It’s a beautiful, warm February day here in Cowtown. I’m trying to practice the Sabbath rest from the farm. I’m taking the day off and Amber, our Assistant Manager, is doing the same. Yesterday was a long day for her. We had some of the National Charity League moms and daughters out in the morning as well as our friends from the Baha’i Temple of Fort Worth. They did an amazing job getting the sandbags for our low tunnels filled, making rows for the potatoes, and forking the new beds and cleaning them out.
We had another group come on Saturday afternoon, the First Presbyterian Children Ministry, and I wrote on the wrong date on the calendar, so it was quite a surprise for Amber. They were a huge help and we appreciate all our volunteers so much.
A couple of other things happened this week that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. First, Ms. Opal was honored this week to have her portrait hung in the Texas Senate chamber. Hers was the first portrait to be hung in the State Senate in forty-nine years. Moreover, she is only the second African-American woman to be honored in this way. Her portrait hangs next to the first African-American woman to serve in the Texas Senate and later, the United States House of Representatives, the Honorable Ms. Barbara Jordan. We are so proud of Ms. Opal and the lifetime of work she has done (and is still doing at ninety-six years old) to celebrate Juneteenth and the freedom for all people it represents.
Second, staff from several departments at Tarleton State University came, toured the farm, and had lunch with Ms. Opal. The excitement of our partners at Tarleton State is infectious and is being carried back to other departments as we move forward into the Spring. Thank you all for being there and the brain trust you have created to help Opal’s Farm become a model for what urban agriculture can do for our city and our state.
Opal’s Farm truly is about real food, real people, and real community!
It’s a slow, soaking rain this morning. I’m so grateful for a good rain, especially since we’ve been moving back in severe drought conditions the last few weeks. This month has been crammed with great things – so much so that this is the first time I’ve had to sit down to tell you all about it…
October brings celebration. The 7th was Ms. Opal’s birthday. Ninety-six trips around the sun deserved a weekend-long celebration.
We held a Nobel Peace Prize announcement watch party at the Paris Coffee Shop at 3:00 in the morning. The announcement was to be made at 9 AM Oslo time which is 4 AM here. We were hopeful but not surprised when this year’s prize went to the jailed human rights activist Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and two human rights organizations in Russia and Ukraine. Ms. Opal expressed her thanks to the Nobel Prize Committee and those that nominated her. She then reminded us that there is still much to be done. Even one person can make a difference. Each of us can become a “Committee of One” – committed to compassion, unity, and understanding instead of racism, injustice, and division.
Our thanks go out to everyone at the Paris Coffee Shop on Magnolia and Hemphill for an incredible breakfast and opening so early to host the watch party. They were so gracious and fun to be with. The Paris Coffee Shop is a Fort Worth institution. If you’re a Fort Worth native you’ve most likely enjoyed their breakfast or lunch. If you’re new to town then you need to stop by!
Saturday, October 8th, was Ms. Opal’s Walk for Hunger and Day of Service at both the Community Food Bank and Opal’s Farm. People gathered at the Community Food Bank at 11 AM to join Ms. Opal on a 1.25 mile walk to end hunger from the Community Food Bank to Opal’s Farm. Afterwards, we cut Ms. Opal’s birthday cake (plural – there were several!) and enjoyed the afternoon celebration together.
I flew to Atlanta the following weekend for the Black Farmers and Urban Growers National Conference 2022. The speakers and breakout sessions were educational and practical for becoming better farmers and seeking agri-justice. My favorite session was led by Dr. Barret T. Vaughn from Tuskegee University on writing grants with the reviewer’s point of view. Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm are growing by leaps and bounds this year. Knowing how to write grants is a big step toward securing available funding to continue growing.
Our National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Urban Ag representative came to tour the farm with two NRCS agronomists. They asked many questions as NRCS has typically dealt with much larger, rural farms. Thanks to Secretary Vilsack and the USDA for beginning to pay attention to urban and small farms. We are here to stay!
This past weekend saw our return to Cowtown Farmers Market and the first monthly Funkytown Mindful Market for farmers. The full Mindful Market is held every quarter, but in response to residents we are holding the farmers market on the fourth Saturday of each month. We appreciate Texas Wesleyan University for their partnership and look to a long healthy relationship with the Poly Heights neighborhood. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.
We’ll be at Cowtown Farmers Market again this coming weekend with lots of fresh kale, salad mix, green beans, radishes, and assorted greens. Please stop by and see us then. Have a great week!
I’ve been working on this post for a week, and to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to write it. I’ve kind of been dreading August. It’s a little long so please bear with me…
Things are going well at Opal’s Farm. We’ve held on to the tomatoes and peppers through this crazy hot summer and even have new crops coming in. Thanks to Grow SE and the Rainwater Foundation we have a new Kubota MX 5400 tractor, a Land Pride tiller attachment, and pallet forks to facilitate our future growth and composting. They have also helped us hire an Assistant Farm Manager who I’ll introduce soon. We have wonderful volunteers who brave the intense Texas sun to come out and work at the farm (early in the morning of course!). The Cowtown Farmers Market has a new place to go to that even has shade and picnic tables. We are truly blessed!
So, what’s so difficult to write? This all sounds great! Well…
One of our (especially my) best friends and mentor, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand will be leaving Fort Worth and moving to New Mexico next week. We’ve known the move was coming for many months but now it’s too real. Laura Blaylock retired from the Tarrant Regional Water District on Friday (and I noticed that most of the furniture was already gone when we had our last Grow SE Zoom meeting) and they had their last day at the Cowtown Farmers Market this past Saturday. Although I’m thrilled for their new adventure (it was 72 degrees last time I talked to Charlie in New Mexico! I’m so jealous.), I’m sad to see them leave.
I’m not sure Opal’s Farm would still be growing had it not been for Charlie. When I pulled around the corner for the first time and saw the five acres plowed I thought “What have I gotten myself into? I’m so over my head”. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie outside a Grow SE meeting a few months earlier. I had a feeling it was going to be okay. Some people are just destined to cross one’s path. They are truly a gift.
Over the last three-and-a half years, Charlie has helped guide me through the process of making Opal’s a going concern. He’s taken hours out of his schedule to meet with me, listen to my problems, and helped find solutions to make Opal’s a successful urban farm. There have been times I thought we weren’t going to make it and Charlie was always there to cheer me on. Most importantly, he and Laura took time to invite me into their lives and build an incredible friendship.
I know I’m not the only one that has benefited from knowing Charlie and Laura. Charlie has been a blessing to the local farming and food community. His work with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the Cowtown Farmers Market, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and Grow SE has helped start several urban farms in Fort Worth. His commitment to access to fresh, local food and the farmers in and around Fort Worth will be missed. I can only hope that I’ll be able to follow in his footsteps and help others as he has helped me.
Charlie and Laura made sure their farm was left in capable hands. Becca Knutson, the Cowtown Farmers Market manager will be moving in and taking over Charlie’s labor of love. She’s been making the transition for several months now. She’ll continue bringing great organically grown fresh produce to Cowtown each week (and she’s a fantastic manager as well!).
Cowtown Farmers Market will be having its first market at the new location at the Grand Pavilion in Veterans Park this Saturday. It’s somewhat bittersweet for me. Charlie and Laura will be stopping by to be with us one last time, but not as vendors. They’ll be leaving the following week to new endeavors and much cooler weather. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do without my Laura hugs to get me through market (she gives the best hugs ever!).
Charlie and Laura, please know you’re loved and appreciated so much for all you do. I know that New Mexico will be better for your residence there and frankly, I would be right behind you if I could. It’s beautiful there and I’m happy you both get to enjoy mountain living. I may not have Apple Facetime but I already have an app for my Android so I can see your smiles. I promise I won’t be calling every day, but I can tell you I’m grateful for cell phones (this once anyway…). Be safe in your travels and keep me updated on the new adventure.
P.S. – Tell Dusty to call me. He has a place right here for the holidays. I love you both and already miss you!
Opal’s Farm celebrated Juneteenth in a big way this year. We missed Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom since we were at Cowtown Farmers Market yesterday, we had a record-breaking day in produce sales at the market! Thank you to all our friends and customers – many of whom were first time visitors to the market – who came out to wish us well and celebrate the Juneteenth weekend with us. You made our day extra special!
We loaded up the market stuff and headed to Panther Island Pavilion for the I Am Juneteenth Festival where we saw many old friends and met many new ones. It was even bigger and better that last years party and highlighted Freedom Day for us all. Many new vendors and food trucks came, and all ate well. Thank you, Miss JoAnn, and Miss Mattie’s Food Truck for the amazing food! You hold a special place in our heart. We look forward to seeing you every chance we get (and tomatoes are coming your way!).
The Dock Bookstore sat up right across from us, which was a real treat. The Dock has been at Meadowbrook and Handley Drive for fourteen years. Please drop by sometime to enjoy what a bookstore is supposed to be. Celebrate and support our local businesses that are so vital to our community.
The music and entertainment were terrific. Fireworks ended the evening of celebration with a spectacular show reminding each one of us that freedom is to be celebrated from June 19th through July 4th. It’s freedom for all of us regardless of race, religion, or politics. It’s time to celebrate our shared humanity and press on to a better community.
Ms. Opal addressed the crowd and then came to our booth to meet, greet, and sign copies of her children’s book, Juneteenth. I watched as the line grew long to meet “The Grandmother of Juneteenth”. Parents asks for pictures of Ms. Opal with their kids and themselves. They wanted their children to understand the history of Juneteenth and Ms. Opal’s life of advocacy and activism. I was mesmerized by the way she touches the hearts of everyone she meets, but especially the children. The message she sends is always the same – there’s much to be done. Know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going. Acknowledge the past so we can all move forward. Love others – especially in the small ways – and remember we all bleed red, we’re all brothers and sisters, and above all, each one of us are God’s children. Treat God’s kids well.
On this special Juneteenth – Freedom Day – I can’t think of anything better to do than that…
I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.
I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.
So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.
When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.
I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.
I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.
Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…
This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.
Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…
There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.
I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…