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: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.
An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood
) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must
click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually
code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with
one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever
writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will
get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.
Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by
my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it
from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like
someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment
came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one.
This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the
originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself
in how each was written.
The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see
me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He
would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation
produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast
forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more
friendly for me.
I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty,
remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met
through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it
was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of
looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me”
I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.
As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.
Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and
Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase
productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own
obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…
I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always
promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature
of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I
‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’
to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I
‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I
say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered
Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave
a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I
don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you
already have then please share your results with me!
Thoughts From the Porch:
Wednesday is my busy day, especially at the end of the month. I have a group
meeting every Wednesday morning and try to schedule as many meetings as
possible on that day, so I have more time available at Opal’s Farm the rest of
the week. The last Wednesday of the month is the Grow Southeast meeting and a
chance to work with other urban farms and growers.
Our Wednesday morning meeting, Fort Worth Development Group, is a group seeking to “bridge the gap between ministry and business through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace: allowing our character and integrity tom minister God’s love to others through our daily business practices.”
I attended the first time
thinking it was another ‘networking’ group. Networking does take place. That
tends to happen whenever business people are gathered together. However, it’s
far more than that. That’s why it’s a development group. Each quarter we have a
theme that guides our speaking and discussions. This quarter that theme has
been gratitude. The coming quarter will be on grace. It seems you can’t really
have one without the other. Grace and gratitude have this whole “chicken and
egg” thing going on. I’m not always positive which came first…
Next week, I’ll be
delivering the ‘Hot Topic’ on grace. I’ve submitted a title and catchy tagline
for my talk (after all, business appreciates good content). It’s called “Simply
Grace – 100% natural with no additives”. I have about 15 to 20 minutes to speak
on grace. One of the most difficult things I’ve done is try to squeeze grace
into 20 minutes. I have a newfound respect for the preachers I’ve heard speak
on the subject. God forbid they go past 20 to 30 minutes and make their
worshippers late for lunch…
I’ve spent a lot of time
preparing for next week. I’ve finally managed to get my ideas within the time
limit but believe me, it hasn’t been easy because everything in my life; every
action, every deed, and every experience is about grace.
The older I get and the
deeper my relationship with God becomes the more I realize just how much grace
I’ve received. My successes and my failures have taught me that grace is
enough, and everything is grace – “an unmerited gift”.
Some of you know exactly
where I’m coming from. Experience has taught me that a simple prayer, “God,
help me”, opens the door to receive the grace that was waiting there all along.
Ironically, it was grace that my prayer possible. I couldn’t even muster up the
strength to do that on my own.
Life has since become a
process of learning to accept the grace I’ve been so freely given. Gratitude,
the natural consequence of accepting and living a “grace-full” life. Gratitude
makes it easier to set aside old mental tapes and put to death the tired, old
lie of self-sufficiency. I see clearly the importance of my fellows and the
value of each and every individual I meet. Through gratitude I’m able to share
the grace that was so freely given to me.
That’s not to say that I
still don’t have my moments: moments when all thought of God’s marvelous gift
of grace takes a backseat to my worries and problems. I have moments of self-absorption
and self-centered expectations, of myself and others. I still have times when I
feel woefully inadequate and undeserving of grace. I always seem to come around
though. You see, I am undeserving of
God’s grace (Heck, I’m undeserving of grace from most people if I’m honest
about it). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn it. If it could be
earned, it wouldn’t be grace. Funny how that works…
I’m fortunate to have
daily reminders of God’s grace. I have an amazing family. I get to work with
some truly awesome people in my business and with Opal’s Farm. I’m not confused
by these reminders. I surely didn’t deserve them. Quite frankly, I’m in awe
that I’m even still around. Self-care was not something I was big on until late
in life. Some of you know what I mean. I’ve heard it said that God has a big
heart for kids and fools. I often fall into the latter category, in case you’re
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.
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…
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
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
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 make your secure donation today.
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.