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Ms. Opal’s Dream and the Best Birthday Ever

I sat on the porch this morning, thinking about yesterday and making a mental list of today’s lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I turned sixty years old yesterday and it was the best birthday ever! I spent it with some incredible people. The new project I’ve mentioned in previous posts has become a reality. I’ve been looking forward to the day I could tell you all about it and that day has arrived.

To understand the importance of yesterday’s events, you need to know what ‘food insecurity’ is. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. In Tarrant County, one in four children, and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic, go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live under the Federal Poverty Threshold of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25 % of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Feeding America websites)

The bottom line is that there’s a problem with hunger and the myriad of health problems that are a consequence of food insecurity. It’s not just an economic issue, but an availability issue as well. Food Deserts, which the USDA defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”, which  mean that there’s no local grocer or farmers market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. Tarrant County alone has over forty food deserts according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Often the only food available is at local convenience stores and is often of little nutritional value. Processed, convenience foods are one of the largest contributors to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. What can I do? My friend Edgar once asked how would I eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. Yesterday, a meeting with some fantastic people took a bite of the proverbial elephant. Sometime back, Ms. Opal Lee, a long-time activist from Fort Worth and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) was granted use of vacant acreage in Fort Worth by the Trinity River Water District for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Yesterday, that first bite, her dream of building an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community, moved into action.

I am blessed and unbelievably excited to be a part of Ms. Opal’s dream. I was familiar with Ms. Opal some time back, particularly because of her “Walk to Washington” and lobbying to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. Although I was formally introduced to her only a few months ago, she has quickly become one of my heroes. At 92 years young, Ms. Opal’s energy and selfless-spirit is contagious.

The farm will initially encompass five of the sixteen acres available and preparation for planting will begin shortly. The farm uses the model provided by Bonton Farms in Dallas: an agricultural intervention as a means of eliminating the local food desert and contributing to the health and overall, both physical and spiritual, well-being of the community. The farm will be 100% organic. Planting will be based on the needs of customers and the community. Long-term plans include goats, chickens, and beekeeping as well. Above all else we want the farm to provide local jobs, job training and new entrepreneurs and neighborhood Fort Worth.

The meeting yesterday started the wheels turning and I’m so blessed to be a part of it all. This has been not only Ms. Opal’s dream, but mine as well. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘farmer’. I’ve prayed often that God would open the doors of service to others. Yesterday was simply another of God’s answered prayers. We could use yours as well.

I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of our urban farm with you as we move forward. We plan for development to proceed quickly enough to have the initial planting later this year with a winter crop. If we have any doubt about our success, we need to remember that Ms. Opal’s already prayed about it and that’s pretty good assurance….

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Hotter than hell…

I’ve written a lot (probably too much!) about the hundred-plus degree temperatures we’ve experienced here in North Texas. It’s always hot in Texas in the summer, but this year the thermometer began to climb earlier than usual. Heat-related illnesses make for crowded emergency rooms and everyone seems a little worn down by it all.  One local municipality even passed an ordinance against leaving pets outside. The heat is hard on everything and it isn’t limited to North Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Report for June 2018, states that 2018 is on track to become the fourth hottest year on record. The previous three years account for the top three. Somini Sengupta, International Climate Correspondent for the New York Times, reports in an August 9, 2018 article, that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001”. I get it…

In California, where excessive heat and dry conditions led to one of the worst wild fire seasons and the largest wild fire in state history, ‘the new normal’ has become a staple of official vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the term is incorrect. This is not the ‘new normal’. I wish it was. That’s not what the data suggests. Reaching a plateau now would be a relief, but the fact is that we’re still trending upwards in average temperature. We haven’t reached ‘normal’ yet.

I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like for my grandchildren. Like every other parent and grandparent, I want the very best for my kids but I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. When the changing climate alarm bells began to go off, we either hit the snooze button or turned the alarm off altogether. We went right on sleeping, oblivious to everything around us and, at the risk of sounding crass, sh** got serious. I hope our kids are forgiving…

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. According to a 1912 article in the Rodney and Otamatea Times. Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, scientists foresaw the continued burning of coal leading to climate change. It wasn’t an immediate concern, so why be inconvenienced? Besides, our brilliant minds and emerging technologies would take of it! So, we ‘kicked the can down the road’ and carried on, charging ahead full of denial and greed. That’s the reality of it. We stuck our heads in the sand and left it to the business and political powers that be and left it to posterity. To our chagrin, our kids pay the price for our willful ignorance, laziness, and neglect…

In the Hebrew Bible, God says that the sins of the father will “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Children, in their innocence, bear no guilt on their own, but they suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices. We chose to delay action and failed to heed the warnings. Now our children face an uncertain, and possibly even hellish future. Again, all I can do is hope our kids are forgiving…

I’m not sure about the whole ‘heaven and hell’ thing I grew up with, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that a loving God didn’t create hell; nor does he wish it on any of his kids. However, I firmly believe he loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices (you know, the ‘whole free will’ thing), and whether they’re good or bad, they all have consequences; sometimes reaching into future generations.

I don’t know what the future holds for this wonderful planet we live on. Though the prognosis is bleak, I’m hopeful about our ability, and particularly our kids’ abilities, to adapt and change course. I believe in redemption. I believe in grace. I believe in ‘repentance’ – that change of thinking, perspective, and direction that leads to positive change. That’s my personal experience and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of countless others. Amazing things happen when I take responsibility for my actions and begin to make better choices. I hope my kids harvest the positive seeds I sow today. Maybe then their future won’t be so hellish after all.

In recovery, there’s much talk of ‘breaking the cycle’, whether it’s of alcoholism and addiction, abuse, or a myriad of other downward spirals in one’s lineage. Yet, only I can choose to break the cycle by the choices and actions I take today. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. I may not be able to stop climate change on my own and save the planet, but I can save my tiny space in the world and urge others to do the same. I can grow a garden, love my neighbors, and do something because it’s the right thing to do, not just for my family, but for the common good of the community around me.

Despite the fires, droughts, melting ice caps, and rising seas, I have faith and a hope today that my kids won’t have as much to forgive me for. Just as poor choices and short-sightedness leave its mark on the next generation, so too, do good choices and right actions. Today, I’m looking beyond myself, toward the future my kids will inherit, and pray my actions only pass on good things to ‘the fourth and fifth’ generation’.

What will you do?

What’s the one thing you will do to make your world a little better today?