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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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Easter People…

Thoughts From the Porch: Another beautiful Spring Day here in Fort Worth so it’s off to the farm. No time to write this morning. Before I go, I just wanted to say I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. We did here at the Joel household! Any time you spend you get to spend a whole weekend with close friends it’s a great weekend!

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

“Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask but when we are challenged to be what we can be.”   — Morris Alder

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.”   — Desmond Tutu

Easter symbolizes resurrection and rebirth. May we all live as Easter people today.

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After the Deluge…

Porch time has been nonexistent for the last week. I knew rain was coming over the past weekend (after all, it is the Main Street Arts Festival weekend here and it always rains), so I took advantage of the sunny, dry days to work on Opal’s Farm. We had a ninety-degree day, which is fifteen degrees above average for this time of year. I’m sweating (no pun intended) the heat coming early and fast like it did last year. More severe thunderstorms are predicted for this evening. It looks like desk duty is on for the rest of the day…

Spring is here!

I was driving home Monday evening and noticed that Saturday’s rain brought an explosion of color to the landscape. The Bluebonnets have been up for a couple of weeks, but the other flowers seemed unsure as to whether they should make their appearance as well. I guess the weekend storms were the signal. Primrose, One-Eyed Susan’s, Buttercups, and Indian Paintbrush: the list goes on. It amazes me how one day they’re absent and the next they’re in their full splendor. Poof! It’s magical…

Beginning to pop!
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Cloudy and Cool

Thoughts From the Porch: I got up early this morning expecting a heavy rain, but found dry ground and overcast skies instead. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the weather folks were so insistent it’d be raining this morning, I planned to stay home and work about the house. As it is, I’ll take advantage of the dry weather to squeeze another day’s work out of Opal’s Farm. One can never tell how many dry days lay ahead. Such is Spring in Texas…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I thoroughly enjoy my days at the farm. It can be frustrating being a “start-up”: money is always tight (and sometimes non-existent – hint, hint…) and grants are difficult unless you’ve been around a while. I’m so thankful for partners like the White Settlement Home Depot store and Team Depot, Zimmerer Kubota, Healthy Tarrant Collaborative, and Container King for providing the support and tools that make Opal’s Farm a success.

The first year of farming is the most difficult. It’s extremely labor intensive. There’s infrastructure to be built and is contingent on the weather and volunteers to help with the work. We’ve been blessed with volunteers. TCU student interns are working on social media, fundraising and marketing. Riverside Arts District has provided neighborhood support for the farm. I receive calls inquiring, “can I volunteer?” The answer is a resounding yes. You have no idea how much we love our volunteers!

Well, I’m off to the farm again. Before I go, I want to remind you to go to Opal’s Farm Facebook Page or to www.unityunlimited/opalsfarm.org to make your secure donation today.

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Sunshine and Sunburns

Spring officially arrived this week and I have the sunburn to prove it. I’m not bragging, mind you. I feel guilty for even mentioning this because I know some folks are still dealing with the effects of a lingering winter. I lived in Colorado for many years. Sporadic winter storms could pester everyone until April sometimes. Planting ones garden often had to wait until May. Heck, I remember going over Monument Pass in white-out conditions on June 6th. Apparently, it set the record for latest snow on Colorado’s front range.


If you’re feeling a bit envious of our warmer weather, please know Spring in North Texas can be a bit tricky as we make up the southern end of “Tornado Alley”. Severe thunderstorms are our version of ‘Bomb’ cyclones and blizzard conditions. They just don’t last as long.

The sunshine brought a busy week to Opal’s Farm. Thanks to Zimmerer Kubota and the tractor they provided, the plowing is finished, and bed preparation has begun. The first season of farming is the most difficult simply because all the ‘infrastructure’ must be built (from the ground up – no pun intended). Organic farming becomes easier with each passing growing season because more organic material is put back into the soil.

Caring for the soil is why we call it regenerative agriculture. We rebuild and renew the soil instead of draining it dry of nutrients through chemical applications of herbicides, insecticides, and typical commercial fertilizers. Caring for the soil is also the way we practice stewardship of the creation we get to enjoy. Most importantly, care brings a bountiful harvest for our community.

Today’s post will be short. The sun is shining, and wet weather is coming this weekend so it’s time to get busy. This afternoon, Texas Christian University (TCU) students working with the Tarrant Food Policy Council are coming out for a photo shoot at the farm. We are so grateful for TCU, their support, and their work to make urban agriculture a success in Fort Worth. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Dr. Aftandilian’s class for each and every one of his students who are working with Grow Southeast and Opal’s Farm. Thank you, TCU!

Just a reminder – we can’t do it without all of you. WE love our volunteers and donors. You can always donate to Opal’s Farm by going to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/unityunlimited or directly to http://www.unity unlimited.org. Make sure you note that it’s for Opal’s Farm.

Well folks, I’m off. See you at the farm…

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Bluebonnets and New People

Thoughts From the Porch: I got to see the sunrise this morning. Big deal, you say? It is after several days of rain and overcast skies. I know we’ll be praying for rain in a couple of months, but I have way too much to do to stay at the desk.

Photo by nagaraju gajula on Pexels.com

A slight chill hangs in the air as a reminder that the official start of Spring, the vernal equinox, is still a week away. Still, the birds are singing and I even saw Bluebonnets peeking through the grass. For those unfamiliar with Texas, Spring comes with an explosion of bright color along side our highways and bi-ways. I know it happens elsewhere, just not like here. Bluebonnets bring vibrant blues, followed by the orange and black of the Indian Paintbrush. Yellows and deep greens fill in the blanks and everywhere is awash with blooms. It makes up for the winter months and reminds us to truly “stop and smell the flowers”.

Facebook will soon be plastered with pictures of people sitting in fields of blue. That’s a big thing here in Fort Worth. Taking pictures of loved ones, especially kids, amongst the wildflowers is a tradition for many folks here in North Texas. Nature provides the perfect background for the best portraits. The photographs are constant reminders that life is always fresh and new, even during the coldest of winters.

Each Wednesday I attend the Fort Worth Development Group (FWDG), a business networking and development group that seeks to “Bridge the gap between Business and Ministry through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace.” I knew that I needed to network for my writing business even though I’m painfully shy in new situations. I picked the FWDG because of their Mission Statement and quite frankly, it was close to my house. Maybe I’d be more comfortable with like-minded folks despite my fear they would engage in “religious speak”, but hey, I didn’t have to go back, right?

What I found was a group of business people who really do seek to cultivate meaningful relationships and help each other grow. It’s not simply lip service. I’ve come to look forward to my Wednesday meeting, knowing I will leave feeling stronger in my faith and in my business. Life is fuller and richer when I step out of my comfort zone. I find new friends and new resources for living well.

My friend Edgar always reminds me that “self-sufficiency is a lie”, we need something beyond ourselves to live life well. We need each other. I’m happy to be surrounded and supported by the myriad of people God has brought into my life. What’s your circle?