…

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash
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More than a Number

She was walking down the road to the farm. I couldn’t make out who it might be. It wasn’t unusual to have new volunteers park at the gate and walk down. The “No Motorized Vehicles” sign doesn’t apply to the farm volunteers, but new folks don’t always know that.

It became clear that she wasn’t a volunteer as she got closer. Her pink top wasn’t a blouse but a cropped tank top. Her pants were a dinghy tan and her feet bare. It was a warm winter day, but winter, nonetheless. Maybe it was all she had. The clothes obviously hadn’t been washed in a long while.

The arms were quickly swaying back and forth, hands pointed outward. It was the addict’s walk – “schizting” and talking to herself.  In my old life I would’ve called it the “hoe stro’” and laughed at her. Today, it simply made me sad.

It may have been fifteen years since I found myself in her shoes – or lack of them – but I still have enough street sense to know to keep my eye on any addict. Stuff tends to disappear quickly. Addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to the “getting and using and finding means to get more”. I figured she was going to ask for money, but she walked on by without so much as a word or a sideways glance.

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

I continued working, making sure to keep her in my peripheral vision. She stopped by the old compost pile at the south end of the farm. She looked carefully as she started walking slowly around the pile. Then it hit me – she was looking for something to eat.

I pick up culled produce from a couple of local grocery stores and add them to the compost area each Monday. It makes for great soil amendments, but I’m always saddened to see the amount of food that gets wasted each weekend. I realize stores aren’t supposed to sell products past their “Sell by” date. I know how people are about “ugly” produce – stuff that isn’t picture perfect. Much of what I pick up is still good to eat.

Many times, I’ve made food boxes to give away instead of throwing it all in the compost. Most Mondays I leave a good box of produce next to the pile. The farm is surrounded by hidden homeless camps and I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe that’s what the young woman was looking for. Maybe she learned that something to eat could be found by the compost heap.

She had stopped circling the pile and stood there; sad eyes cast toward the ground. I put down my garden hoe and began walking towards her. She didn’t see me at first. She stood silently and never looked my way. As I got closer, her face came into focus. She must have been quite an attractive young lady at one time, but now her face was dirty, tired, and weathered, her eyes sunken and hollow. She probably wasn’t over thirty but looked to be much older. Hard living tends to age one quickly.

She looked up and saw me walking toward her. Her eyes showed fear and she hurried toward the river. One needs to be careful on the streets, especially a woman. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stopped and watched her disappear down the levee, headed for the river.

I wished there had been a box of food there. I wished she’d stopped for a minute and let me offer her some of the snacks I keep in my truck. I wished that she – that no one – had to pick through a compost pile just to have something to eat. I hurt for her.

She soon reappeared, made it up to the Trinity Trail, and walked out of sight. I went on about my work, but I couldn’t shake the image of her despair and shuffling searching. The lines on her face were burned into my memory. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had a home to go to and people who cared about her. My heart broke for her. Empathy is a bitch sometimes.

When I first started fundraising for Opal’s Farm, I threw out a lot of statistics about food insecurity, food “deserts” (a misnomer but I’m not going to get into that now…), and our city’s low-income neighborhoods and how the farm would make a positive impact on it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see past a statistic, to see the face of someone else. I can’t empathize with a statistic.

Statistics are great, collecting data important and necessary, but it’s easy to see large numbers and be blinded to the individual. Quantification and identification aren’t solutions. Statistical data generates a lot of sympathy (usually in the form of pity), meetings and commissions but little action…

The young lady searching for food in the compost is more than a statistic. So is the old man I see regularly outside the neighborhood convenience store asking for change or simply something to eat. So are the kids who rely on a free school lunch to make sure they have something that day.

It’s easy to be overlooked or lumped into a category that makes them “the other” if one is just a statistic. Numbers can be overwhelming – “there’s nothing I can do so I’ll let someone else take care of it”. Just say “There but for the grace of God go I ” and go on about business…

There is something each one of us can do – a starting point for all our problems. We can stop. We can see the face behind the number. We can listen. Statistics don’t move people to action. People move people to action. Listening moves people to action. Seeing people as children of the same God and the same humanity as we are moves people to action.

In the oft-quoted passage in Matthew 25, Jesus says,

“I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was homeless, and you gave me a room, I was shivering, and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me”

I need eyes that see – really see – and ears that listen – not just hear – to do something for the “overlooked or ignored”. I begin the process of identification that allows me to serve the God in each and everyone of us. I can’t think of a better way to live…