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Fighting Hunger One Meal at a Time

We are incredibly grateful for Noelle Walker at NBC 5 DFW for her series on “Fighting Hunger” and for the segment on our work at Opal’s Farm. The story aired yesterday on NBC 5: First at Four. The link to the story is at https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/fighting-hunger-urban-farming-in-fort-worths-food-desert/2292808/

I love the opportunity to tell a wider audience about Opal’s Farm. The farm is my personal passion. Ending food insecurity is my reason for getting up in the morning. I know what it’s like to be hungry. No one, especially a child, should have to go to bed hungry.

While I’m well aware of the statistics: one in seven children in Tarrant County face food insecurity. There are over forty food deserts in Tarrant County. Neighborhoods that rely on dollar stores or convenience marts for their groceries often face higher rates of obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a myriad of other health problems. I know those statistics, but I learned a new one from Ms. Walker’s news story today: Tarrant County is one of the top ten most food insecure counties in America.

Let that sink in for a moment…

Tarrant Country is in the top ten most food insecure counties in the country. Not in the state, not in the region. In the country!

I’m angry about that. Fort Worth is my home. I grew up here and fell in love with the history and the culture of Cowtown. Whether it’s the 136th edition of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo or an art exhibit at the Kimball my hometown has something to offer to everyone. Well, almost everyone…

I’m angry because, quite frankly, we’re better than that. I’m upset and maybe you are, too…

Since the NBC 5 story ran I’ve received dozens of emails and social media messages from people who believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm; who believe that an urban farm is just what is needed today. I’ve heard from older folks who remember the old “Greek” farm that was where Opal’s Farm is today. I’ve heard from young folks that want to be a part of a food “revolution” right here in Cowtown.

Opal’s Farm is a hands on way to address the needs of our neighbors. Not only those who struggle with poverty but those families that often work multiple jobs and still face hunger. That’s the reality many of our neighbors live with.

This first year has been tremendously exciting and, to be honest, a little scary. I remember the first time I walked around the levee after the Tarrant Regional Water District had disked and cleared the entire acreage for us. I couldn’t help but feel like I was wa-a-a-y in over my head. It was so big; much bigger than the community gardens I’d built before. What had I committed to?

According to the ancient Taoist proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, so that’s just what we did. We took it one step at a time. There were many missteps along the way. The learning curve was steep and the work overwhelming at times. Still, step by step, bed by bed, seed by seed, Opal’s Farm began to take shape and seeds turned into a harvest that surprised all of us. Talk about starting on a wing and a prayer…

Our second year promises an even more bountiful harvest than our first. We will feed more people than last year, but we need your help. Opal’s Farm is in desperate need of donations to fund the coming year. We are expanding into our second acre. This will allow us to offer a wider variety of produce to the neighborhoods we serve.

The thing I love the most about Fort Worth is the people. We’re a big city (16th largest in the country!) but we haven’t lost that “small town” feel. We’re neighbors here. Neighbors help each other out. Help us help your neighbors with a donation to Opal’s Farm today.

Go to www.unityunlimited.org right now! Click on Opal’s Farm and you’ll find a “donate now” button to make your safe and secure donation to Opal’s Farm. You’ll also find a “Sign Up” button if you’d like to be a farmer right along beside us. We love working beside our volunteers!

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. Your donation today will ensure that one person, one child goes to be with a full tummy because your dollar went to the produce we grew and brought to their neighborhood. That’s not just neighborly, it’s the right thing to do.

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From Opal's Farm to You…

Down on the Farm

Winter started off cold and dreary on Saturday. The high temperature today is supposed to be seventy! You got to love winter in North Texas. Shortly, I’ll be headed to Opal’s Farm to enjoy working in short sleeves!

Before I go, however…

With all the festivities, family, and friends happening tomorrow I may not get a chance to wish each and every one of you a blessed, Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. It’s such a special time of year for us here at Opal’s Farm. We know without a doubt how special each of you are to the farm.

Jameson’s working hard

So…

From All of Us (especially Jameson, the Farm Dog!) at Opal’s Farm,

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year!

May you all be blessed with health, happiness, and joy. May this season bring wonder and awe to each of you!

Thank you for farming with us, for making Fort Worth even better, and for helping bring joy to our community!

And by the way… you can come join me anytime but especially if you want to work in short sleeves today. Just saying…

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com
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Hold On, Spring's Coming

Down on the Farm

What an incredible week! Opal’s Farm truly is a community effort. We’re so proud to be a part of such a vibrant community; people committed to food justice and healthy food for all. Things have really been happening, especially since Giving Tuesday. Thank each one of you who donated on Giving Tuesday, both through our social media pages and through our website, www.unityunlimited.org.

Tender young growth tips of Austrian winter peas. The greens taste like sweet sugar snap peas, but have the texture of lettuce. The pea pods are also good young, or left to mature and used as dried peas, can be used to make an unforgettable split pea soup.
Austrian Snow (or winter) Peas

Winter doesn’t slow us down at Opal’s Farm. The Kohlrabi seed generously provided by The Taste Project is coming in as well as sugar snap peas, green peas, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. We’re also trying a new cover crop this winter – Austrian Snow Peas.

What are those you ask?

Austrian Snow Peas are part of the legume family. They help fix nitrogen into the soil and their long-term flowering is attractive to pollinators. They grow slowly in the winter, withstanding harsh frosts, but grow quickly in the Spring helping with weed control. Not only are they a great cover crop, they also provide great winter greens. The shoots and young pods taste like sugar snap peas with a texture like lettuce. Most of us aren’t familiar with them, but area chefs will be delighted!

Building the Soil

We’ve also been busy preparing for Spring planting. Believe it or not, it’s only two months until potatoes and onions go in! Thank you, Charlie Blaylock (Shines Farmstand), for helping us in preparing and planning for our Spring crops.

Good soil health is critical for regenerative, organic farming. The best way to build the soil is through composting. We’ve been busy spreading compost over our beds with light hay covering to aid our Spring crops.

Spreading compost to improve soil health

Brittany Rosenberg and the City of Fort Worth Code Compliance Department’s Rethinking Waste program has helped us with picking up compostable food waste from places like Sur La Table (thanks Danielle!). They’re working on other sources to help with our composting as well as limiting what goes into our local landfills. Talk about an all-around win-win!

The Tarrant Area Food Bank has been a great source of support for Opal’s Farm. Lauren Hickman works with their teaching garden and the Cooking Matters program at TAFB. With Lauren’s assistance we are now picking up compostable food waste from the Culinary School of Fort Worth. We can’t even begin to put into words how grateful we are for Lauren and the Culinary School of Fort Worth. Their help is making a huge impact on what we will be able to do with our Spring planting!

***Just so you know… the Culinary School of Fort Worth took the initiative to begin composting on their own. They provided an easy system for TAFB and Opal’s Farm to pick up compost and return the containers on a regular schedule. We’d love to talk to your store or restaurant.

Last, but most certainly not least, we are so thankful to be a part of Grow Southeast. A very special thanks to the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Roderick Miles from County Commissioner Brook’s office for their commitment to urban farming and the health and vitality of our neighborhoods. This week they helped us secure an end-dump truckload of compost from Silver Creek Materials. I can already taste the tomatoes that will be growing in those beds this Spring!

Thank you Tarrant County Healthy Collaboration!

I could go on and on. The list seems endless. Thank you so much for the love and support you’ve brought to us in this, our first year of farming. We’d love to have you come out and “play in the dirt” with us. Go to the Opal’s Farm page at www.unityunlimited.org for a volunteer sign-up or to donate today.

Come on down. Overalls are optional…

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Mark the Day!

Down on the Farm

Things are moving along nicely at Opal’s Farm. Many thanks to Ms. Smith’s Dunbar High School seniors who came out to help harvest and work the beds! We love our volunteers; especially the young people who come to work and learn about urban farming.

Giving Tuesday is one week from today.

Please give to Opal’s Farm on this special day of giving. Your donation to Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm grows (quite literally) to bring fresh, healthy produce to area food deserts and neglected neighborhoods.

Giving Tuesday may be global but it’s never been more important to give to your local community. Every dollar you contribute to Opal’s Farm helps end food insecurity (a nice way of saying hunger) right here in Fort Worth; your neighbors and your community.

You can give via our Facebook Page, Opal’s Farm, or through the Unity Unlimited, Inc. website, www.unityunlimited.org

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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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Hiatus…

Thoughts From the Porch: I had a meeting this morning that allowed me to have a brief time on the porch. September usually doesn’t allow it. This is our busiest time at Opal’s Farm. There’s new seed to be planted and watered (frequently!). Fall is a great time for crops in Texas although it’s kept me away from the porch temporarily.

TRWD Trinity Trash Bash After Party

The farm is a great substitute for the porch. On the days I don’t have volunteers working I get to spend some alone time with God: perfect for prayer and meditation. Things will settle down next week and return to a slightly normal schedule. Stay tuned. Thoughts From the Porch is just taking a little hiatus. I’ll be back next week.

Love you guys!

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We Couldn’t Do It Without You

I’m adding a new blog ” Down on the Farm” to the website. It helps save a bit of time with our social media posting for Opal’s Farm. I hope this isn’t taken as self-promotion as I can tell with all certainty that Opal’s Farm is our farm and couldn’t happen were it not for you all. So, without further ado…

Down On the Farm: Happy Friday to you all! It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm despite the stifling heat. Fall planting is progressing. The compost pile is getting bigger thanks to all the hard work of Brittanny Rosenberg with the City of Fort Worth’s Code Compliance Department and Harrison Gibson with the Taste Project. Ann and Johnny with Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound have delivered trailer loads of goat poop and shavings for our beds. My son said he’s never seen anyone get so excited about poop! If he saw how it regenerates the planting beds and the better yields, he’d probably understand my excitement.

Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening of a new documentary called Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. The film is an eye-opener and a must see for each of us. As a farm manager I know how much food is often wasted on the front end of production unless one is committed to composting and rebuilding the soil which the food came from in the first place. As a vendor at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, I see how much food gets overlooked because of its appearance. Finally, as a consumer, I need to reevaluate my own ideas about food and food waste. Thank you to the Tarrant Food Policy Council for holding the event and the work they do so diligently right here in Tarrant County. Thanks again to Brittany for seeing that all the food scraps were to be donated to Opal’s Farm.

I could (and will soon) be writing more about our food waste and our relationship to the food we consume. What hit me was not only the film, but the number of great people working on issues of food justice, food insecurity, and food access. Oftentimes, the stuff that makes the news can feel overwhelming and create a sense or powerlessness. But we never hear about the people working quietly behind the scenes to make our world, and our little piece of it, a better place.

Not Me, Us…

I saw some familiar faces last night. I met many more working toward the same end. I felt intense gratitude for those who have come along side to help and guide me toward making Opal’s Farm a success. Someone mentioned how far I’d brought the farm along. I had to correct them. We have brought the farm a long way.

Most of you know I love to give ‘shout outs” and thanks to our volunteers. However, in the rush of day-to-day operations of the farm I often fail to regularly mention our sponsors and partners: especially those there from the very start.

For starters, none of this could’ve happened without our benefactors and friends at the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD). I won’t rehash the story, but they believed in the idea of Opal’s Farm for several years before Opal’s Farm became a reality. Without their gift of five acres and their continued support for the farm, 2,000 pounds-plus of fresh food would never have reached Fort Worth neighborhoods so far. (Side note: TRWD will be holding their annual “Trash Bash” September 21st. We’ll be there and hope you are too!)

We needed a place to store equipment and supplies. Since we were on the flood plain, we needed something temporary, but secure. We were in a quandary until Paula Pacinins and Container King showed up with an 8’x40’ shipping container to use for storage.

We were ready to start plowing, but we had no tractor; until Brandon Hendrickson with Zimmerer Kubota entered the picture. Zimmerer Kubota provided the tractor and implements we needed to turn the soil and begin building planting beds.

Manually creating planting beds is a difficult and slow process with shovels and rakes. I wasn’t looking forward to the slow, tedious process of building beds. During our planning stage of the farm we had become members of Grow SE, which is a group of folks committed to urban farming. Grow SE is also a project of Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration.

In March, Linda Fulmer with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration purchased a BCS tractor for each of the Grow SE growers to share. The BCS tractor made quick work of building the beds and off we went!

Brendan and the BCS tractor hard at work

Shortly after our ribbon cutting in February, the White Settlement Home Depot steeped in and asked to partner with Opal’s Farm. Store Manager Natasha Neiderhart and Team Depot Captain and Assistant Manager Jeff Williams delivered tools, supplies, and everything we needed to get started our first season.

A little secret – the White Settlement Home Depot store has always been my favorite! They offer old fashioned customer service and a feeling of community you don’t always experience elsewhere. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I’m fiercely loyal to my Home Depot store!

Brandon Castillo with Cowboy Compost donated the compost necessary to get our first crop going. By the way, it was a pleasure to meet you last night, Pete. You all are doing a terrific job!

The Marty V. Leonard Fund at the North Texas Community Foundation and the Ken W. Davis Foundation provided the initial funds to begin Opal’s Farm. We are eternally grateful to Marty Leonard and to Cullen Davis for their support.

Since the beginning, we have enjoyed the support of many of our local officials. I know I’m going to omit someone I shouldn’t because there has been so many. However, I’d still like to single out Councilperson Kelly Allen Grey. Ms. Grey is the Council member for our district. She’s working for us to establish neighborhood “pop-up” farmers markets. The support of the Mayor and each of our Council members is appreciated more than we can say.

Last, and certainly not least, is our brother, friend, mentor, and fellow farmer, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand. I’ve told you all about Charlie before, but I’m going to tell you again. My feeble words are not near enough to explain what he means to Opal’s Farm and me personally. He’s been every step of the way with us. He’s provided knowledge, guidance, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Starting a farm isn’t an easy endeavor. Honestly, there’s been more a few times I’ve been a bit frustrated (that’s an understatement!) and wondered if this project was going to fly. He’s been there every time to help me (and us) back on track and keep growing.

Because of Charlie’s support, we haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. That’s important. When I first saw the farm cleared and how much land there was, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world I had gotten myself into. I was full of self-doubt and thought I’d bitten off far more than I could chew. It was Charlie Blaylock who broke it all down and showed how to eat one bite at a time.

I know I’m forgetting someone. That tends to happen when you get older. I apologize for the senior moment. Let me be clear, this has never been a “me” deal. It’s always a “we” deal. Opal’s Farm is a vital, active part of Fort Worth because of Fort Worth, because of you all.I can’t forget our volunteers and I’ll tell you about them in a coming post. They have been critical, especially during harvest. But I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and tell you a bit of how much we love and appreciate our sponsors and partners. We are doing this! Thank you for making our community a bit better ad bringing locally grown, fresh produce to or community!