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You Give Us Freedom to Grow

This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.

We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.

Maggie “I’m so sorry!”

Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…

Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.

This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful “village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most because of the people that fill our lives.

That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops, building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely important time.

As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.

The turnips and radishes are almost ready…

None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.

Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.

Along the way there have been many volunteers who have lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project, Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.

“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty to ask you for more.

While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools, supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit personal here…

When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what God called us to do.

For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.

We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”. That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and personal.

Business, especially farming, requires planning for the coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind donations we’ve received from our sponsors.

Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your support. We know this is a “we” project.

I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500, each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more urgent to help Opal’s Farm

 Please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and click on the Opal’s Farm page to donate today.

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It’s a Tough Job, But Somebody’s Got to Do It

Down On the Farm: Hey! Jameson here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. Every farm needs a dog to make sure everything flows smoothly. My human, Greg, he may be the farm manager but I’m the one who keeps it on track. That is just what I do!

Jameson on Patrol

Being as farm dog is hard work. First thing in the morning I patrol the perimeter. We started with an acre and it makes for a long walk. Next season we’ll be enlarging the garden, with more of our five acres cultivated. That may be more to patrol but I’m up for it.

Sometimes I go well beyond the confines of the farm. I’ll take off down Trinity Trail and Greg inevitably yells “Jameson” every time I get out of sight. Having my quiet stroll interrupted gets on my nerve, but I know Greg can’t do his job without my supervision…

Then I take a hike through the underbrush around the farm. You know, make sure no uninvited guests or other pesky critters are about. We’ve had a bout with furry little long-tailed rodents eating holes in the cantaloupe and watermelon. I’m proud to report that several melons have been saved due to the diligence of yours truly.

After all that work, I get to enjoy a nap in the shade of the truck or, even better, take a bath in the Trinity River. It’s usually a short one though. There’s work to be done and if I don’t keep an eye on things, who will?

Nap time or play time?

I love it when volunteers come to work at Opal’s Farm. All those extra hands get so much done! I really stay on guard when they’re there. I love our volunteers!

I hope you come to see us at Opal’s Farm. We’re doing great things and would love for you to be a part of it all. Besides, volunteers mean more people to scratch my ears…

I better get off for now. My human is coming and it’s off to the farm. See you soon!

I took a break over the last few weeks due to the heat. I guess that is why they call them the “dog days of summer”. Don’t worry though. Now that Fall is finally be here, I’ll be a fixture at the farm. My human, Greg, did a good job during the hottest days of summer heat but I know he missed my wit and wisdom…

By the way, I forgot to mention you can contribute to Opal’s Farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org or through our Facebook page. To volunteer, simply go to our website, click on Opal’s Farm page and then click on the sign up to volunteer button. See ya!

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Dogs Don’t Just Eat Homework

I have no idea why this posted as “Auto Draft” but here’s the real headline…

Thoughts From the Porch: Last night filled with great music, hot coffee, and a chance to check the emails filling my inbox from the last few days. It may not be most folk’s idea of a great Saturday night but it’s fine by me. To sit and get caught up, especially in air-conditioned comfort, is a golden opportunity indeed.

I get a LOT of emails. Most get a quick scan and deleted but there are a few newsletters I read religiously. Pet MD sent their weekly update. Anything benefitting our fur babies is of utmost importance. We strive to be the best pet parents possible and always look for helpful tips to keep our pets in good health.

As a writer of content and copy I know the value of a great headline. This week’s Pet MD had one of the best I’ve seen – “What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Weed?” It got my attention right away. I’m not sure I would’ve been asking that question publicly. I did notice that it said weed and not “my” weed. You know, just in case…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To be honest, I never thought of asking that question, but apparently, marijuana toxicity in dogs is on the rise; especially in states where it is now legal. Although I no longer indulge in THC (I’m in recovery, not judging), I imagine I would be mildly pissed if my dog ate my weed. From what I understand, the dime bag is a thing of the past…

How do you know if your dog ate your weed? According to PET MD, Clinical signs include:

  • Incoordination
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Low heart rate
  • Dribbling urine
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Low or high body temperature”

I would personally add to the list empty packages of Oreo cookies and Hostess Twinkies scattered about the house, a lack of motivation to chase the squirrel ten feet away, and an abnormal fascination with the television. Just saying…

During my younger and far more foolish years I had a Golden Retriever who once ate half a pan of THC-infused brownies (where they came from, I’ll never tell!). Had I known the potential for life-threatening illness I might not have had such a good laugh (after my initial anger over the lost and somewhat expensive brownies, of course). The THC made her quite content to lay on the edge of the porch and watch the cars pass by. I assume she enjoyed the rest of her evening. I know I did.

If I’d known then, what I know now…

Fortunately, my dog survived her momentary intoxication without any ill effects. In fact, she slept it off until the next afternoon. However, I did notice she was unusually attentive to the sound of storage baggies opening. Had I known about weed toxicity back then I might have been a bit worried, but all’s well that ends well…

The take-away from all this is don’t get your dog high, no matter how much they enjoy it, either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not good for them. Store your weed (and your cookies) out of reach. Keep your weed and your pet safe and secure.

Have a great weekend my friends…

Photo by Michael Fischer on Pexels.com
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Escape Artists and Neighbors

Life loves to grant opportunities for introspection and growth. Sometimes they come from unexpected, and often, unpleasant places.

Sadie, our Rottweiler/we’re not sure what else, is the happiest dog that has ever graced our home. She’s the smallest of our three rescue pups but has been known to take on a pit bull that made the mistake of jumping into our (more appropriately “her”) backyard. She’s sweet, gentle, and incredibly smart. The “smart” part can sometimes be a problem…

Our little stinker! I can’t stay mad when I see this face…

She recently discovered a space where she can jump the fence into our neighbor’s yard and escape to the front yard. She loves to explore, and our cul-de-sac offers endless opportunities. Our other two dogs, Jameson and Maggie, are bigger and I just assumed she had found a hole somewhere to crawl through. After several attempts to block any small holes she might have found, our neighbor informed me where she was jumping the fence. Our neighbor went on to explain that he didn’t want her in his yard. He has a two-year old daughter and was fearful of Sadie. I dutifully affixed a guard to prevent her from jumping in the same spot.

Did I mention Sadie was incredibly bright? She apparently found another spot. I put her in the house and tried to figure out where she was jumping the fence. It wasn’t long before the White Settlement Police came knocking on my door asking about the “dog problem”.

I’m somewhat ashamed of my initial response. While I was quite friendly to our local law enforcement (who threatened us with “doggie jail”), I wasn’t so gracious thinking about our neighbor. I fantasized all the possible ways I could make his life miserable. After all, we had put up with the chaos coming from their house – the noise, the loud swearing at the kids, and the dog who stayed on our front porch rather than in their backyard (a cute little cuss who ate our cat’s food) and never said a word. They, they, they! Mouthing off to anyone who would listen (sorry Son for interfering with the hockey game), I made for a great self-righteous, pompous victim…

Self-righteous anger doesn’t serve me well. I had time to calm down and go on to bed. Sleep is amazing. I awoke with a far calmer attitude: that is until my morning routine was broken by having to take time to take Sadie out on her leash. Agitation quickly returned.

I finally grabbed my coffee and greeted the morning in my usual way with morning prayer and meditation on the porch. However, thoughts of the previous evening’s police visit kept interfering with my prayers. Suddenly, I remembered Jesus’ words:

“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend (or in this case, a neighbor) has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5.23-24 The Message)

I didn’t think it wise to go to my neighbor at six o’clock in the morning. I pondered the situation further. I began to look at the incident from God’s perspective, forcing me to look inward rather than outward toward my neighbor. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.

A little back story is in order…

We live in a well-kept, older working-class neighborhood. Most of our neighbors have lived here for years. They are either retired military or retired Lockheed Martin employees. The only time children are playing outside is when grandkids (or great-grandkids) come to visit, so it tends to be quiet.

The neighborhood demographics are changing. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here. There’s more younger people, families, and racially and culturally diverse residents. Several of the older residents on the block have passed away over the last couple of years. Their children, who already have places of their own, usually put the homes up for sale. The housing market is tight in our area, so a couple of the houses have been purchased by investors to either “flip” or keep as rental properties. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here.

The house next door is one such property. It’s always been bit more run down than other homes on the block. It’s been bought and sold a couple of time in the last year and a half. The first owners did little in the way of improvements so when the present owners began working hard to bring it up to current building code, we were thrilled.

New Neighbors…

We watched with a degree of trepidation as the new family moved in next door. They were loud and seemed to have a hundred people helping them. After they settled in, we learned all the “helpers” were family members. It turned out they had ten children and one on the way. So much for our quiet little cul-de-sac!

The solitude of my evening porch time has often been broken since they arrived; by the younger one’s screaming and crying and the parents yelling at them with a variety of swearing and threats. The two and three-year-old kids have repeatedly been found walking around the block without parental supervision (or clothes). The older ones often block the street playing basketball daring neighbor’s vehicles to interrupt them. It goes without saying that our new neighbors are difficult to live with. No wonder I felt justified in my anger about the dog incident.

Unfortunately, justification only goes so far. It’s a great substitute for reality. Was I mad because they called the cops on my dog or was it because I couldn’t stop Sadie from getting out? Who was I upset with? What was I afraid of? It always seems to come down to fear.

The questioning began growing deeper and deeper. The guy had told me he was concerned about his two-year old. I know Sadie wouldn’t hurt a fly, but does he?  Could I not see he had a point? The deeper I looked inside the less I could point fingers at him. I hate it when that happens!

Shifting Perspectives

One of my favorite prayers is the “Saint Francis Prayer”, especially when the line asking to “understand, rather than be understood”. It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget it when things don’t go my way. While I’m grateful my perception, my thoughts, and my actions are less self-centered than they used to be, I still have days when the world just needs to “do as I say”. Father may know best. I do not.

I probably won’t be running next door and apologize for my ill thoughts. Thank God for the pause button between my thoughts and my actions. I tend to re-act slower and think a bit more before acting these days. I don’t appear to step on as many toes and quite frankly, making amends and corrective action is not on my favorite list of things to do. As my friend Jim used to say, “Crow is best eaten fresh…”

What I will do is pray to “understand, rather than be understood” and stay here on the porch enjoying my morning coffee. It’s funny how much easier it is to bask in the peace and solitude that follows a bit of understanding…

Would you call the “Doggie Police”?
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Rain Days…

It’s quiet down on Opal’s Farm. The rain has been falling since the pre-dawn hours and work came to a halt. Jameson the Farm Dog curled up next to my desk when the thunder rumbled earlier and hasn’t moved since. He’s not a big fan of thunderstorms. I’m convinced it’s due to the many nights in a kennel at the shelter. I can only imagine how it must feel to be alone with thunder crashing outside and a hundred other dogs barking. I’d be scared too…

Rain Days!

Needless to say, I’m working inside today. You can’t plow in the mud and stuck tractors are not much fun…

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Jameson the Farm Dog

Thoughts From the Porch: I had a big day planned. The operative word being “had”. One of the frustrations in farming can be the dependence on the weather, the one thing that cannot be controlled. There’s either too much rain or not enough, either an early or late frost, a brutally hot summer or a brutally cold winter. Farming is always dependent on the weather. So, it is this morning…

Still, even a day of rain can be a blessing. This week has been a bit hectic. Keyboard time has been limited to thank you notes for our ribbon cutting attendees and constant appeals for donations and sponsors. That’s the perpetual chore for most non-profit organizations. However, since I had to rearrange the schedule to fit the weather, I found the time to share some thoughts from the porch.

Waiting to leave for Opal’s Farm

The morning started with threatening skies. I greeted the day with mixed emotions. Part of me wanted it to rain. It’d be a great excuse for staying home and this has been a busy week. When the clouds finally let go of their watery loads with a resounding bang, I felt a twinge of relief. Jameson, on the other hand, did not.

For those of you who don’t know, Jameson is the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. I’m not sure his title ever went to a board vote, but I made an executive decision as Farm Manager that he would be our official mascot. Besides, I’m not sure I would even know how to farm without a Farm Dog.

Jameson came to join our little family almost three years ago. Missy, my Sheltie companion of ten years, had passed away in March of that year and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ready to adopt a new dog (another story for another time). She was more than simply my best friend. She was special. I can’t explain it any better than that. Pet parents will know exactly what I’m talking about.

One day, almost a month after Missy died, I was at the feed store up the street from the Humane Society of North Texas animal shelter. I was finished early for the day and I could just stop in to look, right? I stopped in and wandered through the kennels. I was rather proud of myself that I didn’t make an impulsive decision, but when I got home, I had to confess to Margaret I’d opened a door that maybe I shouldn’t have.

To my surprise, Margaret said, “If you want to adopt a dog, then maybe you should. Our home seems a little empty now”.

I said, “thank you but maybe I’ll think about it some more”. I started on some chores, but an hour later I was headed back to the shelter. I wanted to get there before they closed. So much for taking time to think about it.

To make a long story short, in the very last kennel I inspected my heart simply melted. I left the shelter with Jameson (although we hadn’t decided on a name yet). The incredible folks at North Texas Humane Society were happy to share some of his background. He was nineteen months old and had been born at the shelter. He’d been adopted twice before and returned because of “behavior problems”. Most of his life had been spent in the shelter and the employees loved him. He had a bit of a reputation there and I took him around to say goodbye before heading home. The last thing they told me was that “he’s not a ‘cuddler’.”

Fast forward to today and I can tell you he doesn’t know he doesn’t like to cuddle. In fact, he obviously isn’t aware he’s not a lap dog (a 100+pound lapdog, mind you!). He got his name because from day one he’s been a licker. I don’t need a shower after a few minutes with him. Why not name him after my favorite liquor, Jameson’s? Licker, liquor, get it?

As I sit here writing this, Jameson is right by my side. He’s really a ‘Momma’s boy’, but when it thundered, Jameson found his place by my side. You see, he’s terrified of thunder. I can’t say for sure what the root of his phobia is, but I think it has to do with being in the shelter those many months. Living in North Texas is pretty scary during the Spring thunderstorm season. I imagine it’s even scarier for a young dog in a kennel by himself with a cacophony of other dogs barking around him…

As for behavior problems I still haven’t figured that one out. Jameson is a typical Catahoula – fierce enough to take down a wild boar or a bear and gentle enough to love on our grandkids. The only thing I can figure is he was waiting on us to be his family.

That’s Jameson’s story. We’ve since been blessed with Maggie (a Catahoula-Coyote mix, or as Margaret says, a Coyotahoula) and Sadie (our pretty mixed breed – part Rottweiler and…?). They love the farm as well, but there can only be one official Farm Dog and Jameson earned that title…

One may wonder why an official Farm Dog is such a big deal. Only those who have known the love of a canine companion really ‘get it’. To say that dogs are “man’s best friend” is a gross understatement. Besides, I’m sure his spirit will make the produce grow bigger. It’s made my heart grow bigger…

It’s time for dinner!

The day I brought Jameson home he ventured out into the backyard for the first time. At once, he went straight to where Missy was buried and sat reverently as if to pay his respects to my beloved friend. He sat there for quite a while, then went to the other end of the yard to take care of dog business. One can’t tell me that dogs lack the same spirit we all share. I want that kind of spirit around our farm as well as our home.

So, here’s to Jameson the Farm Dog. Feel free to stop by and visit anytime but be prepared to cuddle!

For those of you who don’t know, Jameson is the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. I’m not sure his title ever went to a board vote, but I made an executive decision as Farm Manager that he would be our official mascot. Besides, I’m not sure I would even know how to farm without a Farm Dog.

One day, almost a month after Missy died, I was at the feed store up the street from the Humane Society of North Texas animal shelter. I was finished early for the day and I could just stop in to look, right? I stopped in and wandered through the kennels. I was rather proud of myself that I didn’t make an impulsive decision, but when I got home, I had to confess to Margaret I’d opened a door thaThat’s Jameson’s story. We’ve since been blessed with Maggie (a Catahoula-Coyote mix, or as Margaret says, a Coyotahoula) and Sadie (our pretty mixed breed – part Rottweiler and…?). They love the farm as well, but there can only be one official Farm Dog and Jameson earned that title…

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Monday by Myself…

It’s a beautiful morning out on the porch. Margaret left in the pre-dawn hours to stay with a friend who’s four-month-old is undergoing a procedure this morning. In respect for HIPPA laws, I won’t name her friend, but I will ask that all lift them up in prayer for a successful outcome.

One of the things that always attracted me to Margaret (we knew each other for several years before we married…) was her love for others. In the years since we married, I’ve been blessed to see it up close. She’s much better at it than I am. I’m grateful for the example she shows me every day. She is truly an amazing lady and the very best of God’s gifts to me.

Her absence left me more time on the porch this morning than usual. I watched the sun rise and enjoyed a rare warm January morning. The birds were particularly soulful in their songs today. They were probably enjoying the mild weather as much as I was. The weather will change later this morning so I’m sure they’re soaking up the sunshine as much as I am. One learns to relish in the warmth anytime they can here in North Texas since it will change in an instant – a reminder that nature can never be tamed to our liking…

Three Dog Morning…

I get the rare opportunity to enjoy the solitude of the day and an empty house. Our dogs ran outside to send Margaret off earlier, but they didn’t hesitate to run back inside so they could have the bed all to themselves. I couldn’t even make the bed.

The “To Do” list is long today. After all, it is Monday, but the unusual quiet is nice. My thoughts seemed to be about everything but the day’s business ahead of me. Sometimes that’s a good thing…