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Finding Your “Why”: Part Three

I must apologize for the delay in posting the third reason to become an Opal’s Farm volunteer or sponsor. It’s been quite a week at the farm. Over an acre of beds are finished and several hundred feet of landscape fabric were laid around the perimeter to help deter the infamous weeds from encroaching on the finished product. Unfortunately, the weekend storms ripped the fabric from the landscape staples requiring repair just in time for more severe weather. Such is the farm life…

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a young man named Brendan O’Connell regarding Opal’s Farm He had seen a news story about the farm on KERA 90.1 and reached out to me for a farm tour. He has become a volunteer for Opal’s Farm and exemplifies a big “why” for anyone. So, without further ado I turn the spotlight on Brendan.

Brendan graduated from Fort Worth Country Day School last year. He decided to take a “gap year’ after high school and will start at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in August. However, he isn’t using the gap year to take it easy. He’s volunteered at a local low-income clinic as a Nurse’s Assistant and started at the farm this past week.

His interest in urban farming began six years when he started his own garden and raising food for his family. He told me he developed an interest in “the relationships between agriculture, public health and medicine, and the economic dynamics” that affect marginalized communities and food deserts. He’s thrilled that an urban farm has come to Fort Worth wants to learn as much as he can while he’s here.

He has been invaluable since he started. I can’t begin to tell you how much we’ve been able to accomplish in short order. He goes well beyond interest in the farm. I asked him about his “why”. I mean no offense, but he’s not your typical nineteen-year-old.

His original email offered some insight as to his motivation, but it goes beyond mere intellectual curiosity. He’s genuinely concerned about the common good; about our community. He sees Opal’s Farm as a solution to the issues of access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being of neglected neighborhoods. An urban farm enables all our community to thrive and become a better place to live.

One Acre Down…

His interest will help in his future studies. Beyond that, it fills a desire to be part of the solution for food justice and the health of each of us.

I often tell Brendan how grateful I am for his service. What I’ve failed to communicate though, is the gratitude I feel for everyone who looks beyond themselves to the community and the common good. I’m hopeful for the future of my hometown, and by extension, my world, when I see young people like Brendan committed to the solutions.

If you’re still searching for your “why” I have some more ideas coming. In the meantime, if you can’t volunteer at this time please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and make your secure donation to the future of Fort Worth’s neighborhoods.

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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…

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Happy Monday

The test of love is in how one relates not to saints and scholars but to rascals — Abraham Joshua Heschel

Photo by Mircea Iancu on Pexels.com

Thoughts from the Porch: A very happy Monday to everyone! A thunderstorm passed through our little village last night, so I had a bit of time for the porch this morning while waiting for the sun to dry the topsoil a bit. It’s hard to plow mud! I’d prefer the rain waited until we finished the beds for planting, but in North Texas we take what we can get (most of the time anyway…)

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Cloudy and Cool

Thoughts From the Porch: I got up early this morning expecting a heavy rain, but found dry ground and overcast skies instead. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the weather folks were so insistent it’d be raining this morning, I planned to stay home and work about the house. As it is, I’ll take advantage of the dry weather to squeeze another day’s work out of Opal’s Farm. One can never tell how many dry days lay ahead. Such is Spring in Texas…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I thoroughly enjoy my days at the farm. It can be frustrating being a “start-up”: money is always tight (and sometimes non-existent – hint, hint…) and grants are difficult unless you’ve been around a while. I’m so thankful for partners like the White Settlement Home Depot store and Team Depot, Zimmerer Kubota, Healthy Tarrant Collaborative, and Container King for providing the support and tools that make Opal’s Farm a success.

The first year of farming is the most difficult. It’s extremely labor intensive. There’s infrastructure to be built and is contingent on the weather and volunteers to help with the work. We’ve been blessed with volunteers. TCU student interns are working on social media, fundraising and marketing. Riverside Arts District has provided neighborhood support for the farm. I receive calls inquiring, “can I volunteer?” The answer is a resounding yes. You have no idea how much we love our volunteers!

Well, I’m off to the farm again. Before I go, I want to remind you to go to Opal’s Farm Facebook Page or to www.unityunlimited/opalsfarm.org to make your secure donation today.

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“Us” and “Them”: Part Three – The Wright Brothers Were Wrong

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s frigging cold! I huddled over the trusty old desk in a long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and the space heater turned on high as close as I can get it without burning myself. Did I ever mention my office is the coldest room in the house?

Our home was built in the 1960s. Back then, builders in North Texas weren’t concerned with energy efficiency and insulation. Since Margaret and I moved in we’ve made improvements slowly as the money has come. Rare cold days like today put a strain on the heater and thus my office is simply damn cold. Anyway, the rant is over. On to other things…

Photo by Inge Wallumru00f8d on Pexels.com

Experience has taught me to look for the positive in every situation, albeit hard at times. It’s usually easier after the fact. I may be wrong, but I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood looking backward”.

There are times when our ability to believe a lie is a positive thing. My wife has dealt with back issues and chronic pain for most of her life. She’s had many surgeries and some post-operative infections over the years. The doctors have often given little hope of keeping her out of a wheelchair and are always surprised when we walk into a new appointment. Her philosophy through out her lifetime has been “don’t tell me what I can’t do”.

Doctors base their truth on the evidence at hand. We tend to call it an opinion rather than a truth, but it’s an opinion based on facts. The facts indicate Margaret should not be ambulatory, but don’t tell her that. She doesn’t believe it. She pushes through and is still, albeit with a cane, walking today. Her refusal to accept the facts lead her to live a better life and she’s not alone.

Whether you believe man left a garden, or the African savannah doesn’t really matter. Either way, I can imagine those early humans sitting around the tribal campfire after a long day of hunting and gathering. Autumn has set in. There’s a chill in the night air. As they laugh and chat about their day, a flight of geese heading south for the winter passes overhead.

One of the guys looks up and says, “I wish I could fly south and get away from this winter. Maybe I can find a way to do just that”. His other buddies crack up with laughter and tell him how goofy he is. He becomes the object of ridicule. After all, man doesn’t have wings and can’t fly like a bird, right?

Fast forward many centuries to the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci is busy drawing a flying machine. Man is still thinking of ways to “head south for the winter”, to fly like bird. If you fast forward to a hill at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and the Wright Brothers finally the first airplane flight. Just a few decades later and we’re walking on the moon. Go figure…

Now the truth is man can’t fly. No matter how fast one runs across the meadow flapping man-made wings, they fail miserably. I know. I tried it, but that was back in the seventies and involved hallucinogens which is another story all together. The fact, the truth, is that man can’t fly.

Before you deem me simple of mind take a moment to think about it. Have you ever known a man to fly? I haven’t but I have seen man create new and better airplanes and forms of flying machines. They fly; sometimes without a human pilot aboard. I know it’s all semantics, right? Still, I’m thankful old Wilbur and Orville believed in the lie that man could fly. Because of their belief in a lie, I can hope a jet for Jamaica in the winter (which I really wish I were able to do today…), soak up the sun, and take a dip in tropical waters. You see, there’s something positive in everything.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By now you’re probably asking what this has to do with “Us” and “Them”. The truth is humans were created to live in community, to live life together, and what’s inside each of us is inside all of us. This sounds so cliché, so trite, but it’s the truth. The truth is there is no “them”, there’s just us.

My friend Edgar always said, “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe”. If I believe the “Them” lie, I can justify all kinds of bad behavior toward others. My belief system is faulty. I believe a lie. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be a duck, but I’m not, so today I’ll try to be the best “Us” I can be and act accordingly.

What do you believe?

“Show me how you act and I’ll tell you what you believe…”

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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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The Big Day

To say I’m excited would be an understatement! Several years ago, Ms. Opal Lee had a vision for an urban farm. The Tarrant Regional Water District offered Unity Unlimited, Inc. (our non-profit!) land near downtown. All it was waiting for to make it a reality for was the right time. That time has come!

Opal’s Farm is ready to start planting our first crop!

In honor of the big day, Opal’s Farm is having a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, February 15th, 2019 at 11:00AM.

Opal’s Farm is an agricultural intervention to bring fresh produce to area food deserts and revitalize Fort Worth communities. Our mission is to improve the overall health and welfare of local communities through food access, jobs, job training, education, and self-sufficiency – in keeping with old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish (or farm, in this case), and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Come be apart of the journey beginning with our ribbon cutting on February 15th.

I’ve attached an invitation. Please park in the vacant lot in front of the entrance to Opal’s Farm and join us for the big day!