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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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Hurry Before It's Too Late…

Down On the Farm:

Today’s post is a bit of “Down on the Farm” and “Thoughts From the Porch”. It’s been raining for the last nine days. I’ve had more time on the porch and less time at the farm as a result.

This much rain is a mixed blessing

Even when I can’t be busy planting, weeding, and prepping beds I tend to spend time thinking about each of those things and how to make Opal’s Farm bigger and better. More people can be served and maybe, just maybe, the farm makes life better for all of us.

During down times such as these I get to post on social media and keep everyone updated. My hope in doing so is that you all will want to donate and/or volunteer at Opal’s Farm. We desperately need the donations and we’re able to get so much more accomplished with our volunteers.

The infographic offers some great reasons to volunteer at Opal’s Farm. The events of the last week have caused me to pause and reflection on the importance of Opal’s Farm right now. Opal’s Farm has become an essential business. It was before – farming, growing food, is essential any time – but even more so now.

The last few days have seen rapid and monumental changes in our daily routines due to the COVID-19 crisis. It was working from home if possible and no gatherings of more than 250 people just a few days ago. Now it’s multiple business closures and no gatherings, either inside or outside, of more than ten people. Sunday evening, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced a “shelter in place” order for everyone residing in Dallas County. Other North Texas counties probably aren’t far behind.

If a “shelter in place” order is issued for Tarrant County volunteer opportunities may not be available. I will continue to work as Farm Manager and an employee of Unity Unlimited, Inc. but I’m unclear as to volunteers at the farm. We’ll keep you updated. I hope that anyone who’s having a bit of cabin fever will come down and spend some time with us while you still can.

To sign up or donate go to www.unityunlimited.org

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Opal’s Farm Volunteers and COVID-19

Down On the Farm: Governor Abbott announced the State Health Emergency and Executive Order limiting gatherings to ten people and a number of business closures for the next two weeks. I’ve spoken with several people this morning who asked if Opal’s Farm was still open and accepting volunteers. The answer is a resounding YES. However, there are some changes we’ve made due to COVID-19 and the ongoing crisis.

To volunteer go to www.unityunlimited.org and click on the Opal’s Farm page. The Sign-up button will give you a calendar with dates and times. Please note that there are only four slots for each for morning and afternoon. We are limiting the number of volunteers to ten or less in accordance with CDC and Texas State Guidelines.

While at the farm we ask:

  • Please honor CDC social distancing requirements (6 feet apart) with other volunteers.
  • Stay home if you have a runny nose, headache, persistent cough, or a fever. You can come to Opal’s Farm any other time.
  • That groups cancel any workday already scheduled for at least the next two weeks.  

Volunteering at Opal’s Farm is a great way to get out into the sunshine, get a workout (the gyms will be closing), and do something great for the community.  With changing schedules and many folks having additional spare time we hope that you’ll come visit us at the farm.

We hope that each of you stays safe during this difficult time. We’d love to see you!

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Be Where Your Feet Are…

Thoughts from the Porch

Things in our world have changed drastically in the last few days. Don’t worry, I shan’t become one of the voices bemoaning the current toilet paper shortage. I’ve heard enough about that. The shelves are still empty and may be in the coming days. We’ve had to be a bit more resourceful about such matters – although I need to remind our family members not to throw baby wipes down the toilet.

I also need to remind everyone that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a gastro-intestinal one. It’s unrealistic to believe that you’ll use up that truckload of toilet paper you bought in this lifetime, much less during a two-week quarantine. Please use your head, exercise a bit of common sense, and leave some for the rest of us. That’s all I will say about that…

I am trying, like everyone else, to adjust to the rapidly changing situation with the coronavirus pandemic. As I drove to my regular 9:00 Sunday morning meeting I noticed how few cars there were on the road. It’s never heavy at that time and day but it was eerily quiet this Sunday. State and county health departments are following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and limiting indoor gatherings to ever smaller numbers of people to prevent the spread of the virus. First, it was crowds of 500, then 250, and now 50. Moments ago, the White House said to avoid crowds of more than ten people and old folks should stay at home, period. Many churches were empty, opting for online or remote services instead. No wonder it was so ghostly quiet.

Social distancing has become a new normal.

One’s personal space just got larger. All I have to do to get through a crowded grocery store aisle is sneeze or cough – both of which are consequences of springtime pollen – and everyone gets out of the way. Sometimes allergies are a good thing. The absence of hugs and handshakes are painful though.

If it seems I’m being a bit flippant about this whole pandemic thing, I can assure you that nothing is farther from the truth. I’m taking very seriously. I check all the boxes for being at risk of becoming gravely ill if exposed – I’m over sixty, a borderline diabetic, and have a compromised immune system. I’m cautious around others but I refuse to allow fear and misinformation make my decisions for me. God knows, there’s enough of that already.

I hope to exercise a little common sense and get through this physically unscathed. It’s possible that most of us will do likewise. Unfortunately (and realistically), some will become ill and some will die. That’s what just the way this virus operates.

Then there’s the other consequences to be borne by people who can’t afford fifteen days or more of childcare, business shutdowns, and lengthy quarantines. Statistically, the vast majority of folks live paycheck to paycheck with little, if any cushion, for times like these. There will be some of you for whom this is extremely inconvenient. For most though, it will be life-altering and in many cases, devastating.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The physical, mental, emotional and economic outlook is bleak, and not only because there’s no toilet paper to be found – given the severity of the situation, you’d think cleanliness in one’s nether regions would be of less importance – but all is not lost.

I’ve been spending time monitoring social media and the comings and goings around my community. I discovered that for every tale of bare supermarket shelves, panicked hoarding, and greedy resellers there are ten or more stories of the coronavirus bringing out the best in people. Here’s what I mean:

  • My “Next Door” neighborhood app is blanketed with messages of people wanting to help those who are older or immune compromised with getting groceries, medicines, etc. One of my neighbors living on Social Security put a “Need help” post up ad I’ve watched the constant stream of cars come to her home to deliver assistance.
  • People offering to help with child-care for those who are required to work even though their kid’s Spring break has been extended in most districts.
  • Companies like Apple that are still paying their employees while their stores are closed for the next two weeks.
  • Each of the countless churches and other organizations that open their food pantries for anyone struggling with the current crisis.
  • I was speaking with my ex-daughter-in-law yesterday and she told me of simply checking on the kid’s friends who were having to stay home alone due to the extended break and parents who couldn’t afford to miss work.

Thankfully, the list continues. I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere. I would like to think so.

This pandemic and how to deal with it is uncharted territory for most of us. We’ve had scares in the past – bird flu, swine flu, and SARS/MERS (also in the coronavirus family) – but we haven’t seen a true pandemic in our lifetime. Despite the current Administration’s inept handling of the crisis and the plethora of wild conspiracy theories, lies, and minimalizations accompanying it, people show a resiliency that offers a glimmer of hope for human beings in general. My prayer is that we’ll fan that flame and take care of one another.

So, my friends, be kind to one another and yourselves. Don’t panic. “Be where your feet are”, as my wife often reminds me. Don’t rush or hoard. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and think of others. Step back, take a deep breath and we’ll all walk through this one together. It may not eliminate COVID-19 but it sure can’t hurt…

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Spring Has Sprung

Down On the Farm: It started raining in the pre-dawn hours last Friday. It’s been off and on rain, heavy at times, but without the severe thunderstorms that are so frequent in North Texas this time of year. The above-average temperatures we’ve had often contribute more damaging weather.  I may not be able to work at the farm, but I can enjoy the morning a tad longer from the porch.

All around Fort Worth, Dogwoods, Bradford Pears, and Texas Redbuds are bursting with pinks, whites, and reds and emerald greens dots shine throughout the woods. Bluebonnets dot the roadsides. All the other Spring wildflowers are close behind. The vernal equinox may be a few days away, but the flora announces Spring is already here.

Photo by nagaraju gajula on Pexels.com

Down on the farm the green peas are coming along nicely and almost ready to pick. The sugar snap peas aren’t far behind. The carrots need to be thinned and weeds are always an issue no matter what time of year it is. Thanks, Kiersten for all your help weeding!

The early Spring planting is completed. The turnips, beets, spinach, and green onions went in the ground and the rain is a welcome guest. There’s something about heaven sent rain that makes everything grow better. Jamison the Farm Dog is hard at work protecting our new crops from pests!

Jameson hard at work

We added an herb garden this year. We set aside a couple of smaller beds for tarragon, cilantro, and sage so far. The rest – basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme – will go in later this month.

We’ll also be preparing to expand into our second acre. A huge thanks goes out to J. Davis Tree Care Solutions for all the wood chips they’ve dropped off. We’ve been mulching our walkways and furrows. Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, is delivering a tractor after this rain clears out. We’ll be able to plow and cover the new acre with a thick layer of wood chips and cover crops (thanks to Jay Schmigdall!). It will hold down some of the weeds and provide excellent compost and nourishment for new planting.

We also need to give a huge shoutout to Lauren Hickman at the Tarrant Area Food Bank. She provided us with two flats of celebrity tomatoes they raised at their Learning Garden. She’s also been a wonderful help with arranging composting and a great source of wisdom for Opal’s Farm.

The rain meant rescheduling some of our volunteers. Farming, whether urban or rural, is dependent on the weather. Thanks to all for being so understanding. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon.

For those of you who haven’t been out or would like to volunteer at Opal’s Farm please sign up at www.unityunlimited.org. Go to the Opal’s Farm page and click on the sign-up button. Feel free to find a time that works best for you and come join us!

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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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Hold On, Spring’s Coming

Down on the Farm

What an incredible week! Opal’s Farm truly is a community effort. We’re so proud to be a part of such a vibrant community; people committed to food justice and healthy food for all. Things have really been happening, especially since Giving Tuesday. Thank each one of you who donated on Giving Tuesday, both through our social media pages and through our website, www.unityunlimited.org.

Tender young growth tips of Austrian winter peas. The greens taste like sweet sugar snap peas, but have the texture of lettuce. The pea pods are also good young, or left to mature and used as dried peas, can be used to make an unforgettable split pea soup.
Austrian Snow (or winter) Peas

Winter doesn’t slow us down at Opal’s Farm. The Kohlrabi seed generously provided by The Taste Project is coming in as well as sugar snap peas, green peas, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. We’re also trying a new cover crop this winter – Austrian Snow Peas.

What are those you ask?

Austrian Snow Peas are part of the legume family. They help fix nitrogen into the soil and their long-term flowering is attractive to pollinators. They grow slowly in the winter, withstanding harsh frosts, but grow quickly in the Spring helping with weed control. Not only are they a great cover crop, they also provide great winter greens. The shoots and young pods taste like sugar snap peas with a texture like lettuce. Most of us aren’t familiar with them, but area chefs will be delighted!

Building the Soil

We’ve also been busy preparing for Spring planting. Believe it or not, it’s only two months until potatoes and onions go in! Thank you, Charlie Blaylock (Shines Farmstand), for helping us in preparing and planning for our Spring crops.

Good soil health is critical for regenerative, organic farming. The best way to build the soil is through composting. We’ve been busy spreading compost over our beds with light hay covering to aid our Spring crops.

Spreading compost to improve soil health

Brittany Rosenberg and the City of Fort Worth Code Compliance Department’s Rethinking Waste program has helped us with picking up compostable food waste from places like Sur La Table (thanks Danielle!). They’re working on other sources to help with our composting as well as limiting what goes into our local landfills. Talk about an all-around win-win!

The Tarrant Area Food Bank has been a great source of support for Opal’s Farm. Lauren Hickman works with their teaching garden and the Cooking Matters program at TAFB. With Lauren’s assistance we are now picking up compostable food waste from the Culinary School of Fort Worth. We can’t even begin to put into words how grateful we are for Lauren and the Culinary School of Fort Worth. Their help is making a huge impact on what we will be able to do with our Spring planting!

***Just so you know… the Culinary School of Fort Worth took the initiative to begin composting on their own. They provided an easy system for TAFB and Opal’s Farm to pick up compost and return the containers on a regular schedule. We’d love to talk to your store or restaurant.

Last, but most certainly not least, we are so thankful to be a part of Grow Southeast. A very special thanks to the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Roderick Miles from County Commissioner Brook’s office for their commitment to urban farming and the health and vitality of our neighborhoods. This week they helped us secure an end-dump truckload of compost from Silver Creek Materials. I can already taste the tomatoes that will be growing in those beds this Spring!

Thank you Tarrant County Healthy Collaboration!

I could go on and on. The list seems endless. Thank you so much for the love and support you’ve brought to us in this, our first year of farming. We’d love to have you come out and “play in the dirt” with us. Go to the Opal’s Farm page at www.unityunlimited.org for a volunteer sign-up or to donate today.

Come on down. Overalls are optional…