Today is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the good old USA. To my friends here I wish a happy feast day filled with family, good friends, and food. We’re having an intimate family dinner here at the Joel home.
As our family has grown, so to has the amount of scheduling going into the holidays. Kids and grandkids balance time with in-laws, other grandparents, and our extended family. Thanksgiving becomes several days long. The final get-together for our family will be on Saturday. In-laws and outlaws, you know…
I will be joining my oldest son for breakfast. Over the past year we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in a long time. He calls every morning on his way to work. It’s one of the joys of my morning. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to the diner…
Down on the Farm: August is a busy
month at Opal’s Farm. The Texas summer reaches its apex in August and the
Spring garden crops are beginning to peter out. The summer squashes have about
run their course and the purple-hulled and black-eye peas are slowing in the
heat. We’ve been extremely blessed this year to have only had seven one
hundred-degree days. The average number by this time of year is eighteen. We’re
very careful in the heat: slow down, drink lots of water, and take more
frequent breaks in the shade of our only tree. When the “feels like”
temperature is in the triple digits it’s better to be safe than sorry. Heat
stroke is no joke!
The high temperatures haven’t
deterred our volunteers. A huge shout out to Harrison, Chuck,
Becca, and of course, Brendan for helping with harvesting and helping plant the
new Fall crops. As we transition to our fall planting there are beds to be
cleaned out, prepared, and seeded with all the great veggies that come in the
Fall. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love and appreciate our
volunteers and fellow “farmers”.
That’s why it’s difficult to write
today’s blog post. Many of you know one of our volunteers (and my trusted
assistant), Brendan O’Connell. Brendan has been with Opal’s Farm since we began
building the first beds and planting the first seeds. Not only has he put
countless hours of physical labor into the farm, he’s also shared ideas and
opened doors that have made our first growing season a success.
When Brendan contacted me about volunteering back in March, I had no idea how important he would become to Opal’s Farm or how much I would come to value his input, appreciate his hard work, and depend on him. For the first four months, it was Brendan who was right in the thick of things whether it was plowing, planting, or marketing.
One day he mentioned one day that his school needed a title or job description for his volunteer work at the farm. He wasn’t sure what to put down on the paperwork, and quite honestly, neither was I. “Farmhand” was an understatement. He was far more than another hand. I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Until it dawned on me: he was the farm co-manager! It would be unfair to call him anything else. His sense of commitment and dedication to the mission of Opal’s Farm is indescribable.
Unfortunately, I knew his time would
come to an end. You see, Brendan leaves next week for the next step in his life
at Cornell University. He’ll be stopping by Cowtown Farmer’s Market briefly on
Saturday and leaving Tuesday. It’s a bittersweet moment for those of us who’ve
come to know Brendan over the last few months. We are extremely happy (and a
bit proud) for him and his new adventure, but it’s hard to see him leave (even
if we do get to see him at winter break).
Part of me is jealous, Brendan. For
those of you who don’t know, Cornell is in Ithaca, New York. Although Brendan
will be studying hard, he’ll be enjoying much cooler weather than those of us
here at the farm! Moreover, Ithaca has an actual Fall season and with it, the
accompanying explosion of color that will awe any good old Fort Worth native.
Winter will be a bit different from Fort Worth (what’s that white stuff called again?), but I’m happy to hear you bought your winter coat online rather than here. There’s not much of a market here for the kind of coats one you’ll need in New York…
Brendan, thank you for everything you’ve done for Opal’s Farm and thank you Mr. and Mrs. O’Connell for sharing your son with us. God’s blessings upon you all. We wish you adventure, happiness, and success in the coming school year. We look forward to seeing you this winter but please know you will be missed and thought of often.
Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the
last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve
tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the
farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy
month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth
celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall
planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.
We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average
temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is
predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains.
We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old
oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm
is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We
hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).
I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.
If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out
small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled
among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the
other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the
It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who
planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the
night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve
this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to
remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow
together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the
thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it
in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).
Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat,
or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson
grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both
good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to
have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative
things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a
reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and
Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…
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…
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…
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”
Thoughts From the Porch: Saturday was Margaret’s
birthday. Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. April is a good month! I pay
little attention to the whole horoscope thing, but I sometimes wonder why my
life is filled with so many Aries signs. Could be something to it but who
Sitting on the porch this morning, enjoying the sunrise, I thought back to the day each of my boys were born. My memory isn’t so great anymore. I can’t tell you specifics like the weather and surroundings, unless of course it’s my youngest son. His birth was rather unforgettable. He decided to make his appearance on the very day a hundred-year blizzard hit Denver in 1982. We went to the hospital in a Jeep Wagoneer someone had volunteered to haul the paramedics since the ambulances couldn’t get around. The snow was so deep it took a week to dig out. You don’t forget something like that.
Adrian, my older one, had the misfortune to be born in
Dallas (that’s the only hospital that honored our insurance). We were concerned
that friends and family wouldn’t recognize him as a native Texan and hence, his
birthright. We’re not real sure Dallas is really part of Texas. However, he
overcame that disability in quick fashion. After much legal (and family)
wrangling, his birth certificate mandates his Texas citizenship…
The boys are as different as night and day, and the
differences were apparent early on. The standing joke is that Adrian popped out
of the birth canal asking if he could rest and get something to eat if that was
no problem. He was laid back and easygoing, even as a baby. His brother,
however, was the complete opposite. When he made his appearance almost two
years later, he instantly demanded to be fed and have the nursery redone to
suit his tastes. Anyone who knows them today will see the humor in that.
A father sees their children differently than the rest of
the world sees them. Fathers lack objectivity in the perception of their kids:
every one of them has the best kids in the world. That’s the way it should be.
I don’t want to start an argument with anyone. Please know that since I have
the best kids in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t. Most of us have a
perception problem when it comes to our children and despite what our culture
tells us, it’s not a competition.
I got to spend some time with Adrian yesterday. That’s
two weekends in a row and that’s a miracle of biblical proportions. He works a
lot and his schedule rarely fits mine. Our times together are few and much
farther between than I like. He recently started dating a young lady who is far
more attractive and interesting than his old man. I appreciate that she
receives more attention than I do. I’d probably be a bit worried if it were
Thank you, Son for a great weekend. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I know I did. Funny thing is though, I received the birthday gift – getting to spend time with you.
Up before dawn and out the door! Thanks to Zimmerer Kubota for the tractor! We’re busy plowing over the rest of Opal’s Farm and building beds. Things are rolling along.
It’s going to be some extremely long days this week so updates on the farm and “Thoughts From the Porch” may be a bit slow in coming. Thanks to all of our supporters, volunteers, and donors. We love you all!