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Sabbath Rest?

I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…

Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…

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I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.

Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…

Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.

However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.

In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.

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I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.   

I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…

The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…

I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.

It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?

Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.

I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.

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It’s A New Year!

I went to bed in 2022 and when I woke up it was 2023! That’s how it is for an old farmer. I rarely make it past the ten o’clock news, so I haven’t seen the “ball drop” in years. I hope everyone had a super News Years Eve celebration and wish each one of you a happy and blessed New Year.

I’m starting the New Year right by heading to Opal’s Farm to take advantage of the seventy-seven-degree January 1st here in North Texas. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, so I’ll make “hay while the sun shines”. That’s the way it is here. Christmas week was the severe winter storm that crippled most of the country. Now it’s Springlike for a few days and there’s much work to be done. Spring planting starts in six weeks.

The last two years have been difficult for Opal’s Farm. The weather has been a run between extremes – from the historic freeze of 2021 to the drought and extreme heat of 2022. Rain and lingering summer heat made for arduous fall planting. The recent winter storm, with its sixty mile an hour winds, blew the covers off the low tunnels and most of the fall/winter crop suffered freeze damage. We probably won’t be able to go to Cowtown Farmers Market this month, but we look forward to seeing you in February.

Extreme weather is becoming the new norm as the climate changes. We’re learning to adapt with new cultivars and vegetables that tend to be heat and drought tolerant. We’ll be bringing some new varieties of veggies to market this year. We are finally able to get some transplants started indoors so harvest will be earlier and more abundant than in the past. We’d also like to thank David Cole, Adjunct Professor of Horticulture at Tarrant County College NW Campus. He and his students will be starting our tomato and pepper transplants again this year. We continue the work of organically farming and building soil health. We’re looking forward to the New Year and we hope to serve more fresh, nutritious produce to our community.

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Meet Ethan Hawk

I had coffee on the porch this morning wearing comfortable sweatpants and a t-shirt. I had to switch the sweatpants out for shorts! It’s been an up and down Fall temperature-wise. December is following the same train. The long-term forecast says I have another three to four weeks before the real winter weather hits (think second week in January y’all…) so I’ll get the row covers and the low tunnels ready. Winter is turning out to be a great season for Opal’s Farm.

The ultimate mission of Opal’s Farm and all of Unity Unlimited is to build a strong local community. Opal’s has always included the soil, the wildlife, and their habitat in that community. Just as all of God’s kids have a basic human right to the food we grow, all creation is sacred, given life by the creator.  Therefore, we are stewards and custodians of a sacred gift – one that is especially holy right here in the middle of Fort Worth.

We’ve always had an abundance of wildlife frequenting the farm. Three coyotes are seen regularly early in the mornings. Great Blue Herons nest on a tree-covered sand bar on the south end of the farm. Egrets are in abundance. This time of year, we also get the many geese, ducks, and cormorants migrating towards warmer climes. The Trinity River is often covered with huge flocks of ducks, geese, and sea gulls all sitting together. Sometimes we just have to stop working and marvel at the choreography of hundreds of them taking off from the water in their assigned flight crews.

We’ve recently discovered a new visitor – a bobcat that keeps ripping the Agribon covers and leaving headless field mice (and a lot of tracks) as gifts for us each morning. We’ve also found a ton of tiny native toads where our new beds are going. We have a farm turtle named Myrtle who trudges across the fields from time to time. We have the full complement of field mice, songbirds, other small field critters, and nutrias from the river.

My favorite though is our resident Cooper’s Hawk, Ethan (it was either Ethan or Tony but since he doesn’t have a skateboard…). Ethan has become quite a fixture at the farm. He moved into the big oak tree next to the farm last year. He even brought a mate with him this Spring, although we rarely see her. Our bird problems have been minimal since Ethan’s been around.

I’ve been clearing sections of sorghum and Sudan grass with a bushwhacker/weed trimmer and Ethan has started to stand behind me and wait until my bushwacker chases field mice into the open. It’s become a great place to hunt, and he stands closer to me each day. Close enough that I backed into him the other. He does not seem to be concerned about Amber and I. I don’t wish to anthropomorphize but I’m sure he understands us when we’re talking to him.

I stop to watch Ethan hunt quite often. I’m always enthralled by his beauty and thank God that he’s allowed us to be a part of his world. He’s a constant reminder of how important being a good steward of God’s creation is. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us of how interconnected God’s world is. It’s said he preached to the animals just as he carried the gospel to people. We often fail to remember just how precious all life – the natural world with its myriad of creatures and wonders – truly is. I’m so grateful to be a part of Opal’s Farm and to commune with the Creator and the created.

“God looked over everything He had made; it was good, so very good” (Genesis 1.31)

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Locally Grown!

November is almost over. Thanksgiving is behind us, and Advent started today. Here in Fort Worth the rain fell over the holiday to make it the fourth wettest Thanksgiving on record. Still, the sun is shining, the day warming, and the soil is making less mud so it’s off to the farm soon.

Opal’s Farm has had to be in two places at once this month, so we took a break during the rainy holiday weekend. We’ll be at Cowtown Farmers Market (the Grand Pavilion at Veterans Park in White Settlement) this weekend with fresh, local, organically-grown produce – Dinosaur kale, Russian kale, Salad Mix, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Sugar Snap peas, Beets, and more…

We’ll also be at the Funkytown Mindful Market (Texas Wesleyan University) for the Holiday Market on December 10th. Come out and enjoy the activities and wellness vendors there as well as our local Grow SE farmers!

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Where Did October Go?

It’s a slow, soaking rain this morning. I’m so grateful for a good rain, especially since we’ve been moving back in severe drought conditions the last few weeks. This month has been crammed with great things – so much so that this is the first time I’ve had to sit down to tell you all about it…

October brings celebration. The 7th was Ms. Opal’s birthday. Ninety-six trips around the sun deserved a weekend-long celebration.

We held a Nobel Peace Prize announcement watch party at the Paris Coffee Shop at 3:00 in the morning. The announcement was to be made at 9 AM Oslo time which is 4 AM here. We were hopeful but not surprised when this year’s prize went to the jailed human rights activist Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and two human rights organizations in Russia and Ukraine. Ms. Opal expressed her thanks to the Nobel Prize Committee and those that nominated her. She then reminded us that there is still much to be done. Even one person can make a difference. Each of us can become a “Committee of One” – committed to compassion, unity, and understanding instead of racism, injustice, and division.

Our thanks go out to everyone at the Paris Coffee Shop on Magnolia and Hemphill for an incredible breakfast and opening so early to host the watch party. They were so gracious and fun to be with. The Paris Coffee Shop is a Fort Worth institution. If you’re a Fort Worth native you’ve most likely enjoyed their breakfast or lunch. If you’re new to town then you need to stop by!

Saturday, October 8th, was Ms. Opal’s Walk for Hunger and Day of Service at both the Community Food Bank and Opal’s Farm.  People gathered at the Community Food Bank at 11 AM to join Ms. Opal on a 1.25 mile walk to end hunger from the Community Food Bank to Opal’s Farm. Afterwards, we cut Ms. Opal’s birthday cake (plural – there were several!) and enjoyed the afternoon celebration together.

I flew to Atlanta the following weekend for the Black Farmers and Urban Growers National Conference 2022. The speakers and breakout sessions were educational and practical for becoming better farmers and seeking agri-justice. My favorite session was led by Dr. Barret T. Vaughn from Tuskegee University on writing grants with the reviewer’s point of view. Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm are growing by leaps and bounds this year. Knowing how to write grants is a big step toward securing available funding to continue growing.

Our National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Urban Ag representative came to tour the farm with two NRCS agronomists. They asked many questions as NRCS has typically dealt with much larger, rural farms. Thanks to Secretary Vilsack and the USDA for beginning to pay attention to urban and small farms. We are here to stay!

This past weekend saw our return to Cowtown Farmers Market and the first monthly Funkytown Mindful Market for farmers. The full Mindful Market is held every quarter, but in response to residents we are holding the farmers market on the fourth Saturday of each month. We appreciate Texas Wesleyan University for their partnership and look to a long healthy relationship with the Poly Heights neighborhood. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.

We’ll be at Cowtown Farmers Market again this coming weekend with lots of fresh kale, salad mix, green beans, radishes, and assorted greens. Please stop by and see us then. Have a great week!

Happy Birthday Ms. Opal!