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Thank You Jeff!

Good Morning Everyone! I am deeply honored to be nominated by my friend Jeff for the Mystery Blogger Award. I’m equally embarrassed by my slow response time. Spring is a busy time for our farm. I’ve failed to take time to write over the last couple of weeks!

I recently began to follow Jeff at http://www.jeffonamission.wordpress.com. His tagline – “Chef, Writer, Janitor” grabbed my attention right away. I love people who wear the hats of a servant…

What is the Mystery Blogger Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma

Rules:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your post.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blogging sites. https://jeffonamission.wordpress.com/
  4. Answer their questions.
  5. Mention the creator of this award (Okoto Enigma)
  6. Tell your readers three things about you.
  7. Nominate 10-20 bloggers
  8. Notify nominees by commenting on their blog post.
  9. Ask your nominees five questions of your choice.
  10. Share a link to your best post(s). https://gregoryjoel.com/  

My nominees for inspiring blogs are listed below:

https://peacehacks.com

https://valeriecullers.com/

https://mitchteemley.com/

https://chelseaannowens.com/

https://refarmer.ca/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/

https://gcdiaries.wordpress.com

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/

https://feedingonjesus.com/

https://hegavemeamelody.com

Three Things About Me:

  1. I get to do what I love every day! God asked (He’s always the gentleman) me to be a farmer and I said okay…
  2. I’m “no good at being bad”, as my friend Jim would say. It only took me 48 years to figure that out…
  3. I believe that grace and gratitude are as necessary as food and water.

Questions From Jeff:

  1. What’s your favorite go-to Bible verse? – Geez, talk about a tough one. You don’t mess around do you Jeff? I’m not sure if I can name one. It seems to change on any given day. I guess the most frequent verse that comes up is Philippians 4. 11-13 from The Message version: “Actually I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether I’m full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”
  2. Where did you grow up? – I was born in Fort Worth, TX. My Dad was transferred to Denver, CO when I was nine and I went to high school and university there. I returned to Fort Worth in 1986 and haven’t left since.
  3. How long does it take you to compose a post? – It varies (wildly at times). It depends on whether it’s for a client or personal and how much research I need to do.
  4. Would you consider guest-blogging if asked? – I would be honored to do so if asked.
  5. If someone you love is dying and has yet to know Jesus, what’s your best one-liner to bring them to Christ? (Obviously this would be Spirit led, but just play along) – I sat and thought about this for a very long time. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d say. I’ve tried to imagine various scenarios and I come up empty. This is truly one of those questions I leave to a prompting of the Spirit. I’ve sat with several friends and family through the end of their lives. Each needing Jesus to be shown through different actions. I believe that at times like these, there are few words to say. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach everywhere. If necessary, use words”.

You all are amazing! I’m so happy to be a part of the WordPress community!

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Maybe the “New Normal” is Not so New After All…

Thoughts From the Porch…

The rain returned to North Texas along with cooler weather for the day. Fortunately, it’s a brief visit and the weather looks clear until late in the week. The Prairie Verbena is casting purples all around Opal’s Farm. It’s almost April and the highways and byways are bursting in color. The Bluebonnets came early this year, but now the blues are accompanied by the oranges and yellows that make even rush-hour pleasurable.

Of course, there isn’t much of a rush hour these days. We’re well into the “shelter in place” order as the coronavirus lurks about Fort Worth searching for a host to devour. I’ve been unable to hug my kids and grandkids for a couple of weeks now. I’m starting to feel a bit weak…

My heart goes out to everyone during these trying times. I have the privilege or the misfortune, depending on how you view it, of being an “essential business” so I’m not stuck at home unless it rains. Everyone still needs food, especially healthy, fresh food, so I’m glad I can do something to contribute, even if it’s only a small part.

(By the way – the Cowtown Farmers Market is still open every Saturday morning from 8AM until Noon. Thank you to all the folks at Cowtown, both farmers and customers, who follow CDC guidelines and provide fresh, local produce during this crisis.)

Fortunately, the farm is a place folks can eliminate some of the boredom of “shelter in place” and help others at the same time. Social distancing isn’t an issue with well over an acre and there’s plenty to do. I’m just throwing that out for you all in case you’re wondering. I think I’ve seen more people on the adjacent Trinity Trails this weekend than I’ve seen in the past year.

I have a dear friend who had a serious surgery last week. The coronavirus situation has kept me from visiting the hospital and I can only receive updates from his wife. I shouldn’t complain. They’ve even prevented her from being there. She sat in the parking lot all day while her husband was in surgery. I can’t even imagine what that would be like if it were my wife. Sometimes it seems that prayers are not enough. COVID-19 has stolen so much more than physical health.

The pundits talk about our “new normal”. This is not normal. It may be what we do to take care of each other and ourselves, but it’s far from normal. However, there are some things from all of this I hope become the “new” normal. A friend told me of seeing his son playing catch with his grandson in the backyard. Sounds normal, right? Then he told me that his grandson was nine years old and had never done that before. They did other things together – his son’s a great parent – but they’d never simply thrown a ball back and forth. Maybe the “new normal” will see more of the “old normal. Maybe we’ll have less screen time and more play.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is father-son-playing-catch-throwing-260nw-337724105.jpg

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the rest of the story about my friend in the hospital. Many of use prayed throughout the day. That’s what friends do for one another. During the surgery one of the nurses called her every hour, on the hour, to let her know how her husband was doing. Those phone calls made the long wait somewhat bearable. Above and beyond is what so many of our healthcare folks do for us each day, virus or know virus. Please take time to say a prayer, make a phone call, or just say thank you. Maybe that kind of “new normal” isn’t so bad…  

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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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“Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Powering Down: The Future of Institutions,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 46-47.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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Give a Wave and Change the World

Thoughts From the Porch

Wednesday was a long day. It was like any day really, but especially long when one spends it driving around DFW. Margaret is unable to get in my truck since it sits too high. We have been fortunate to use our kid’s car for her doctor appointments and such. It’s a KIA and sits low enough for Margaret to be able to get in and out. I’m not complaining mind you, but while a small car is great for her it’s not so great for me.

I’ve driven a pick-up truck for most of the last 30 years. In fact, I can’t remember the last car I owned. A ¾ ton truck is perfect for a guy who’s 6’3” and weighs in at 230 pounds. Heck, I even have enough head room for my beat-up old farm hat on. I like sitting above most of the other drivers. There’s a sense of security in that. You know, the ‘above the fray’ kind of thing.

Change doesn’t typically disturb me too much, but switching to a 2-door sub-compact car? It’s a bit like moving from a big rig to a go-cart. However, I’m grateful I still have the flexibility to fold and unfold myself in and out. Once I’m in it’s not so bad…

The other drawback in using our kid’s car is that I make the sixty-mile roundtrip twice a day to drop them off at work and pick them up. I haven’t driven in rush hour traffic in a long time. The farm is only fifteen minutes from the house: just hop on the freeway and there’s one stoplight between here and there. Any other time I work from home.

Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on Pexels.com

It’s not quite the same when you commute in a DFW rush hour and the closer you get to Dallas the worse traffic gets. It starts slowing on the east side of Fort Worth and by Arlington and Highway 360 it’s stop-and-go. That’s aggravating enough but something transpires once you cross the Dallas County line. Apparently, it’s a black hole of sorts that sucks any common courtesy and driving ability out the window.

I think I understand why our kid goes to bed so early. I was worn out after four hours of stop-and-go driving. If I had to do that daily my spirituality would fade into one-fingered salutes, horn honking, and yelling. I understand road rage much better, although shooting at someone is still a bit extreme for me…

After my dad was transferred to Colorado, our family returned to Fort Worth a couple of times a year. Every time I crossed the Texas state line, I was greeted by “Welcome to Texas” and beneath it was the line “Drive Friendly”. As we travelled up and down Highway 287, slower travelers would pull over to let us pass. We would do likewise for those who came up in our rear-view mirror. Once past, my father would raise his hand and wave as a thank you to the driver behind us.

If we were on a two-lane country road, each driver would raise a hand in a “howdy” to each other as they passed. People would hang back to let you merge on the freeway. When I came of driving age, I was taught that courtesy was as much a part of driving as the ability to handle a vehicle safely.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Fort Worth is its small town feel and friendliness. Common courtesy was paramount in social situations with others. Driving was a prime example. One spends a lot of time on the road living here. Even rush hour, albeit less tedious and congested than our neighbor to the east, was reasonably friendly. At least it was…

I’m quite willing to acknowledge that my perceptions may have become a bit nostalgic as I’ve grown older. The demographics of Fort Worth have changed. North Texas has grown faster than the infrastructure for America’s 16th largest city. Frustrations abound when construction delays are constant. Driving is a microcosm for what’s happening around us. As driving has become more frustrating and common courtesy less common, so too has the society around us.

All of this started me thinking. What if everyone could slow down, take a deep breath, and offer a friendly hand wave when someone lets you in on the freeway? What if you take a moment to acknowledge your neighbor with a hand wave as you drive down your neighborhood street? What if you wave an apology to the guy you just cut-off by accident?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but I think one little hand wave could change the world (or at least my little part of it!). When I exercise common courtesy on the way to the store, I’m more likely to hold the door for the person coming in or out. They say thank you and I’m more likely to be patient with that slower driver in front of me. I let that guy in on the freeway or simply wave a thank you to the person that let me in.

That simple hand wave set of a chain reaction of “niceness”. I’m not as stressed on the road. I become just a bit more relaxed. I’m nicer to the next person I meet. I smile more. In turn, maybe they’re a bit nicer to the next driver, the next store clerk, or the next coworker. In turn, who knows? Maybe world peace…

I’m so sure a simple way is the key I believe it could even change our neighbors to the east. Why not give it a try…

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com
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Bittersweet Moments

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.

Our First Cowtown Farmer’s Market

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.

Couldn’t have done it without Brendan – getting ready for our first crop!

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.

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Finding Your Why Down on the Farm: Part One

“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.

Jameson the Farm Dog takes a much needed break!

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.

Reason #1:

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…