Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this
morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm
so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot
Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.
Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level
tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual
death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s
like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting
God’s grace is the only thing that
will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is.
They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion,
to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the
resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we
cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power
lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…
“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)
Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the
resurrected life I’ve been given…
“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)
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”
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.
The test of love is in how one relates not to saints and scholars but to rascals — Abraham Joshua Heschel
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…)
I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from
9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because
“Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam.
I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the
things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more
numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.
Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.
There are instances envy can have
positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action
leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you
had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy.
It may be frustrating at times but leads toward
action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of
The other side is the one we are most
familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a
superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in
– pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.
I could go into all the science,
psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but
I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical
story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally,
how envy reared its ugly head in human society.
The book of Genesis tells of two
brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a
farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his
produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his
herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice
and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables
growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.
Anyway, Cain was peeved that he
didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient
Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well,
won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you,
ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7
I can only imagine what Cain was
thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at
one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I
get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’
enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered
that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s
good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that
Most of us know the rest of the
story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to
pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in
the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the
consequences of his action. I’ve been there.
In my younger years I chased a lot of
pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as
competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back
then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me.
There’s no way I could ever measure up.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced
envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of
getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he
walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair
and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed”
or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.
It’s not that I don’t care what
others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images.
I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free.
My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and
serenity. Life is good…
Ultimately, it’s not important what
you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what
God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s
especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because
He’s especially fond of all His kids.
I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…