Community, Connection, Down On the Farm, Family, Farmers Markets, Food Justice, Friendship, Gifts, Gratitude, Honor, Opal's Farm, Relationships, Role Models, Tarrant Regional Water District, Tractors, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming

But New Mexico Is Not That Far…

I’ve been working on this post for a week, and to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to write it. I’ve kind of been dreading August. It’s a little long so please bear with me…

Things are going well at Opal’s Farm. We’ve held on to the tomatoes and peppers through this crazy hot summer and even have new crops coming in. Thanks to Grow SE and the Rainwater Foundation we have a new Kubota MX 5400 tractor, a Land Pride tiller attachment, and pallet forks to facilitate our future growth and composting. They have also helped us hire an Assistant Farm Manager who I’ll introduce soon. We have wonderful volunteers who brave the intense Texas sun to come out and work at the farm (early in the morning of course!). The Cowtown Farmers Market has a new place to go to that even has shade and picnic tables. We are truly blessed!

So, what’s so difficult to write? This all sounds great! Well…

One of our (especially my) best friends and mentor, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand will be leaving Fort Worth and moving to New Mexico next week. We’ve known the move was coming for many months but now it’s too real. Laura Blaylock retired from the Tarrant Regional Water District on Friday (and I noticed that most of the furniture was already gone when we had our last Grow SE Zoom meeting) and they had their last day at the Cowtown Farmers Market this past Saturday. Although I’m thrilled for their new adventure (it was 72 degrees last time I talked to Charlie in New Mexico! I’m so jealous.), I’m sad to see them leave.

I’m not sure Opal’s Farm would still be growing had it not been for Charlie. When I pulled around the corner for the first time and saw the five acres plowed I thought “What have I gotten myself into? I’m so over my head”. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie outside a Grow SE meeting a few months earlier. I had a feeling it was going to be okay. Some people are just destined to cross one’s path. They are truly a gift.

Over the last three-and-a half years, Charlie has helped guide me through the process of making Opal’s a going concern. He’s taken hours out of his schedule to meet with me, listen to my problems, and helped find solutions to make Opal’s a successful urban farm. There have been times I thought we weren’t going to make it and Charlie was always there to cheer me on. Most importantly, he and Laura took time to invite me into their lives and build an incredible friendship.

I know I’m not the only one that has benefited from knowing Charlie and Laura. Charlie has been a blessing to the local farming and food community. His work with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the Cowtown Farmers Market, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and Grow SE has helped start several urban farms in Fort Worth. His commitment to access to fresh, local food and the farmers in and around Fort Worth will be missed. I can only hope that I’ll be able to follow in his footsteps and help others as he has helped me.

Charlie and Laura made sure their farm was left in capable hands. Becca Knutson, the Cowtown Farmers Market manager will be moving in and taking over Charlie’s labor of love. She’s been making the transition for several months now. She’ll continue bringing great organically grown fresh produce to Cowtown each week (and she’s a fantastic manager as well!).

Cowtown Farmers Market will be having its first market at the new location at the Grand Pavilion in Veterans Park this Saturday. It’s somewhat bittersweet for me. Charlie and Laura will be stopping by to be with us one last time, but not as vendors. They’ll be leaving the following week to new endeavors and much cooler weather. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do without my Laura hugs to get me through market (she gives the best hugs ever!).

Charlie and Laura, please know you’re loved and appreciated so much for all you do. I know that New Mexico will be better for your residence there and frankly, I would be right behind you if I could. It’s beautiful there and I’m happy you both get to enjoy mountain living. I may not have Apple Facetime but I already have an app for my Android so I can see your smiles. I promise I won’t be calling every day, but I can tell you I’m grateful for cell phones (this once anyway…). Be safe in your travels and keep me updated on the new adventure.

P.S. – Tell Dusty to call me. He has a place right here for the holidays. I love you both and already miss you!

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The First Annual Young Women’s Leadership Academy Day at Opal’s Farm

It’s been a fantastic week down on the farm! We found out we had another truckload of tomatoes waiting for us at TCC NW campus, the new sections of the farm are plowed, and cover crops are in. We are trying some new planting methods suggested by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) that may help us with weed control and crop yields for the coming year. We’re even trying new cover crops to battle our nemesis – the dastardly Johnson Grass!

Yesterday, we had an awesome volunteer workday with the students and parents from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA). The response from all the students and parents was overwhelming. We had 201 people sign up for the workday! We couldn’t believe it. We’ve never had such an outpouring of support from our community!

To be honest, we weren’t sure we could handle that many volunteers at one time, but the kids, parents, and grandparents made it easy for us and really (I mean really!) got an amazing amount of seed planted, weeding accomplished, and furrows covered in wood chips for the coming Spring crops!

We all decided that this was the first annual YMLA Day at Opal’s Farm. It will be an annual event for us all! I’m already looking forward to next year!

Ms. Opal came by later in the morning and that was the icing on the cake for the day. She was able to spend time speaking with many of the young ladies, families, and staff and get pictures with them as well. We were so pleased that Ms. Opal came by. We knew she had a busy schedule this past weekend, but she wanted to make sure that everyone at YWLA knew how much we appreciated them.

The YWLA helped us plant enough to easily provide 15- 20 thousand meals when all is harvested. Moreover, they completed 4-6 weeks of work in a two-hour shift. The huge number of folks and their commitment to service made for an amazing day and a huge leap for Opal’s Farm.

I spoke with so many of the young ladies, the adults, and staff about what the farm is all about and I’m overwhelmed by the number of folks coming back to volunteer on their own. I applaud the YWLA for bringing us so many great young people with hearts for service and the community. They are preparing our young ladies to be the leaders for Fort Worth’s future, and we commend them for their incredible work. There aren’t words to express our gratitude to you all.

I would also like to thank our Volunteer Coordinator, Stacey Harwood, and our regular volunteers that are here each week. They came to help show everyone what needed to be done and how to go about it. We couldn’t do what we do without you – Melissa, Jamie, Brandon, Elizabeth, and Oscar. I think they were all smiling right along with me when the day was through!

We all love us some Ms. Opal!
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Brrrrr…

I went to the farm this morning to work on the tiller for our Kubota Tractor (thanks to our sponsor, Zimmerer Kubota!) and was met by a coating of ice across the steel machine. It appears winter has made it’s (hopefully) last gasp. It’s brutally cold this morning and after several failed attempts to extract a broken shear bolt, I too, made my last gasp and headed home to take Margaret to the doctor. Generally, I don’t like taking time off from the farm, but I was secretly thrilled to have a reason to be out of the February cold.

Please know that if you scheduled time to volunteer today, we are closing Opal’s Farm to volunteers. Not only is it unbelievably cold but we would hate for anyone to endanger themselves on the road. Some bridges have patches of ice so please be careful out there.

The onions are in as well as most of our potatoes. Everything is watered and covered in hay to avoid the next couple of freezing nights. We hope next week brings us warmer, and wetter, weather. We are excited to get the Spring crops growing and have more selection at Cowtown Farmers Market.

We’ve been absent from the market far longer than we anticipated. Thankfully it’s not because of lack of produce, but it has been COVID-related issues. Many folks seem to think that the pandemic is over. Unfortunately, that’s not true. It’s still out there halting work and causing hardship; particularly for the unvaccinated. I’m not going to preach about common sense safety measures everyone should observe – if not for them then for their community – but please, if you’re feeling under the weather please stay home and take care of yourself. That helps us take care of ourselves as well.

That being said…

It looks like we have a couple of more weeks to go before returning to Cowtown Farmers Market. We miss you guys and hope to see everyone soon.

A final note: Unity Unlimited was scheduled to host the DTRST, A New Community Vision for Fort Worth, tonight at TCC South Campus. Due to the possibility of freezing rain and treacherous rods, this event id being reschedule in the first part of March. We are finalizing the dates and we’ll let you know. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you’ll be part of this event.

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Spring is in Full Bloom

What a week it’s been. Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. Today is my son’s fortieth. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Adrian wasn’t sure which of us felt older – me or him. He was quite satisfied to let me feel the pain of aging. I mentioned that they say the sixties are the new forties. He promptly reminded me that only people in their sixties say that…

Spring has sprung in all it’s glory at the farm. The tomatoes and peppers are in with all their trellises in place. All the new seed is popping up. Cantaloupe planting started yesterday. The only thing left is the okra (our famous heirloom okra!). We also have test beds with Asian greens, bottle gourd, and bitter melon (South Asian diet staples) – testing new products for our South Asian community.

We’ve expanded to a second acre for this year. We had originally planned on adding only two thirds of an acre, but the move to tractor farming (made possible by the tractor provided by Zimmerer Kubota and the tiller from Blue Zones Project FW) has enabled us to expand more quickly.

The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) provided us with the best news this year. Sometime within the next week the installation of our new pump will be complete. We can start on the new irrigation system that will free up more time to bring healthy, fresh produce to the neighborhood.

We are incredibly grateful for the Paschal High School Key Club and the Fort Worth Trailblazers Chapter of the National Charity League. The Paschal kids are there every Saturday morning and the Moms and daughters from the Trailblazers have had several workdays over the past few couple of months. We could not have kept to our Spring planting schedule without their help!

We have a couple of immediate needs on our wish list. The recent freeze set us back financially. Market sales have been low as there’s not that much to sell. We recovered quickly with replanting and moving forward, but it’s been difficult. Please consider a donation to Opal’s Farm to help us grow even bigger. You can donate at www.unityunlimited.org anytime. There’s no time like the present!

Roman hard at work

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It’s hard to believe that we were seeing record cold temperatures only a month ago. The last couple of weeks have been in the seventies and even eighties. I sit on the porch at night in shorts and a t-shirt. In the early morning darkness I was greeted by the sound of the Mockingbird outside. The official start to Spring is only four days away. God is good…

The tree next door is in full bloom

I’ve taken to sitting at my desk in the mornings as opposed to the front porch. I am halfway through my fourth week of quitting smoking and the front porch is a bit of a trigger. The double wide patio door is just outside my office though so I still get the morning air when I open the sliding door. It makes for enjoyable quiet time.

Roman’s been hard at work!

I had no idea what I wanted to write about when I started this blog in 2017. Blogging experts said find a niche to write about. Center it around your niche and turn it into a money-making endeavor. I never could figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. How could I find a “niche”?

Most of my career was about doing the work I never intended to do. Trying to gain a father’s acceptance (which was already there regardless of what I did for a living) instead of pursuing one’s own passions have a way of doing that. The downward spiral of alcohol and addiction doesn’t help either.

Over the years I’ve been a Real Estate Investor and Broker, a Process Engineer, an Operations and HR Manager. I’ve drifted through professions. I’ve played rock and roll in the clubs, worked briefly in radio, and DJ’d at sketchy bars. I’ve worked as a bartender and a food server. I’ve worked in manufacturing and construction jobs. From 2006 to 2017 I had my own landscape and remodeling business. Employment options are limited for folks with felonies so starting my own business made perfect sense.

It was a good living, but I knew there was always a nagging feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else with my life. I spent many off and on years in business documentation – writing business plans, employee manuals, training manuals, etc. I had learned to speak “bureaucrat-ese” and proper business writing, using it often in my professional corporate work – and I got good at it. Maybe that was it…

I shut down the business, signed up for a couple of copywriting and marketing courses, and set off to be a writer full-time. I had a few jobs, and I even got paid for writing. I guess that qualified me as a “writer” (Like that makes a difference?).

Unfortunately, I discovered I’m not cut out for the whole copywriting thing, I don’t like trying to manipulate people with the whole marketing deal and I’m a bit of a dinosaur in the corporate world. I still believe in the whole “the customer isn’t always right, but they are always the customer” thing. Customers should be treated accordingly. That’s not always the case anymore.

That’s okay though, because it led to my relationship with Ms. Opal, Unity Unlimited, Inc., and becoming Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I’m blessed beyond measure. I get to wake up each morning and go the farm, work hard, and tell the Opal’s Farm story to anyone who’ll listen. I get to be around amazing people. I even get paid for doing what I love and serving others which is the antidote to addiction’s self-obsession – helping others helps me. I’ve found my center, my passion, and God’s direction for my life. If I’ve found a niche, it rests in the fact life is a story – a story about grace I surely don’t deserve and something I could never find on my own despite my best efforts.

The things I’ve learned to blog about over the last three-and-a-half years have little to do with “5 Ways to Success” or “How to Make a Million in a Month by Telling People What They Want to Hear”. They don’t have to do with the number of followers (except the one’s about Opal’s Farm!) or a great comments thread. They don’t require everyone’s approval to prove success. They have to do with the one person who, perhaps only by chance, reads something that helps them to help others. There’s not much money in that, but it’s the success I only dreamed of.

Be patient with others. Sometimes it takes fifty years to figure out what you want to do when you grow up…