Thoughts From the Porch: Another beautiful Spring Day here in Fort Worth so it’s off to the farm. No time to write this morning. Before I go, I just wanted to say I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. We did here at the Joel household! Any time you spend you get to spend a whole weekend with close friends it’s a great weekend!
“Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask but when we are challenged to be what we can be.” — Morris Alder
“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.” — Desmond Tutu
Easter symbolizes resurrection and rebirth. May we all live as Easter people today.
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.
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
I spent last Friday morning at the
farm with a prospective donor. We talked about the mission and purpose of
Opal’s Farm for over an hour. The farm is about more than simply providing
access for fresh produce to a largely forgotten neighborhood. It’s about
building a better Fort Worth and serving our community. While that’s a worthy
mission, the means by which we accomplish that mission is the tangible “goods”
that the local community receives. What makes Opal’s Farm so special and why
should you be a part of it? This is the second reason “why”.
Last Friday, we talked about “dirt therapy” and the physical and emotional well-being that comes from working the soil. The sense of community, of connection, and the increased physical activity shared with others of like mind is amazing. Even though that’s reason enough for anyone to come out and work or support the farm, your “why” might be as simple as providing food for your neighbors.
When I was talking to our
prospective donor the other day, I mentioned that Ms. Opal had been late for a
dinner meeting the evening before because she had to drive a long way to get
lettuce for the salad. He looked at me with a bit of confusion, “Why couldn’t
she go to a store around here?”, he asked.
I told him that there was no store
around here. The closest one was several miles south of the neighborhood. I
explained to him that United Riverside, our neighborhood, is a food desert. The
USDA defines a food desert as anyplace were access to fresh, healthy food is
more than one mile away. He was a bit shocked that there were over forty food
deserts listed in Tarrant County alone.
Honestly, I’m not surprised.
Everyone touts the great economy and growth Fort Worth has experienced over the
last few years. Politicians and business leaders point to the success Fort
Worth and the growing economy has had. We often don’t hear the grim statistics
and the reality for many of our neighbors. I’ve thrown them out there many
times before, but statistics are often abstract and overwhelming.
In Tarrant County, one in four
children go to bed hungry each night. One in four, 25%! For blacks and Latinos,
the number is even more staggering – one in three children face hunger. That’s
33% of kids right here in Tarrant County!
What can you do about it? Now that
you know the numbers it’s overwhelming. When a problem is of a scale that’s
overwhelming it can foster inaction. It’s easy to say, “I can’t help everybody”
and so no one gets help.
One of my favorite quotes comes
from Mother Teresa. It’s at the bottom of every email I send out. It says, “If you can’t feed a
hundred people, then feed just one.” We do what we can, and Opal’s
Farm provides the “why”. Through a simple farm we begin tackling the issues of
food success and food scarcity. We can’t feed all of Fort Worth, but we can
bring health and vitality to a neighborhood through each season’s harvest. You
have to start somewhere…
Maybe you’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the size of
the problem. Maybe you feel like you don’t make a difference. Maybe, just maybe,
you do. Helping at Opal’s Farm, whether by donating or volunteering is the
first step. It’s something tangible.
Mother Teresa said something else that always comes to mind, too. She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” I’m no math genius but I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of small acts with great love constitutes a big thing.
If you’re wanting to make a real, tangible
difference in the lives of others please consider your donation or volunteer at
Opal’s Farm. If you’re still not sure, I’ll give you another reason “why”
“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.
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.
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…
Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.
An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood
) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must
click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually
code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with
one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever
writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will
get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.
Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by
my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it
from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like
someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment
came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one.
This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the
originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself
in how each was written.
The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see
me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He
would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation
produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast
forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more
friendly for me.
I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty,
remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met
through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it
was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of
looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me”
I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.
As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.
Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and
Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase
productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own
obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…
I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always
promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature
of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I
‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’
to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I
‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I
say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered
Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave
a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I
don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you
already have then please share your results with me!
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!
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:
elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
creates jobs, job
training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income
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.
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.
Thoughts from the Porch: The world beyond the porch is still. Light is just beginning to peek over our neighbor’s roof to the east. I greet the sunrise with my first cup of coffee and some Miles Davis. I’m not sure life gets much better than this. In a couple of hours, I’ll be incredibly busy at Opal’s Farm, but for now, I’m doing absolutely nothing and savoring the moment.