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#CovidCantStopGOOD

Down On the Farm

Saturday turned into a washout for the farm. We started off strong (thanks Chuck, Haileigh, Kierstin, and Ryan!) and still managed to get a lot done. Even when it became apparent that the rain was not a quick Spring shower, everyone kept right on working! Talk about dedication! Fortunately, the rain was a blessing for the new plants.

Sunday saw slightly warmer temperatures and an opportunity to get some tractor work done (Thanks Zimmerer Kubota – we love you guys!!!).

Chuck and Diane were out today to lay more fabric down for the new tomato beds. Trellis poles went up and they put the guide ropes up. The tomatoes already have new growth after a only a couple of days. We were able to finish off rebuilding several new beds, but we still have a ton of work to do. You got to love Spring.

Rain is supposed to come again later in the week. We’re hurrying along as fast as we can. If you’re bored and tired of sitting at home, you can come on down and join with us as we make the push to get as much in as possible before the next precipitation event (thanks Thesaurus…).

We still need to:

Get the remaining tomato beds covered with weed fabric and ready for planting

Spread compost and organic fertilizer

Weeding (as always) – Kierstin, we’re saving the flame weeder for you. We know how much you like to burn things…

Planting squash beds

Hill the potato beds again

If you’re singing the COVID-19 blues and want to do good deeds for others, we’d love to have you come out this week. You can sign up at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm. We have over an acre to help maintain social distancing and Opal’s Farm is a great way to get out of the house. You can’t get more essential than growing healthy, fresh produce to get us through this mess.

#CovidCantStopGOOD

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And God Said It Was Good…

Thoughts From the Porch

It was unusually quiet on the porch this morning. The birds were still singing, kept in time by the staccato beat of our neighborhood woodpecker, but there was no city sounds in the background – only a peaceful silence. Some would attribute to the “shelter in place” order we’re presently under. I prefer to believe that God quieted the noise so I could hear the beauty of birdsong and bask in the joy of a new morning.

I’ll exchange online church services for working at the farm this morning. A big rain is predicted for tomorrow and there’s tomatoes to get in before it comes. Besides, farming is its own worship service in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from the never-ending process of life, death, and rebirth that only a garden can give.

From the very beginning in the Genesis creation story, God thought a garden was a good place for man to start. He planted a garden and gave it over to the care of the human beings He created in His own image:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’.

God created human beings; He created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Genesis 1.26-28 – The Message- emphasis mine)

Working at the farm is a reminder of God’s instruction to be responsible for the Earth He gave us. I grew up hearing that passage as one of “having dominion over” rather than “taking care of” the gift of creation. I understand the difference today. Working in the soil, watching the crops grow, and seeing the happy faces of the ones who receive our produce is what was intended all along – be responsible and help others…

I take that responsibility serious at Opal’s Farm. That’s why I practice regenerative farming. I want to nourish and replenish the soil and leave it better than I found it. I take care of the gift entrusted to me. That’s what responsibility (and gratitude) is all about. I can’t take care of everything, but I can easily be responsible for my little place in the word. My prayer is that we’ll all do the same.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com
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We’re Growing!

Down On the Farm It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm. We had a bit of a thunderstorm this morning following a week of fantastic weather. Thanks to the Blue Zones Project we have a large sign for the entrance to Opal’s Farm. Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota delivered a tractor to begin plowing our second acre. Several volunteers, new and our regulars showed up to help this week. We hope it chased away the coronavirus blues!

We’ve been so busy this week we almost forgot to wish our fellow farmers a Happy National Agriculture Day. On Tuesday the 24th Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said,

“Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world. Now more than ever it’s important that the American people not forget that. Our farmers are resilient, and during these uncertain times they are still working, day in and day out, to produce what’s needed for our growing population. Today, on National Ag Day, I challenge the American public to keep our farmers, ranchers and producers on their minds – for all their work to provide us a safe, healthy and abundant food supply. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Thank you Blue Zones!

We are grateful to you all as well. Your support is, as always, absolutely amazing! Tuesday was especially eventful. The sign for our barn at Opal’s Farm was installed, letting everyone know about Opal’s Farm. I feel bad singling people out for recognition, but Brenda and Carol with Blue Zones – Fort Worth have been incredible. I know it’s a team effort and I can’t thank Blue Zones enough.

Tuesday also saw the start of our expansion into acre number two. One of our sponsors and great friends, Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, delivered a tractor for us to use in plowing our second acre. We’ll be smothering the area in wood chips to control the weeds and provide compost for the next season. Brandon surprised us with a tractor with an enclosed cab and air conditioning. It was perfect for the above-average temps this week (almost 90 degrees…). Thanks Brandon, Jerry, Sam Zimmerer and all the good folks at the North Fort Worth store.

Jameson the Farm Dog is supervising…

Special thanks go out to Kiersten, Alexis, and Mike for harvesting almost thirty pounds of sugar snap and green peas. You all saved them from my constant snacking as I went down the beds…

It’s a bit muddy following this morning’s rain, but the sun has come out making for a beautiful Saturday. We’re expecting a washout for this coming Monday so I’m off to make hay while the sun shines…

Thanks to everyone at Zimmerer Kubota!
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Rain, Rain…eh…

Down On the Farm: I’d love to wish you all a good morning from the farm, but it will have to be from the desk instead. We had a night of downpours, so I get to greet you all from the warmth of my office. We’re always thankful for the rain. Last month was the second wettest January on record and February is on a similar track.

Rain is often a trade-off for Opal’s Farm. It’s slowed down our Spring planting but all the onions and most of the potatoes are in. The remaining preparations for Spring – spreading compost, bed preparation, etc. – have come to a standstill because it’s too wet to work at the farm. It doesn’t mean work stops. It just stops outside…

It’s that time of year when there is a long “to-do” list, but the weather is so erratic that some needed tasks get put on the back burner until it’s dry enough to work. If you’ve signed up on our volunteer schedule you may wish to call the farm if it has rained the day before you’re coming out to be safe. I’ll be happy to shuttle volunteers from the entrance gate. Every now and then it gets a little too muddy for an automobile.

We recently had an issue with the volunteer sign on our website, www.unityunlimited.org. That has been resolved and the sign-up link is working great. We’ll be emailing each of you who were unable to sign-up because of an expired link. Please don’t hesitate to call us at 817.333.8367 if you have any questions.

A huge thank you goes out to Yvonne and Kiersten for a great day of planting. Please come join us anytime!

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You Give Us Freedom to Grow

This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.

We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.

Maggie “I’m so sorry!”

Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…

Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.

This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful “village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most because of the people that fill our lives.

That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops, building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely important time.

As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.

The turnips and radishes are almost ready…

None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.

Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.

Along the way there have been many volunteers who have lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project, Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.

“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty to ask you for more.

While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools, supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit personal here…

When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what God called us to do.

For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.

We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”. That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and personal.

Business, especially farming, requires planning for the coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind donations we’ve received from our sponsors.

Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your support. We know this is a “we” project.

I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500, each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more urgent to help Opal’s Farm

 Please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and click on the Opal’s Farm page to donate today.

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We Couldn’t Do It Without You

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!

Brendan and the BCS tractor hard at work

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 job!

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 growing.

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!

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…