Down On the Farm It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm. We had a bit of a thunderstorm this morning following a week of fantastic weather. Thanks to the Blue Zones Project we have a large sign for the entrance to Opal’s Farm. Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota delivered a tractor to begin plowing our second acre. Several volunteers, new and our regulars showed up to help this week. We hope it chased away the coronavirus blues!
We’ve been so busy this week we almost forgot to wish our fellow farmers a Happy National Agriculture Day. On Tuesday the 24th Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said,
“Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world. Now more than ever it’s important that the American people not forget that. Our farmers are resilient, and during these uncertain times they are still working, day in and day out, to produce what’s needed for our growing population. Today, on National Ag Day, I challenge the American public to keep our farmers, ranchers and producers on their minds – for all their work to provide us a safe, healthy and abundant food supply. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
We are grateful to you all as well. Your support is, as always, absolutely amazing! Tuesday was especially eventful. The sign for our barn at Opal’s Farm was installed, letting everyone know about Opal’s Farm. I feel bad singling people out for recognition, but Brenda and Carol with Blue Zones – Fort Worth have been incredible. I know it’s a team effort and I can’t thank Blue Zones enough.
Tuesday also saw the start of our expansion into acre number two. One of our sponsors and great friends, Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, delivered a tractor for us to use in plowing our second acre. We’ll be smothering the area in wood chips to control the weeds and provide compost for the next season. Brandon surprised us with a tractor with an enclosed cab and air conditioning. It was perfect for the above-average temps this week (almost 90 degrees…). Thanks Brandon, Jerry, Sam Zimmerer and all the good folks at the North Fort Worth store.
Special thanks go out to Kiersten, Alexis, and Mike for harvesting almost thirty pounds of sugar snap and green peas. You all saved them from my constant snacking as I went down the beds…
It’s a bit muddy following this morning’s rain, but the sun has come out making for a beautiful Saturday. We’re expecting a washout for this coming Monday so I’m off to make hay while the sun shines…
Down On the Farm: Governor Abbott announced the State Health Emergency and Executive Order limiting gatherings to ten people and a number of business closures for the next two weeks. I’ve spoken with several people this morning who asked if Opal’s Farm was still open and accepting volunteers. The answer is a resounding YES. However, there are some changes we’ve made due to COVID-19 and the ongoing crisis.
To volunteer go to www.unityunlimited.org and click on the Opal’s Farm page. The Sign-up button will give you a calendar with dates and times. Please note that there are only four slots for each for morning and afternoon. We are limiting the number of volunteers to ten or less in accordance with CDC and Texas State Guidelines.
While at the farm we ask:
Please honor CDC social distancing requirements (6 feet apart) with other volunteers.
Stay home if you have a runny nose, headache, persistent cough, or a fever. You can come to Opal’s Farm any other time.
That groups cancel any workday already scheduled for at least the next two weeks.
Volunteering at Opal’s Farm is a great way to get out into the sunshine, get a workout (the gyms will be closing), and do something great for the community. With changing schedules and many folks having additional spare time we hope that you’ll come visit us at the farm.
We hope that each of you stays safe during this difficult time. We’d love to see you!
Down On the Farm: It started raining in the pre-dawn hours last Friday. It’s been off and on rain, heavy at times, but without the severe thunderstorms that are so frequent in North Texas this time of year. The above-average temperatures we’ve had often contribute more damaging weather. I may not be able to work at the farm, but I can enjoy the morning a tad longer from the porch.
All around Fort Worth, Dogwoods, Bradford Pears, and Texas Redbuds are bursting with pinks, whites, and reds and emerald greens dots shine throughout the woods. Bluebonnets dot the roadsides. All the other Spring wildflowers are close behind. The vernal equinox may be a few days away, but the flora announces Spring is already here.
Down on the farm the green peas are coming along nicely and almost ready to pick. The sugar snap peas aren’t far behind. The carrots need to be thinned and weeds are always an issue no matter what time of year it is. Thanks, Kiersten for all your help weeding!
The early Spring planting is completed. The turnips, beets, spinach, and green onions went in the ground and the rain is a welcome guest. There’s something about heaven sent rain that makes everything grow better. Jamison the Farm Dog is hard at work protecting our new crops from pests!
We added an herb garden this year. We set aside a couple of smaller beds for tarragon, cilantro, and sage so far. The rest – basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme – will go in later this month.
We’ll also be preparing to expand into our second acre. A huge thanks goes out to J. Davis Tree Care Solutions for all the wood chips they’ve dropped off. We’ve been mulching our walkways and furrows. Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, is delivering a tractor after this rain clears out. We’ll be able to plow and cover the new acre with a thick layer of wood chips and cover crops (thanks to Jay Schmigdall!). It will hold down some of the weeds and provide excellent compost and nourishment for new planting.
We also need to give a huge shoutout to Lauren Hickman at the Tarrant Area Food Bank. She provided us with two flats of celebrity tomatoes they raised at their Learning Garden. She’s also been a wonderful help with arranging composting and a great source of wisdom for Opal’s Farm.
The rain meant rescheduling some of our volunteers. Farming, whether urban or rural, is dependent on the weather. Thanks to all for being so understanding. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon.
For those of you who haven’t been out or would like to volunteer at Opal’s Farm please sign up at www.unityunlimited.org. Go to the Opal’s Farm page and click on the sign-up button. Feel free to find a time that works best for you and come join us!
Today we’re thankful for all of your support through our first year at Opal’s Farm. So far this year we have provided almost two tons of fresh, healthy vegetables to our neighbors, food banks, and of course, Cowtown Farmer’s Market. That’s just from our first acre! Imagine what we’ll do in the coming year with more help and support from people like you.
Today we’d like to say how grateful we are for our great partners and sponsors, volunteers, and customers!
Zimmerer Kubota was our very first partner. Brandon Hendrickson, at the North Fort Worth store, came alongside us and provided the tractor needed to prepare the land for planting. Moreover, he’s always ready to help Opal’s Farm meet our equipment needs. We can’t thank Sam Zimmerer, Brandon, and Zimmerer Kubota enough for their commitment to make Fort Worth a great place to live!
Container King in Sanger, Texas donated a forty-foot shipping container to use as our “barn” (Happy Thanksgiving Paula Pacinins and crew!). A barn isn’t of much use without all kinds of tools and farming supplies, though. Natasha Neiderhart, the Store Manager at the White Settlement Home Depot (it’s always been my favorite store!) and Team Depot jumped in to fill our barn with all the tools and supplies necessary to start our first season. There aren’t enough words to express our gratitude for their sponsorship.
We can’t forget the Marty V. Leonard Foundation, the Rainwater Foundation, the Dee Kelly Foundation, and all our financial sponsors and donors that helped us take root and grow. Your support and contributions saw us through the tough times of first year farming. We are looking forward to a bountiful coming year with your continued assistance.
Starting any farm, especially a non-profit urban farm, is tough going. It takes several seasons to regenerate the soil for effective farming and higher yields. There are constant weeds to fight since the soil hasn’t been worked in many, many years. Money is always tight. Many foundations or donors like to see something besides a vacant field before contributing to an idea. Our friends at Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration ( www.healthytarrant.org ) and Blue Zones Project https://info.bluezonesproject.com/live-long-fort-worth have been invaluable in terms of contributions, whether volunteering or supplies.
Enter Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand. Before the first spade broke ground, Charlie was beside us to plan and consult every step of the way. When money was unavailable for seed, Charlie stepped in and donated seed. When I had questions or simply needed a pep talk, Charlie was there. Because of Charlie we haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. We’ve been able to move forward quickly toward our goals. Charlie was featured in the winter issue of Edible DFW Magazine. Check out https://www.edibledfw.com/winter-2019-20/how-charlie-shines-a-light-on-fort-worth/… Personally, Charlie has been my mentor and friend since the day we met. Read the article and get a sense of how blessed we are to have Charlie for a friend and partner.
Last, but definitely not least, is the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD). Without them Opal’s Farm wouldn’t exist. Together with Ms. Opal Lee, they envisioned a farm along the banks of the Trinity that could work to end food deserts and food insecurity. Thank you for your belief in us and your unbelievable support.
I know I haven’t named everyone. We’ve had so many folks help us with time, labor, and donations that I know I would leave someone out (That’s what happens as you get older…). Please know we’re so grateful for each and every one of you.
I’m adding a new blog ” Down on the Farm” to the website. It helps save a bit of time with our social media posting for Opal’s Farm. I hope this isn’t taken as self-promotion as I can tell with all certainty that Opal’s Farm is our farm and couldn’t happen were it not for you all. So, without further ado…
Down On the Farm: Happy Friday to you all! It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm despite the stifling heat. Fall planting is progressing. The compost pile is getting bigger thanks to all the hard work of Brittanny Rosenberg with the City of Fort Worth’s Code Compliance Department and Harrison Gibson with the Taste Project. Ann and Johnny with Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound have delivered trailer loads of goat poop and shavings for our beds. My son said he’s never seen anyone get so excited about poop! If he saw how it regenerates the planting beds and the better yields, he’d probably understand my excitement.
Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening of a new documentary called Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. The film is an eye-opener and a must see for each of us. As a farm manager I know how much food is often wasted on the front end of production unless one is committed to composting and rebuilding the soil which the food came from in the first place. As a vendor at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market, I see how much food gets overlooked because of its appearance. Finally, as a consumer, I need to reevaluate my own ideas about food and food waste. Thank you to the Tarrant Food Policy Council for holding the event and the work they do so diligently right here in Tarrant County. Thanks again to Brittany for seeing that all the food scraps were to be donated to Opal’s Farm.
I could (and will soon) be writing more
about our food waste and our relationship to the food we consume. What hit me
was not only the film, but the number of great people working on issues of food
justice, food insecurity, and food access. Oftentimes, the stuff that makes the
news can feel overwhelming and create a sense or powerlessness. But we never hear
about the people working quietly behind the scenes to make our world, and our
little piece of it, a better place.
Not Me, Us…
I saw some familiar faces last night.
I met many more working toward the same end. I felt intense gratitude for those
who have come along side to help and guide me toward making Opal’s Farm a
success. Someone mentioned how far I’d brought the farm along. I had to
correct them. We have brought the farm a long way.
Most of you know I love to give ‘shout
outs” and thanks to our volunteers. However, in the rush of day-to-day operations
of the farm I often fail to regularly mention our sponsors and partners: especially
those there from the very start.
For starters, none of this could’ve
happened without our benefactors and friends at the Tarrant Regional Water
District (TRWD). I won’t rehash the story, but they believed in the idea of
Opal’s Farm for several years before Opal’s Farm became a reality. Without
their gift of five acres and their continued support for the farm, 2,000
pounds-plus of fresh food would never have reached Fort Worth neighborhoods so
far. (Side note: TRWD will be holding their annual “Trash Bash”
September 21st. We’ll be there and hope you are too!)
We needed a place to store
equipment and supplies. Since we were on the flood plain, we needed something
temporary, but secure. We were in a quandary until Paula Pacinins and Container
King showed up with an 8’x40’ shipping container to use for storage.
We were ready to start plowing, but
we had no tractor; until Brandon Hendrickson with Zimmerer Kubota entered the
picture. Zimmerer Kubota provided the tractor and implements we needed to turn
the soil and begin building planting beds.
Manually creating planting beds is
a difficult and slow process with shovels and rakes. I wasn’t looking forward
to the slow, tedious process of building beds. During our planning stage of the
farm we had become members of Grow SE, which is a group of folks committed to urban
farming. Grow SE is also a project of Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration.
In March, Linda Fulmer with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration purchased a BCS tractor for each of the Grow SE growers to share. The BCS tractor made quick work of building the beds and off we went!
Shortly after our ribbon cutting in
February, the White Settlement Home Depot steeped in and asked to partner with
Opal’s Farm. Store Manager Natasha Neiderhart and Team Depot Captain and
Assistant Manager Jeff Williams delivered tools, supplies, and everything we
needed to get started our first season.
A little secret – the White
Settlement Home Depot store has always been my favorite! They offer old
fashioned customer service and a feeling of community you don’t always
experience elsewhere. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I’m fiercely loyal to my
Home Depot store!
Brandon Castillo with Cowboy
Compost donated the compost necessary to get our first crop going. By the way,
it was a pleasure to meet you last night, Pete. You all are doing a terrific
The Marty V. Leonard Fund at the
North Texas Community Foundation and the Ken W. Davis Foundation provided the
initial funds to begin Opal’s Farm. We are eternally grateful to Marty Leonard
and to Cullen Davis for their support.
Since the beginning, we have
enjoyed the support of many of our local officials. I know I’m going to omit
someone I shouldn’t because there has been so many. However, I’d still like to
single out Councilperson Kelly Allen Grey. Ms. Grey is the Council member for our
district. She’s working for us to establish neighborhood “pop-up” farmers markets.
The support of the Mayor and each of our Council members is appreciated more
than we can say.
Last, and certainly not least, is
our brother, friend, mentor, and fellow farmer, Charlie Blaylock with Shines
Farmstand. I’ve told you all about Charlie before, but I’m going to tell you
again. My feeble words are not near enough to explain what he means to Opal’s
Farm and me personally. He’s been every step of the way with us. He’s provided
knowledge, guidance, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Starting a farm isn’t
an easy endeavor. Honestly, there’s been more a few times I’ve been a bit
frustrated (that’s an understatement!) and wondered if this project was going
to fly. He’s been there every time to help me (and us) back on track and keep
Because of Charlie’s support, we
haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. That’s important. When I first saw the farm cleared
and how much land there was, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but wonder what
in the world I had gotten myself into. I was full of self-doubt and thought I’d
bitten off far more than I could chew. It was Charlie Blaylock who broke it all
down and showed how to eat one bite at a time.
I know I’m forgetting someone. That tends to happen when you get older. I apologize for the senior moment. Let me be clear, this has never been a “me” deal. It’s always a “we” deal. Opal’s Farm is a vital, active part of Fort Worth because of Fort Worth, because of you all.I can’t forget our volunteers and I’ll tell you about them in a coming post. They have been critical, especially during harvest. But I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and tell you a bit of how much we love and appreciate our sponsors and partners. We are doing this! Thank you for making our community a bit better ad bringing locally grown, fresh produce to or community!
I sat down to go through our social media posts and comments
this morning and I had to take a hard look at how we post for the farm. I often
post articles from my blog on WordPress to Opal’s Farm page as well. It was
brought to my attention that I could communicate the purpose, goals, and impact
of the farm more clearly. I appreciate any comments coming from our supporters
and other urban farmers. One thing I have learned is that it truly takes a ‘village’
of people to make the farm and, everything else positive in life, a success!
Starting the beds
While our Mission Statement is written in the “About Us”
section of the page, it can be easily overshadowed by other postings (including
links to my own blog…). Our Mission Statement sums up our overall goal in a
simple fashion – “Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected
communities through an agricultural intervention and education.” However, mission statements make more sense when they are broken
down into bit-sized chunks and we certainly want to bring clarity of purpose to
our supporters, followers, and ‘farmers’.
Statement of Purpose
Opal’s Farm is a model for regenerative,
organic agriculture that:
elimination of local food deserts and scarcity in low-income communities.
in sustainability, soil conservation, food distribution, and nutrition.
creates jobs, job
training, and entrepreneurial opportunities that provide a living wage for low-income
We developed our statement of purpose by listening
to the community and getting input from other successful urban farming
projects. Ms. Opal Lee, who as many of you know, is our namesake, is the President
Emeritus of the Community Food Bank in the United Riverside neighborhood of
Fort Worth. She spent many hours speaking to the folks served by the food bank
and found that many of those folks had issues with finding employment paying a
living wage because of previous incarceration. Moreover, they would be willing
to grow their own food and exercise a degree of self and community-reliance. As
a result, the vision of Opal’s Farm was born.
Once the vision became a reality, we began to
seek guidance from other successful urban farm projects. Bonton Farms, located
in the Bonton neighborhood south of downtown Dallas, provided much of the model
for Opal’s Farm, especially in developing economic sustainability. Paul Quinn
College offered support. God opened so many doors and people came from out of
the proverbial woodwork to help Opal’s Farm.
Jeff Williams, Team Depot Captain at the White
Settlement Home Depot makes the first delivery to Opal’s Farm- – Thanks Jeff!
Charlie Blaylock, of Shines Farmstand and the
Cowtown Farmer’s Market, has been our closest consultant and friend. Paula
Pacanins with Container King provided a shipping container to store our
equipment. Natasha Neidhart, Store Manager for the White Settlement Home Depot
(#8521), and Jeff Williams, the Assistant Manager and Capitan of Team Depot
partnered with us to provide substantial support in tools, equipment, and
supplies. Brandon Hendrickson, the Rental Manager at Zimmerer Kubota provided
us with a tractor and farm implements to plow the almost 4 acres that makes up
the total area of Opal’s Farm.
We also have the support, and are a member of,
Grow Southeast, a coalition of growers dedicated to building urban farms and
gardens throughout the southeast side of Tarrant County. The Healthy Tarrant
County Collaborative purchased a BCS tractor for all the growers to share as
they built and prepared beds for planting. So far, we’ve built 70 beds (a
whopping 28,000 square feet!) in the last four days because of their help. TCU
has come alongside of Opal’s Farm as well through the Tarrant County Food
Policy Council. Students are assisting in a variety of ways this semester to
make the farm a success. Last, but most certainly not least, is the Trinity
River Water District that provided the acreage and believed in Ms. Opal’s
dream. Without them, none of this would be possible.
What I’m trying to say in all of this is that
Opal’s Farm is about Fort Worth, about our community, and our home. That’s why
Opal’s Farm is so important. Each of us has an opportunity to make a real difference
in the lives of our neighbors. We can’t do it alone. We need each of you –
individuals, businesses, and organizations to bring health and vitality to the
community. This is very real work, with very real results.
People often ask me if this is a “faith-based”
project. I’m not trying to be funny when I say the honest answer is yes, and
no. We believe that one’s faith is best reflected in the actions one takes, not
merely words. Our faith is reflected in the lives we change and the people who
are united in making a better place for everyone. Fresh produce is the means to
the real end: helping others. Faith says, always err on the side of love” and
that always benefits all of us.
Future posts will include articles from my blog
and updates on the farm. It’s not to promote the writing business of one
individual but to share what’s going on and how everyone can be a part. Mother Teresa
was once asked about her work among the disenfranchised and poor in India. Her
response was, “Come see”. Come see what we’re doing at the farm and we might
just make a farmer out of you.
You can learn more about Ms. Opal and Opal’s
Farm on our website, www.unityunlimited.org
and our Facebook page. You can also make a secure donation online.
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.