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What’s Plan B?

A researcher from the City of Austin called me a couple of years ago to ask some questions about having an urban farm on a floodplain similar to Opal’s. The city had recently bought out a thousand homes because of flooding on Williamson and Onion Creek. They wanted to build an urban farm on the property and much like governments do, they had to do a study first. Not that it’s a negative mind you. One should “count the cost” before jumping in, but the city was overthinking the whole project. That tends to happen a lot…

Anyway, this nice grad student from the University of Texas called to pick my brain and had a very long list of questions to be answered. Our conversation went well. Yes, there are challenges to urban farming and no, they’re not that big a deal. Farming teaches us how to work with nature and not against it. Moreover, it’s always a risk since nature tends to win no matter what we do. That’s just the way it is. Resilience must be a core value.

She asked me a question I’d never thought of before: what is your Plan B if it floods? It took me back a bit. “What do you mean by Plan B?”

She went on to explain that they were on a twenty-five-year flood plain and they needed a Plan B if it flooded there. I had to laugh and then remember I was talking to a researcher for the city. Cities have a need to put everything in a plan. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t work like that. I guess that’s why I love it so much. There’s never a dull moment.

I informed her that we had no “Plan B”. If it floods, we rebuild the beds and replant. What else is there to do? Maybe that’s a tad easier for me to say since we are on a hundred-year floodplain and have never had to deal with flooding – at least until this week.

The local media is calling this week’s rain historic. We received a month’s rainfall in a day – fifteen inches at Opal’s Farm. The Trinity River breached a section of the levee and flooded the back half of the farm. I was finally able to drive down there by Wednesday. Walking the beds and negotiating some of the still standing water I was surprised to find the back road covered in dead fish – hundreds of them. The levee is slightly lower on the south end of the farm and had washed over that section and when it receded, it left our finned friends high and dry. It was a first for us.

Needless to say…

We spent the rest of the week on “Plan B” – clean up, rebuild, and replant. We were unable to make Cowtown Farmers Market this week, but we should be there next week. We didn’t lose any of our existing crops although everything was covered in mud. The rain and the cooler nights have led the tomatoes to bloom in force and begin setting tomatoes again. Everything is a vibrant green on the farm once more. The dead fish have been added to the compost pile, so I assume we don’t have to spend anything on fish emulsion. The rain brought us down for “Extreme Drought” stage to “Severe Drought” stage. After all, resilience is one of our core values…

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My Own Mind…

There are sometimes when I’m glad there is nobody else at the farm with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love our volunteers and they take a huge burden off my back. Still, there are times when it’s just me and the farm. Everything else seems far away. The soil becomes a part of me. The plants are greener, the pace slower, and all is right with my world.

It probably helps that we finally received some measurable rain after sixty-eight days without. It wasn’t much and it didn’t affect my work – the tractor hardly threw up any mud after the sun came out – but the cooler temperatures and the sprouts of green across a sea of drought-brown reminded me of the ever-present circle of life at the farm. Drought and intense heat bring a sense of hopelessness with it. It begins to weigh heavily and it’s easy to simply go through the day without noticing the wonder of God’s creation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose father farmed tobacco in Tennessee. His father always told him that farmers loved the rain and had to appreciate droughts because it gave them the opportunity to find new ways of growing. Opportunity instead of problem – where have I heard that one before…

The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced that I too, can be grateful for drought. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (even drought), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present you requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.4-7).

This summer helped me find new processes to make Opal’s Farm more successful and get more healthy, fresh produce to our community. God sends everything in it’s time. The rain came just when we needed it the most. The farm is a constant reminder of the ebb and flow of life, of nature. I’ve forgotten that at times. It was okay before I got there, and it will be there when I’m gone…

I take care of the plowing, planting, and building new beds when I’m by myself. I relax, stick on the headphones with some great music (and the Bluetooth to hear the phone over the tractor), and go with the flow of the day. I heard a Lyle Lovett song that I’ve decoded to make my own. I get it and it sums up my days pretty well. Hope you enjoy it…

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Tired, but Hopeful…

Spring and summer leave little time for writing. There’s planting, harvesting, replanting, and constant irrigation going that must be moved manually each hour. The heat came so early to North Texas that everything is bone dry the next day. We’re also facing severe drought here so it’s a constant battle just to keep the crops watered properly. The long string of 100-degree plus weather makes for a long day and early bedtime. Although there’s been no shortage of topics to write about, I’m a bit frazzled and brain-baked by the time evenings roll around. Such is the life of a farmer…

Opal’s Farm held a Volunteer Appreciation Cookout for the 4th of July. It was well-attended, and everyone ate their fill of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled veggies from the farm. The farm is one of the best places in Fort Worth to watch the annual fireworks show and a crowd came in from the neighborhood to watch and share in the festivities. Unfortunately, the fireworks show only lasted a couple of minutes this year. The fireworks set off huge grass fires on the banks of the Trinity River and officials cancelled the rest of the show. Some kids threw fireworks off the train trestle by our gathering, and we had to rush to put out the grass fire they started. It was an eventful evening all the way around.

The cancellation of the big Fort Worth fireworks show seemed a fitting end to the 4th of July this year. Independence Day was either a birthday party celebrating America’s birth or a funeral for American democracy. I haven’t failed to keep up with the news. A funeral is more likely. Shall we go down the list: the January 6th hearings, an attempted coup, the recent slate of restrictive Supreme Court rulings, the 300 plus mass shootings so far this year, massive voter suppression and on and on…

I’m not big on labels, especially political ones. However, I read an article by Adam Russell Taylor of Sojourners Magazine that spoke of the “exhausted majority” (https://sojo.net/articles/pastoral-letter-exhausted-majority). He pointed out the polling showing the majority of Americans feel left out and tired by the continuous division that dominates our political and civil discourse. Most Americans have “flexible views that don’t fit consistently in the Left/Right binary”.

Somebody finally put a voice to my thoughts. I get it. I’m exhausted. I dread even talking to people some days, so I just turn off the news, crank up the music, and cover my head so I don’t get hit with all the verbal and political crap flying by from both extremes. Exhaustion often leads to cynicism. I don’t like cynical people, especially when the cynic is me, so what do I do?

  • Take a break. I need to remember it’s okay to rest. Rest is necessary. It seems even God thought one should rest. He took a break after His work creating the universe and asked the Jewish nation to take a day to do the same. The Gospels tells us that Jesus often withdrew to “a lonely place” to pray, reflect, and recharge his spirit. I’m pretty sure it’s okay to do the same…
  • Pray. A lot. I’m not talking about the “God bless America” prayers of politicians and the religious right. Keep it simple. The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start – “Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
  • Vote – My true citizenship lies in God’s kingdom but my participation in the political process here asks that I vote for “the least of these”. Which candidate reflects the policies that will most benefit the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant. (Yes, I said immigrant – God constantly reminded His people to care for the immigrant – the foreigner – among them). Speak for the voiceless. (Side Note – We will be registering people to vote at upcoming markets and events. This year reflects the need to vote more than ever.)
  • Act in love – Some years ago it was fashionable among Christians to wear little bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do, or WWJD.  The fashion trend passed but the question remains. If I’ve prayed for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven than maybe, just maybe, I need to live a kingdom life here instead of waiting around for some mystical eternity. Maybe it means I need to see the world as Jesus as sees it, to see its people as those created in the very image of God, and to agree with the Creator – “it is good” – not perfect mind you, but good.

It’s much easier to find common ground when the Creator is evident in each of us, especially when we know how much God loves us. It becomes impossible to hold His love to ourselves. It must be shared.

Today, I’m taking a rest, enjoying the air conditioning, and asking to God to simply help me love others better. I don’t feel exhausted. I feel hopeful. There’s a lot to do…

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Summer Treats!

The summer heat started earlier than usual this year. May was a little scary because it was so hot and dry. We are listed in the severe drought range like much of Texas, but we’ve had rain over the last couple of weeks that has made the farm erupt with new veggies. The Cowtown Neighborhood Markets have started for the summer and Opal’s Farm is having a banner year. Sales have been up and, most importantly, our local neighborhoods are getting fresh, local produce! We’re always at Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning and be on Thursdays for the remainder of the summer.

The okra is coming along
The Butternut Squash is almost ready
Pumpkins for Halloween anyone?
The Zucchini is truly a “Gold Mine”
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Spiders and Miracle Cures

I came home Saturday from dinner with my wife at the rehabilitation hospital. She’s made incredible progress since her back surgery and should be coming home soon. My step-kid is out with her friends for a birthday celebration. The house was quiet. The dogs were happy to see me but quite content to remain comfortably splayed on the love seat and sofa. I made a pot of coffee and headed out to my chair on the front porch to enjoy the cool May evening brought to me by the cold front that blew in this afternoon. The northerly breeze chased away the record-breaking ninety-degree heat that made the last fifteen days drag on and on…

I sat on the porch for a long time. I was captivated by what turned out to be a tiny spider that seemed to hang in mid-air from my porch facia. He was so small I initially thought it to be the remnants of yesterday’s dinner for a much larger arachnid or maybe just a bit of leaf debris from the wind that had gotten caught on a strand of spider’s silk. I’d noticed it yesterday but let it be. Not so today though.

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

I went to clean the speck of hanging debris when suddenly it began moving across a very fine web draped across the expanse of the front porch. I stopped and was immediately intrigued by the tiny creature before me. He couldn’t have been more than a quarter-of-an inch in circumference even with his miniature legs fully extended. As he settled into the new spot on the web, he pulled his legs up close to his body and remained motionless; waiting for a dinner that may take hours to come.

I sat back down in the chair. This tiny speck had been hanging there for the last couple of days and I’d never taken time to see it for what it was – an intricate web wholly spun by a creature so minute I’d thought it to be airborne trash. It occurred to me how much wonder I miss in an average day. I’ve prided myself on being able to stop and see the magnificent creation God has made but lately I’ve suffered from a serious case of “busyness”. Busyness is a terrible sickness.

The last month has been filled with meetings, the hospital, classes, presentations, and struggling to keep the farm irrigated during the hottest start to May on record and severe drought. Add to those the normal farming duties – harvesting and selling at Cowtown as well as a new farmers market – and there’s little time to sit, write, and notice the beauty that’s just waiting for me. While all those things are important, I’m convinced human beings were never meant to multitask…

Take my teensy little spider friend. I’m not sure how long it took to create his engineering masterpiece. All I know is that it wasn’t there one day, and it was the next. It was singleness of purpose that brought about a small miracle. Spiders may measure time differently than people, for all I know, but I don’t know of any humans that could build such a marvel in one night. The world has an abundance of such marvels. Many of them right outside my front door.

This morning I decide to take a moment to sit, enjoy my coffee, and put all else to the side. Busyness fights me all the way, but I need the medicine of quiet and relaxation to stop and take in this day that the Lord has made. Listening and watching one of God’s tiny, overlooked creatures put things in perspective – at least for today. What’s on your front porch?