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Waste Not, Want Not: Composting at Opal’s Farm

One of the Core Values of Opal’s Farm is the practice of regenerative urban farming. We take the role of stewards of the land and resources we’ve been granted very seriously. From the outset we were determined to farm organically and recycle as much as possible to build our soil health and limit waste. One of the ways we practice that is composting.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is between thirty and forty percent of the nation’s food supply. Research shows that the average American ends up throwing away $53.81 worth of spoiled food a week from their fridge, or $2,798 every year (Could you use almost $3,00 extra?) – and that doesn’t include commercial and restaurant waste (the restaurant industry estimates food waste related costs to be $162 billion a year).

What happens to all that waste? Not only is it a major contributor to food insecurity – it ends up in local landfills where it generates 1.3 pounds of methane emissions for every pound of wasted produce. Landfills are responsible for almost 15 percent of the country’s methane emissions and organic matter makes up the largest percentage of total landfill mass (22 percent).

Landfill space isn’t an abstract “someone else’s” problem. The City of Fort Worth’s landfill is filling to quickly. Although designed to last another fifty years, increased population and throwing out recyclable items has shortened landfill life to less than half of that. A new landfill is a major infrastructure investment that will surely affect every citizen’s pocketbook.

Opal’s Farm applauds the efforts like the City’s Residential Food Scrap Composting Pilot Program. It addresses individual residences. Efforts are also being made through the Code Compliance Department and the Blue Zones Project Fort Worth to gain commercial participation.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 5 percent of food waste gets composted, which means 95 percent doesn’t…

Opal’s Farm uses 100% of organic waste created on the Farm. We started a compost program last year at the farm. Unsalable produce, hay donated by the Tarrant Regional Water District, and goat manure from Latte-Da-Dairies got us started. Grass, weeds, and plant refuse from the previous growing season was added. In Fall of last year, J. Davis Tree Company began bringing their wood chips by the truckload – much of already composted. The original compost pile has yielded approximately 20 yards (2 dump trucks) of rich composted soil for bed/soil development.

This year we added food scraps from the Culinary School of Fort Worth (thanks to Lauren at the Tarrant Area Food Bank Learning Garden for the hook-up!). A couple of months later, Blue Zones Fort Worth introduced us to Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket at 1524 NW 25th Street. Each Monday, the Produce Manager, Angelica, provides us with the unsaleable produce from the weekend. We’re averaging about 200 pounds per week from there.

We began picking up the culled produce from Foodland on 1212 Ayers Avenue a couple of weeks later. We consistently add 200-400 pounds of food waste that would have gone to the landfill. Moreover, all the produce boxes are broken down and recycled to lay beneath the woodchips we spread on our walkways. It’s an excellent form of natural weed control.

A Monday Pick up (approximately 400 lbs. that will not go to the landfill

The result is a dark, rich compost that is added to the soil to build soil health and increase the yields from our tasty, locally grown produce. It’s a win-win for us, for the stores, and for our community.

We Can Do More

We give a huge shout out to Elrod’s and to Foodland for their excellent corporate citizenship. Other grocery chains have chosen to waste their produce rather than recycle it to local urban farms. We understand the lability concerns they have expressed but cannot understand to unwillingness to compost: a way of improving soil health and local crop yields.

Cardboard boxes from the Monday pick-up – plastic produce containers take our donations to food banks and cardboard is recycled at the farm

Composting is not only beneficial for local urban farms and the municipal landfill. Composting can also provide jobs in our local economy. Someone must pick up the compost and take it to where it will be recycled. The more stores and restaurants that join the recycling effort would expand the pick-up route.

The end result – less than 25 lbs goes the landfill (remaining plastic packaging)

Currently, we can only do our pick-ups one day a week. We’re constrained by time and lack of staff at the farm to pick up all that available. Imagine if part of the training and hiring at Opal’s Farm was composting, pick-up, and delivery to Opal’s, other farms, or to Silver Creek Materials (the local composting firm and one of our vendors). It’d sure be cheaper than new landfill infrastructure (Did that get your attention Mayor Price?). You can urge your local Councilmembers to take a hard look at this. Innovation makes Fort Worth…

It takes money to implement such a program. ReFed, “a multi-stakeholder nonprofit, powered by an influential network of the nation’s leading business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste” ( https://www.refed.com/about ), has laid out an excellent  Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste. It can be done. Something to think about…

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Fall Makes an Appearance

Good Morning Everyone! I’ve been seriously lacking in updating everyone on Opal’s Farm over the last month. Fall is particularly busy this year with planting and expansion into the next 1/3 acre of the farm. We’ve made some amazing progress with the help of some dedicated, hard working volunteers and our amazing friend Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand.

All the furrows are mulched!

Fall is a special time of year at the farm. The days are a bit cooler, which makes work all the much easier (and fun!) and the changing season brings new life to dormant summer plants (the tomato pepper plants are loaded). The purple hull peas apparently produce more in the Fall than in the Spring!

Clearing the new section!

The late summer plantings of cantaloupes are going to be ready this week. Jamison the Farm Dog is doing his best and working hard to keep the field mice and river rats from getting to them first.

 The Fall plantings are growing and going. We took the first radishes of the season to market this Saturday. The Japanese turnips and beets should be close behind.

We may be unbelievably busy, but we always have time to enjoy the peace and wildlife Fall brings to the farm. Monarch butterflies are more frequent, the turtles sun themselves more frequently on the banks of the Trinity (unfortunately so do snakes! Don’t worry though: they stay by the river!), and the egrets are everywhere these days.

The okra’s going great!

We’ve also had a beautiful pair of visitors over the last couple of weeks. Two Great Blue Herons have been frequenting the farm. They are truly majestic. They’re the largest herons in North America (and tend to make Jamison a bit curious and bark a lot…) and we feel blessed they’ve chosen to hang out at Opal’s Farm.

We’d like to take a moment to thank the Tributary Café on Race Street. We began selling okra to the café a couple of weeks ago. Last night, they asked us to set up for the Race Street night out hosted by the Riverside Business Alliance. We met some great neighbors and shared the bounty of the farm with many. We now deliver on Wednesday’s to the adjoining riverside neighborhoods for a $2 delivery fee. You can always call the farm to see what’s available and place your order. We’ll have that set up online soon.

As always – we’d love to have you come out to the farm to volunteer or just visit and say hi. You can always donate directly to Opal’s Farm by visiting our website at www.unityunlimited.org or our Facebook page.

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An Important Day for All of Us

Today is a very important day — the first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste!  “Globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail” … “When food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce this food – including water, land, energy, labour and capital – go to waste.” In the United States, 30-40% of the food supply goes to waste, while millions of people remain food insecure. (from our friends at http://www.thefarmlinkproject.org)

We combat food waste every day at Opal’s Farm. Nothing leaves our farm unless it’s the man-made trash we collect from the Trinity River (and what the wind blows in!). Everything is either sold, donated, or composted. We collect food that would normally be thrown away from outside sources to build our compost, increase crop yields, and feed more community members.

What we do to combat waste may seem insignificant, but when it’s combined with what you do and what you do and what you do, it begins to affect overall food waste. On this first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we ask you to join the fight. We can all make a difference!

Will it be this?

Photo by Emmet on Pexels.com

Or this?

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

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Lessons Learned?

Good morning my friends. It’s been a hectic week at Opal’s Farm. We’ve planted, harvested, and been to Cowtown Farmers Market. A special thanks goes out to all our loyal customers who braved Saturday’s rain to shop at Cowtown. Every dollar you spend with Opal’s Farm turns into another person with access to fresh, healthy produce.

Side Note…

NBC5 News was out Saturday to do a story on the new SNAP Program, Double Bucks, the Blue Zones Project rolled out here in Fort Worth. Now SNAP shoppers can double their SNAP benefits on every purchase of fresh, nutritious produce. Thank you, Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, for all you do for our community.

Meanwhile…

While everyone else might’ve seen a gloomy, rainy day Saturday, I saw liquid gold and a weekend off! I even slept in this morning and didn’t get up until 6:45. I spent most of yesterday afternoon with Margaret and honestly, didn’t do much of anything. Sabbath rest is such a blessing. Maybe I’ll reach the point I don’t have to be forced to rest by the weather…

I sat on the porch this morning drinking coffee and basking in the sunlight that filled our quiet little cul-de-sac here. Our neighborhood woodpecker was hard at work on the Arizona Ash above me. The Blue Jays were unafraid of my presence and brazenly fed on the cat food nearby. I don’t mind. Our cat Wallace will be telling me the bowl is empty soon enough.

Sunday mornings are always peaceful on the porch, but even more so since this whole coronavirus mess started. Churches are still closed despite the governor’s gradual reopening guidelines, opting for continued online services. Margaret and I will still limit outside contact – grocery stores, restaurants retail outlets, and such. We are in the high-risk category due to our age and compromised immune systems. I still go to work at the farm, but social distancing is easy on an acre-and-a-half. Market is outside and people are respectful of distancing for the most part. Masks and hand sanitizer are norms for the vendors.

The coronavirus has changed life here in Fort Worth (and everywhere) in so many ways I can’t even begin to list them. COVID-19 is no joke. Most folks have sense enough to take it seriously, but isolation and economic pain is growing more frustrating and some have begun to let their guard down. Some, like the Dallas salon owner who put on such a show for reopening despite stay-at-home orders (another story for another time), have openly rebelled for their “right” to carry on like normal because it infringes on their freedom. Unfortunately, they present a clear and present danger to the rest of us who think personal and community safety is best. I shan’t linger on the subject, so it doesn’t turn into a rant. Most of you will appreciate that.

Anyway…

Life may be all turned upside down these days but there has been, and may be, some good things that come out of the pandemic. For one, isolation has raised social consciousness somewhat. Hopefully, we’ve come to value social contact more than before; that we’re somewhat more aware of the value of our relationships. I know it has for me. Contact with friends and family over Facetime and Zoom just isn’t the same and quite frankly, virtual hugs suck!

I’ve seen our volunteers at Opal’s Farm and the families sharing time together on the bordering Trinity Trails valuing their time together more than ever. I’ve seen more people on Trinity Trails in the past two months than I’ve seen in the last two years. It used to be it was solitary runners, dog walkers, or bikers. Now it’s family groups and friends out there regularly (maintaining social distance where appropriate).

The number of shoppers at Cowtown Farmers Market has gone up as well. Some of our vendors are still between growing seasons so they haven’t started Saturday markets. Although the market’s not full of vendors, it’s growing in customers. I have a glimmer of hope that folks will realize that buying local benefits all of us in the community. Not only are people able to purchase fresh food – not something that spent days or weeks in a railcar or a ship’s hold – their dollar stays here making a difference for all of us. Not only is local produce more nutritious – fresh food tastes better…

There’s a multitude of good things that can come out of this crisis and I’m not going into them all. However, I hope the biggest takeaway is our perception and treatment of “essential” workers. Maybe our definition of ‘hero’ will include not only our brave healthcare workers and first responders, but delivery drivers, grocery workers, packing plant workers, and service workers as well – people traditionally overlooked by most of us and people who, more often than not, are overlooked by our economy. I pray that maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin to see how valuable these folks are to each of us and treat them with greater respect and value.

One Final Word

Stay safe, use common sense, and be respectful of others. If you get bored, we’d love to have you come out and join us for a day at Opal’s Farm. We love you all and appreciate your support!

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Hi Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and joy. Treasure your mom. Take time on this special day to honor her. Moms are such gifts.

My mom passed away a couple of years ago. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I’m sure she sees to that. She always loved butterflies. There’s always butterflies at the farm. I usually say ‘hi Mom” every time one passes by. There are days when the work is more difficult than others; days when I’m just a bit more tired, more achy than usual. Those are the days when the butterflies spend the most time with me.

I know. It sounds a bit silly. There are always butterflies around. It’s a farm, right? Maybe I’m a bit foolish to make Mom assumptions about butterflies. Then again, maybe not…

Spring is an incredibly busy time at the farm. The days may be growing longer but the time seems to be much shorter. There’s so much to do!

The other day, I was tilling a new section of the farm. The sun felt more like a summer day than a mid-Spring one. Temperatures in the 90s usually hold off until later in the month. I was hot, tired, and feeling more than a of bit of inadequacy and frustration. My “To Do’ list kept growing and the time felt shorter and shorter.

About that time, a beautiful tan and yellow butterfly (I’m not expert on identifying species) lit on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and admired the creature, fully expecting it to take flight once I resumed tilling. I increased the engine speed and took off down the row. The butterfly stayed. I came back on the next row. The butterfly stayed. In fact, it stayed for five more rows before taking flight to wherever butterflies go.

If you haven’t farmed or used a large rototiller tractor before then the idea of a butterfly remaining in place may not seem like such a big deal. The tractor is loud and heavy to turn around as one bed is completed and the next one begun. Add to that the sweat and the constant body movement and it becomes a bit clearer that normally this would be the last place for a butterfly to lite.

It dawned on me that Mom was “paying me a visit”. She stayed there on my shoulder to remind me that she always had (and has) my back. She stayed there to let me know I was doing good work, to see it through, and do what I can today. The ‘to-do list” will get done. It’s okay. After all, those are lessons she preached all the time. It just took me a while to figure out how valuable those lessons were and just how much I was loved…

I don’t ‘know’ if it was mom that day. What I can tell you, is it’s not the first time a butterfly has chosen my shoulder as a resting spot. There may be a myriad of scientific reasons why a butterfly chose to use my shoulder for a resting place. It may be normal butterfly behavior, but I chose to believe it’s one more reminder that Mom is never far away and is always looking out for me…

I’ll go to the cemetery later today. I picked a nice assortment of flowers to leave by her headstone. It’s a small way of saying how much I love, honor, and treasure Mom. I pray we all do the same…