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A Little Clarity is in Order…

I sat down to go through our social media posts and comments this morning and I had to take a hard look at how we post for the farm. I often post articles from my blog on WordPress to Opal’s Farm page as well. It was brought to my attention that I could communicate the purpose, goals, and impact of the farm more clearly. I appreciate any comments coming from our supporters and other urban farmers. One thing I have learned is that it truly takes a ‘village’ of people to make the farm and, everything else positive in life, a success!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521). Thanks, Jeff!

Starting the beds

While our Mission Statement is written in the “About Us” section of the page, it can be easily overshadowed by other postings (including links to my own blog…). Our Mission Statement sums up our overall goal in a simple fashion – “Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.” However, mission statements make more sense when they are broken down into bit-sized chunks and we certainly want to bring clarity of purpose to our supporters, followers, and ‘farmers’.

Statement of Purpose

Opal’s Farm is a model for regenerative, organic agriculture that:

  • addresses the elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
  • offers education in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
  • creates jobs, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income community members.

We developed our statement of purpose by listening to the community and getting input from other successful urban farming projects. Ms. Opal Lee, who as many of you know, is our namesake, is the President Emeritus of the Community Food Bank in the United Riverside neighborhood of Fort Worth. She spent many hours speaking to the folks served by the food bank and found that many of those folks had issues with finding employment paying a living wage because of previous incarceration. Moreover, they would be willing to grow their own food and exercise a degree of self and community-reliance. As a result, the vision of Opal’s Farm was born.

Once the vision became a reality, we began to seek guidance from other successful urban farm projects. Bonton Farms, located in the Bonton neighborhood south of downtown Dallas, provided much of the model for Opal’s Farm, especially in developing economic sustainability. Paul Quinn College offered support. God opened so many doors and people came from out of the proverbial woodwork to help Opal’s Farm.

The start of the 70 beds we made so far!

Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White Settlement Home Depot makes the first delivery to Opal’s Farm- – Thanks Jeff!

Charlie Blaylock, of Shines Farmstand and the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, has been our closest consultant and friend. Paula Pacanins with Container King provided a shipping container to store our equipment. Natasha Neidhart, Store Manager for the White Settlement Home Depot (#8521), and Jeff Williams, the Assistant Manager and Capitan of Team Depot partnered with us to provide substantial support in tools, equipment, and supplies. Brandon Hendrickson, the Rental Manager at Zimmerer Kubota provided us with a tractor and farm implements to plow the almost 4 acres that makes up the total area of Opal’s Farm.

We also have the support, and are a member of, Grow Southeast, a coalition of growers dedicated to building urban farms and gardens throughout the southeast side of Tarrant County. The Healthy Tarrant County Collaborative purchased a BCS tractor for all the growers to share as they built and prepared beds for planting. So far, we’ve built 70 beds (a whopping 28,000 square feet!) in the last four days because of their help. TCU has come alongside of Opal’s Farm as well through the Tarrant County Food Policy Council. Students are assisting in a variety of ways this semester to make the farm a success. Last, but most certainly not least, is the Trinity River Water District that provided the acreage and believed in Ms. Opal’s dream. Without them, none of this would be possible.

What I’m trying to say in all of this is that Opal’s Farm is about Fort Worth, about our community, and our home. That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important. Each of us has an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors. We can’t do it alone. We need each of you – individuals, businesses, and organizations to bring health and vitality to the community. This is very real work, with very real results.

People often ask me if this is a “faith-based” project. I’m not trying to be funny when I say the honest answer is yes, and no. We believe that one’s faith is best reflected in the actions one takes, not merely words. Our faith is reflected in the lives we change and the people who are united in making a better place for everyone. Fresh produce is the means to the real end: helping others. Faith says, always err on the side of love” and that always benefits all of us.

Future posts will include articles from my blog and updates on the farm. It’s not to promote the writing business of one individual but to share what’s going on and how everyone can be a part. Mother Teresa was once asked about her work among the disenfranchised and poor in India. Her response was, “Come see”. Come see what we’re doing at the farm and we might just make a farmer out of you.

You can learn more about Ms. Opal and Opal’s Farm on our website, www.unityunlimited.org and our Facebook page. You can also make a secure donation online.

In the meantime – “Come see…”

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Us and Them: Part Two

Thoughts From the Porch: The temperature is dropping like a rock and the wind is blowing harder here in North Texas. My office is in the coldest part of the house. Normally, this is a good thing. I tend to be hot when everyone else is merely comfortable. Today’s a bit different. I need to add the space heater next to my desk to my Gratitude List for the day.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the literal creation story or if you see it as a metaphor for the beginning of human history; the end result is the same. Man, the rational animal, can act irrationally and believe things that simply aren’t true. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure that we’re somewhat unique in that regard.

Dad used to tell me, “Son, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. Straightforward and simple, right? You see, a duck doesn’t think itself anything other than a duck. It waddles down to the pond, takes a swim to find something to eat, and quacks at the other ducks. It doesn’t bark, stalk prey, or run like a cheetah, nor does it particularly want to. It’s a duck! Anyone can see that, right?

Imagine for a moment that you’re at the duck pond, feeding the dusks, and someone walks up and says, “look at that Canadian Snow Swan”. You look around and all you see are a flock of Mallards fighting each other for a piece of bread. Intrigued and thinking the stranger a bit off his duff, you ask what he’s talking about. He points to one of the less brightly colored Mallards and says, “see, a Canadian Snow Swan”.

Now you know better. After all, you passed high school biology. This guy must be confused. You press him a bit more. He explains that Canadian Snow Swans are very similar to Mallards, but not as brilliantly colored. They tend to follow Mallard flocks as they migrate to and from, so they are often confused for Mallards. A seed of doubt was just planted.

A few days later, you’re at the same duck pond. Someone comes up and says, “Oh, look at the Mallards”. You wisely declare that they’re not all Mallards, a couple are Canadian Snow Swans. You proudly proclaim your thorough knowledge on the subject because “they” said. It doesn’t matter who “they” are, but apparently “they” are in the know. Now you one of “them”, and everyone believes a lie.

One of the first questions I ask someone when they tell me “they say that (fill in the blank) is who “they” are. Ninety-nine percent of the time the respondent has no idea who “they” are. The internet is full of “them”, experts in falsehood who proudly proclaim their version of “Truth” and it gets repeated over and over. After all, it was on the internet so it must be true…

Now the duck hasn’t changed, nor has the fact that it’s a duck, but we now believe it to be something else. Having proclaimed it a Canadian Snow Swan we now defend our position with a myriad of justifications – “plausible, but untrue” explanations of our correctness. Nobody likes being wrong, right?

One of the disastrous consequences of false belief is an equally false superiority over everyone who doesn’t believe the way we do. “They” are different rom “us”. Religion is a prime example. Talk about “us” and “them”! History is littered with the wreckage of “us” and “them”. I’ve heard it said that man can survive without a God but he cant’ live without a devil. The devil’s in “them”.

Sometimes I wonder if we can ever get past the “us” and “them” mentality, the tribalism, that keeps us from being simply one of God’s kids. That’s my own personal idealism and believe me, I’ve had plenty of people tell me I’m wrong. The good news is that I’ve met a lot of folks who share that ideal, so there’s still hope.

I may be completely wrong in all of this. I’ve never been a duck so I’m not sure what’s going on in those little duck heads. What I know for sure is that I’m capable of believing lies. I haven’t cornered the market on “truth”, so I must depend on my fellows to lead me there. Maybe that’s why God thought community so special: so that we could learn from one another and find our way to a better place.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures
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Grackles and Dreamers

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a gray, dreary, and cold weekend here in North Texas. There were rumors of sleet around us, but here in Fort Worth it was a constant drizzle. I spent several winters in the Colorado High Country and I’ve never felt the cold like I do here. It’s the kind of bone-piercing cold that feels like thousands of tiny needles poking you all at once. Of course, I’m much older now and maybe it was simply youthful exuberance that made the cold more bearable. Today is to be warmer and it’ll be seventy in the next couple of days. I’ll quit complaining now…

I had to run to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as busy as usual. Everyone must have opted for Netflix binging rather than dealing with the weather. When I got home, I paused on the porch to enjoy what gray light remained of the day. I’d love to tell how I got tom enjoy the quiet at the end of a long, dismal day, but that wasn’t the case. The caterwauling of hundreds of Grackles in the surrounding trees put an end to any idea of quiet enjoyment of the porch. It was so deafening I couldn’t even hear my inner voice, much less the next-door neighbor saying hello as he walked to his vehicle.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Some of you might be unfamiliar with Grackles, so allow me to explain. The “Great-tailed” or “Mexican” Grackle is a medium-size bird originally native to Central America. According to Wikipedia, they’ve increased their range by over 5500% and can be found through much of the United States. I’m convinced however, that the greatest concentration of them are in my trees…

I don’t wish to offend bird lovers, but I don’t like Grackles. If we lived outside the city limits, I would have no problem declaring open season with the shotgun. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. They bring color and song to our quiet little cul-de-sac. Grackles, not so much. They are, like city pigeons, flying rats. Noisy, flying rats…

Please don’t judge me if you’ve never experienced a flock of Grackles. They are incredible foragers and they have little fear of humans. They mock efforts to shew them away. They fly together in huge flocks, often darkening the sky and even been known to interfere with traffic.

Several years ago, the Grackle problem got so bad in downtown Fort Worth that a noise cannon could be heard going off in hopes of driving them out of the city center. Sundance Square, the jewel in the crown of Downtown Cowtown, was so noisy and covered in bird droppings it was difficult to find a safe place to sit and enjoy a summer evening outdoors. The city sought to drive them away lest they deter commerce and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, they ended up in quiet little neighborhoods like ours. You wouldn’t believe I wash my vehicles and sidewalk regularly.

That being said, I noticed something somewhat unique to our Grackle population. They were all yelling (it can’t really be called ‘singing’) over one another creating incredible dissonance when all the sudden it was eerily quiet. I’m not talking about the noise fading out. It was as if someone yelled, “lights out” and the entire flock stopped at once. It went from a din to silence in the flick of a switch. Looking up I couldn’t see a one.

I guess I’m a bit simple. Little things really intrigue me. The Grackles may be flying rats but they’re awesome flying rats. Now I know there’s several scientific and biological reasons for their unique abilities, but to go from unbearable dissonance to complete silence in a second is pretty darn awesome. It’s not as though there were a few birds here. We’re talking about a flock of hundreds of birds acting as one. Sometimes I wish people were like that…

I sit at my newsfeed every morning, only to be greeted with all the dissonance around me. Everyone yelling at everyone else. Everyone shouting how right they are. Everyone screeching to be heard. Everyone screaming out for their self-interests. Sounds a lot like the Grackles to me.

Imagine if whole neighborhoods, whole communities, acted as one. You know, for the best interest of the ‘flock’. Imagine if my selfishness was replaced by concern for my neighbor, my community, heck, for my planet. Imagine if, instead of yelling to be heard, everyone got quiet together, changed the manner of discourse and talked to one another. I don’t really expect it to happen, but what if…

You’re right, I’m a dreamy-eyed idealist. Maybe the world needs more idealists. It tends to get beaten out of children in favor of being a practical, rational adult. It’s a little ironic that Jesus said we should “become like little children” if we really wanted to live out the Kingdom of God. Like John Lennon sang, “People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com
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Predeccessors

Thoughts From the Porch: All is quiet and peaceful on the porch this morning. Everyone else is sound asleep and I get to indulge in extra cups of coffee all to myself. It may sound selfish, but moments like this are few and far between in family life. I intend to relish in the moment, enjoying the quiet and a sunrise hidden by the overcast skies.

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Ms. Opal and I were invited to speak to a university class about Opal’s Farm. It went well. You all know I love to talk about the farm. As such, I’m rarely intimidated by public speaking. I must admit I was a bit nervous as the class filled. Things have changed drastically since I was a university student. There wasn’t an overhead projector to be found. It may sound silly, but I felt really old. I still remember how cutting edge it was to type my term papers on a gold old IBM Selectric typewriter. Heck, I didn’t even bring a Power Point presentation. Yes, things have changed.

As Ms. Opal and I were walking back across campus to our vehicle, we spoke of sharing our experience with young people. The students at TCU were attentive, interested, and engaging. Not all young people are. That’s a shame.

I am under no illusions. Young people are better navigating the technologies available and I’m glad. If it weren’t for my grand-kids I may never have gotten my phone to work right. Some of you know what I mean. Still, young folks today tend to neglect the wealth of wisdom that comes from our elders and that makes me a little sad.

I’m not saying I have any wisdom to impart mind you. Most of my life has been an example of what not to do. I didn’t start growing up until I was in my late forties. It wasn’t until then that I began to truly appreciate my elders.

Appreciating my elders meant I had to spend more time with them. It began with my Mom and kind of spread out from there. Dad had already passed, and Mom was in an assisted living facility here in Fort Worth. I stopped by to check on her several times a week and see if she needed anything. I met the ladies who sat at her table in the dining room and several of the other residents, particularly those who didn’t have frequent visits from outside the facility.

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I saw the sheer delight in their eyes as they began sharing their life experiences and memories with me. It dawned on me that having someone to listen was all-to-rare for many of them. I’ve found that listening is not only a gift to them, it’s filled my own life with a wealth of joy.

Try to spend some time with your predecessors today. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to impart. Who knows? You might just make their day, and yours will be blessed beyond imagination…

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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

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Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!