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One Last Day to the Longest Short Month

Ah, the last day of February. Tomorrow is meteorological Spring. While it’s not the official (i.e. – the Vernal Solstice or Saturday March 20th) first day of Spring, it’s a reminder that warmer days are just around the corner.

It’s hard to believe that a mere two weeks ago we were huddled around a space heater with no water in a 30-degree house. I was out on the porch this morning for my meditation time. Shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops were all that was needed to be comfortable.

We were blessed to have a generator to power the space heater and a coffee pot. Others were not so lucky. There are still folks without water as I write this. Please pray for relief so the disaster recovery can begin.

Opal’s Farm took a beating. We may still be able to salvage some onions and spinach. I had to replant cilantro, beets, turnips, snow peas, and snap peas. I’m glad to have gotten them in before the rain this weekend. We have potatoes to plant when it dries up and more onions are coming to replace what was lost to the freeze.

They had just started putting out

It has been a busy week here at the farm – replanting, plowing, and irrigation repair. We lost a couple of hundred feet of PVC pipe to the cold. There’s much to catch up on so if you have a little free time and want some dirt therapy go email us at opalvolunteers@gmail.com or opalsfarm@unityunlimited.org. We’ll get you going!

We had our annual membership meeting for Cowtown Farmers Market yesterday. We are pleased to be a part of such a dynamic group of farmers and vendors that believe in bringing fresh, local food to our community. We will be continuing the SNAP and Double-Up Food Bucks through April 1st as well. Please come see us and enjoy the best fruits and vegetables in Fort Worth! We’d appreciate the support for our local farmers.

February, especially this year, was an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. The freeze was a major obstacle to a successful 2021. The produce we would normally take to market was lost, cutting our revenue for the next few weeks. This is a huge blow to our budget for this year. We are currently seeking assistance from a couple of disaster recovery resources, but so many farmers suffered losses this month that it may be months if we receive financial assistance.

We nearly doubled our yield over 2019 last year and we hope to do so again in 2021. Our soil health has drastically improved with the amendments we were able to have last year (Thank you Sliver Creek Materials and Microlife/San Jacinto Environmental!). We’ve expanded our production area by another acre. We are excited by the possibilities even with the hardship that came from the deep freeze.

We’re also aware of how blessed we are to be a part of the community and all our friends. While your thoughts, prayers, and volunteering are appreciated more than you know, we are asking for financial help to whether this setback. If you’re able to give, please go to www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm and click donate. You can also donate through Facebook, or even drop by the farm.

We have an exciting Spring and Summer planned and we’d love for you to be a part. Thank you for all each of you do. Thank you for being part of Opal’s Farm!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
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Birthdays and Anti-Racism

My youngest grandson turned a year-old recently. We were unable to have all the family gathered due to COVID, but six of us shared the day with him. No one should have to go without celebration for their first birthday! It was just my brother-in-law and his wife, my stepson and granddaughter, and my wife and I – and of course, Easton.

I always have a slight amount of tension around my wife’s family. They tend to be ultra-conservative and well, I’m not. They don’t hesitate to voice their opinions freely, much to my dismay. I cringe when I hear the references to Fox News and quoting right wing radio hosts. I try to hold my tongue with family members outside of my wife and kids as they degenerate from a discussion to an argument and hard feelings quickly.

The get-together was going smoothly with Easton the center of attention – but once gifts were opened, and he went down for a nap, things changed. A commercial talking about “Black History Month” came on. My brother-in-law commented, “What about white history month?”

My stepson remarked that “he and his daughter were just talking about that the other day”. In the background I could hear my sister-in-law saying something about special treatment and tearing monuments down. I was livid but held my tongue; taking a moment to ponder the consequences. I had to get up and go outside. Mom always said, “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all”.

I came back in later. The conversation had shifted, and my in-laws were preparing to leave. Good-byes were said and we got ready to go as well. My stepson wanted to go outside and smoke before we left. I saw this an opportunity to say something about the racist comments made. If we don’t talk about issues of white supremacy (“Why don’t we have a ‘white’ history month”) and why that’s a racist comment, then we can never teach each other how to love and how to overcome structural racism.

I explained to him that the history we’ve grown up with is white history – seen through the lens of white privilege and supremacy. My wife reminded him that “white” history is yearlong. That’s why Black History Month is so necessary.

There’s a huge difference in being a “non”-racist and an “anti”-racist. Non-racists still judge people of color by very white standards which is the subtle form of white supremacy that infects so many. Non-racists seldom take the time to step outside their comfort zone. Even if they’ve began to understand issues of white supremacy, guilt, and fragility they remain silent in the face of the very racism they claim to void of. Silence is complicity.

An anti-racist is someone who raises a voice in situations like my grandson’s party – opposing white supremacy and structural racism in its various manifestations. Anti-racism makes for some uncomfortable conversations, both with family and with friends who haven’t awakened to its depths among white society.

I missed an opportunity with my brother in-law and his wife. I’m not sure that it would’ve been a conversation as much as an argument. I was relieved when they left if I’m honest.

I spent some time with Ms. Opal Lee recently and I told her about what happened and how I felt about it. I felt guilty for the missed opportunity. She reminded me that “if people can be taught how to hate, they can be taught how to love”. This doesn’t happen in a classroom or a church. This happens one-on-one – we intentionally seek out one person and open the door to conversation – which requires seeing and hearing someone even if we don’t agree. “Each one, teach one…”

I’m honored to be surrounded by great teachers. Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn how to listen and how to love. It’s full of a richness that the predominant white culture has failed to share.

“There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female… You are all one… Abrahams descendants…” Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3.28 ff (NIRV)

Black History Month 2021
Celebrate Black History Month

Learn more about Black History Month, Juneteenth, and Unity at http://www.unityunlimited.org and www.opalswalk2dc.com.

From Globe News Wire

Ms. Opals will be at the National Press Club this Wednesday, February 25th to celebrate Black History Month. The celebration will be livestreamed at 11:00 AM (EST) at: To register for the in-person press conference email marketing@invnt.comTo tune in virtually via YouTube from 11:30am EST click here.
Click here to tune in virtually via Facebook from 11:30am EST.
To sign Ms. Opal’s Change.org petition visit her website.

About Ms. Opal Lee
Ms. Opal is the oldest living board member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) that was founded and led by the late Dr. Ronald Myers, Sr., whose initiative is for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. To bring awareness to the cause, she started her Opal’s Walk 2 DC campaign in 2016, where she walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the 2.5 years that it took for slaves in Texas to know that they were free. Ms. Opal launched a petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday on Change.org, and in September 2020 delivered the 1.5 million signatures it had received to Congress. Ms. Opal believes that freedom should be celebrated from the 19th of June to the 4th of July. Head here for more.

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About Unity Unlimited, Inc.
Unity Unlimited, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose main mission is providing educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination. For more information visit: www.unityunlimited.org/

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Thank You Shoutout DFW!

We had the good fortune of connecting with Gregory Joel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gregory, how does your business help the community?
When we began our Creative Strategy session for 2020 one of the very first questions was “What is food insecurity?” What does that look like and how does it affect the neighborhood, the city, the state, and ultimately, world? The consequences of food insecurity – not having enough to eat, not knowing if one will, and not having access to healthy food – touch virtually every aspect of society. Crime, education, economic opportunity, poverty, health and health care – the list goes on. Lack of healthy food is the root of almost all social problems. Food – healthy food -is a basic human right. Opal’s Farm can’t feed everyone, but we can grow nutritious food for our community and our neighbors. Moreover, we can do it in such a way that leaves the soil and environment in a better place than we found it through regenerative agriculture practices. We imagine a world where diversity is evident, opportunities are plentiful, and divisions are crossed, all in pursuit of lasting unity. We provide a replicable model for other communities to utilize vacant urban land for their own farm and address the same issues of food justice. “If you can’t feed a hundred people then just feed one” – Mother Teresa
 
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I never intended to be a farmer. I majored in Political Science and Radical Political Economy and hoped to teach. Life had other plans. Long story short – I found out about Ms. Opal’s dream of an urban farm in Spring 2018 by accident (although I’m not convinced it was accidental). I had seen several other urban farming ideas come and go, but when I met Ms. Opal I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. The rest of 2018 was spent doing research, developing a business model, working on the lease agreement with Tarrant Regional Water District, and trying to find funding. The rest is history, as they say… We held our ribbon cutting ceremony on February 15, 2019. We didn’t find funding right away. We had in kind donations – a shipping container (our “barn”), some tools, and some seed – but no money. Ms. Opal is fond of reminding me, “We’ve done so much with so little for so long that we can do anything with nothing.’ By April, the planting beds were finished (we started with one acre), we planted our donated seed, and harvested our first produce in May. One of our fellow farmers market growers overheard me tell someone we were a non-profit urban farm and said “all farms are non-profit”. I guess we’re not that unique… Our business model is: ten percent of our produce goes to area food banks. The remainder is split – ideally 50/50 – between retail (farmers market) sales and subsidized (neighborhood) sales. The retail end helps the farm become financially stable. The subsidized portion is to dedicated to local communities without access to fresh produce. The retail sector was closer to 90% in our first year. We had to have money to keep the farm going. Paychecks were usually few and far between and much smaller than hoped for. We weren’t close to following our business model and our mission felt out of reach. October was a bleak month. My savings were gone, the house payment was due, and our mission was far from being achieved. I told my wife that maybe it was time to do something else. I felt like a failure. She looked at me and said, “Give it one more month. This is where God wants you to be.” I don’t wish to preach but I have to tell you what happened the next day. A grant came in from the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Dee Kelley Foundation that paid our bills through the end of the year. I quit worrying about the finances ever since that day. There always seem to be “enough”. In December 2019 we were able to receive grant monies since we were able to show production records from our first year. That allowed us to make some significant investments going forward as well as increase to variety of produce we sell. In our first year, 2019, we produced a little over 4000 pounds of produce. In 2020 we increased our yield more than twofold to 8200 pounds. Through our work with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC, we were able to bring our subsidized sales percentage to 49%. Covid was a challenge for everyone in 2020. However, it had several positive impacts for Opal’s Farm. Our volunteer hours increased as folks found out the farm was a great place for safe, outdoor activity. People also began to pay more attention to where there food comes from and how it’s produced. We’ve developed new relationships on both the retail and subsidized sides of the business model. Donations to area food banks have increased to almost 15%. More people are aware of Opal’s Farm. We have tremendous opportunities for “teaching moments” that we might not have had without the pandemic. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in the last two-plus years is that we have an amazing food justice community in DFW – growers, activists, organizations, and advocates – who work hard to end food insecurity and help all of us live better, healthier lives. Opal’s Farm is proud and honored to be a part of that community. This past year was incredibly difficult for me personally. My youngest son, Jeremy – a local visual artist and curator – passed in May. The farm has been my therapy for the last few months. I’ve always told people about our little oasis in the middle of the city. It means even more to me now. Ultimately, Opal’s isn’t just about the food. It’s about community and people. There’s something special that takes place at the farm. I call it community.
 
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t often get a whole week off at one time! Wow! That’s a difficult question. I’m not really into all the “touristy” stuff. Life is pretty simple these days. One of my biggest joys is simply sharing dinner with friends. Something happens when people break bread together. I’m an introvert but I’m most comfortable with others, especially new people, while eating together. I thought I’d make the rounds of my favorite eating places. Then I realized it would take longer than a week. The food doesn’t have to be tops on my list for favorite places. The memory associated with the place is what I love. When it comes to great food I’d have to stop by Spiral Diner and Bakery on Magnolia and Melt Ice Cream for dessert. Much of Jeremy’s artwork can be seen at several of the places on Magnolia. Jay Wilkinson painted a huge mural of Jeremy on the outside of the Hop Fusion Brewery. Jay is a incredible artist and friend. Jeremy did the murals inside Hop Fusion. I’d take them to Ol’ South Pancake House for a late night breakfast so we could watch the slightly inebriated coming in after the bars close. It’s cheap entertainment! I”d have to take them by Mariachi’s at 4th and Sylvania (right up the street from the farm) for some of the best Mexican food in Fort Worth. I’d have to take them by Opal’s Farm of course. The Cowtown Farmers Market is a must stop for the best local produce in North Texas. Then I would have to introduce them to Fort Worth culture – the idea I can go to the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo and walk over to the Kimball and Amon Carter museums is one of the things I love most about Fort Worth. I can drive five minutes away from my house in the city and suddenly be in the country. You have to love it…
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
We definitely have a lot of shout outs to give! We have been blessed with a dedicated cadre of volunteers, mentors, and sponsors who have helped make Opal’s Farm a reality. First, Opal’s Farm wouldn’t even exist were it not for the vision of Opal Lee – our namesake – and Unity Unlimited, Inc. At 94, Ms. Opal’s activism is still providing hope and inspiration for for us all. It was her work in the city and the Community Food Bank that led to the donation of a free lease from the Tarrant Regional Water District for the farm. Then there’s our mentor and friend, Charlie Blaylock, with Shines Farmstand, He has been with the farm every step of the way – from the initial planning, our first sales at the Cowtown Farmers Market (our retail outlet), and our expansion in the coming year. We could not ask for a better mentor and friend. I don’t have enough space to list each of our friends of the farm who have helped us along the way – Grow SE, Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration, Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, Container King, Zimmerer Kubota, Home Depot Store #8521 are just a few.
Website: www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/opalsfarm/
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/showcase/opals-farm
Twitter: @opalsfarm
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unityunlimited
Nominate Someone: ShoutoutDFW is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.
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It’s Almost over

Monday marked the official beginning of winter – the winter solstice. The first day of winter was sunny and seventy degrees. It doesn’t look like a White Christmas is in the plan. The winter solstice is also the longest night of the year. That sums up the whole year – one long, dark winter night.

In January there were reports of a new virus spreading in China. On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic that’s taken almost two million lives since then. The economy shut down in March. Even when states began reopening economic recovery remained questionable at best. To top it all off, people lost all sense of sanity and decency over simple masks. Apparently, the right to go without one and violate common sense precautions trumps (yes, folks – pun intended…) everyone else’s right to health and safety. Don’t get me started. I have friends who have lost fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles – many times in rapid succession. Please folks – this is serious so please be kind enough to respect your neighbors…

In February, the primary election season started. By August, candidates had been nominated and the real dogfight began. We were constantly bombarded with negative ads, blatant lies, bitter division, and juvenile behavior. We prayed for November 3rd to finally shut it all down, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Donald Trump threw a hissy fit over his loss like a petulant child. His insanity and inability to deal with reality continue to stoke divisiveness and hate. Sometimes it feels as if we’re on a downward spiral that never ends.

In May, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police officer, who stood on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds setting off a summer of mass protests. Black people, especially Black men, are killed all too frequently by white police officers. The growing list of people of color who died at the hands of white officers has often faded in public awareness as the news cycle changes to something shiny and new. Although there have been many media reports in the past about police killings and people of color, this one was different. The video showing Floyd’s murder was particularly heinous. It got everyone’s attention. Summer of 2020 came to be known as the summer of “racial reckoning. We can only hope…

Opal’s Farm lost one of its best friends on September 7th. Chuck Briant, or “Food Truck Chuck” as many called him passed away suddenly and left a void in the hearts of all of us at Opal’s Farm. His passion for feeding people and healthy eating was contagious. He brought more people to the farm than anyone could have hoped. He was one of our biggest fans and a friend of mine. I miss him and can’t help but get a little teary-eyed when I’m watering the farm. That was Chuck’s job. It’s hard to picture Chuck without a water hose in his hand.

Personal tragedy hit on May 29th, 2020. My son Jeremy was found dead in his apartment. This has been the darkest five months of my life. Jeremy’s was born on Christmas Day in 1982. My holiday spirit is understandably lacking. There are days when the grief seems too much to bear. I get to spend a lot more alone time at the farm during the winter. Most days are sans volunteers. That’s both good and bad emotionally. The winter solstice reminds me of the “long, dark night of the soul” St. John of the Cross wrote about.

Today is a new day. The winter solstice has passed. The light will stick around a little longer with each passing day; at least for the next six months. Then the cycle will begin all over after the summer solstice in June. That’s the way it is with the seasons and it’s that way it is with life – up and down, round and round…

I don’t know what 2021 has in store, but I have faith that, like the day after the winter solstice, the light will last longer with each passing day. COVID vaccines recently became available and perhaps they will help end, or at least diminish the destruction of the pandemic. Maybe we learned a few things over the last few months. We might even discover a better “normal” when all is said and done. We can certainly hope…

On January 20th, a new Administration will begin and maybe some civility will return to our socio-political discourse. I’m not overly optimistic but anything is an improvement over the last four years, even Washington as usual. The faces change but the song remains the same…

The racial protests of this summer start real conversations that lead to real changes. The Juneteenth caravan this summer was a diverse group of people celebrating Juneteenth. Onlookers – white people – held signs “We are listening”. Listening, not simply hearing, real listening and building new diverse relationships is the beginning of change. My friend Jim always told me that “once you’re aware you can’t become unaware”. I pray the solstice has come and the light will get longer and brighter on our struggle to build a just society.

I know I’m not the only parent to lose a child (and yes, Jeremy may have been 37 but he’ll always be my kid). I’ve joined “a club that no one wants to be a part of”, as my friend Edgar says. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. 2021 will not be “better”. It will be “different”. I’m blessed and tremendously grateful for the friends I have today – friends who have allowed me the space to grieve and are still there to offer love and support. Some people are left to grieve in isolation. No one should have to do that.

Christmas and New Year’s will be emotionally onerous this year, but it doesn’t take away what Christmas represents – the birth of Immanuel, “God with us”. Each time I think of the gift God gave us I find hope. Despite all the hardships this year I know God is with us. He hasn’t given up on His kids. After all, the winter solstice reminds us of the light – the light that’s always there.

To each of you I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Photo by Marissa Daeger on Unsplash
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We’re Growing (as always)…

I awoke to the sound of rumbling thunder and a soaking rain on Sunday morning. It looks like the pump will get to stay in the barn for a few days. I get to stay home update you all on the farm and enjoy the rest of Sunday with my wife. Opal’s Farm gets a well-deserved shower. It’s a win/win for everyone!

I’d like to thank Roman for all the hard work. Roman is one of the Tarleton State interns with Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Grow SE. He’s completed many of his field hours literally in the field! He’s been an unbelievable help to Opal’s Farm – getting tilling, new infrastructure, and preparing beds for Spring (and some great conversation as well!). Roman, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas break. Thank you for all you do!

I’d also like to apologize for the scheduling conflicts that prevented us from setting up at the Tributary Café for Holiday Open Streets on Race Street. As we begin to hire new employees in the coming year we will be able to make more markets like these.

As 2020 draws to a close (Thank God!), We’ve been looking at how we can serve the community better. Our second year as brought so many blessings to the farm – our yields are up twice as much as last year and getting better.

  • Grant money was made available through Healthy Tarrant Collaboration and the United Way to improve our overall soil health, provide more variety in the produce we grow, and make key infrastructure purchases.
  • Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota made it possible to expand our production area by providing us with a tractor that shortens the time (and labor!) to grow more food.
  • J. Davis Tree Care has brought over truckloads of woods chips from their yard. Much of it is already composted and applied directly to productions. The chips that aren’t composted cover the walkways and help with weed control.
  • The White Settlement Home Depot (store #8521) has been a huge sponsor of Opal’s Farm and came through again this season. Natasha Neidhart, the Store Manager and District Captain for Team Depot (the Home Depot Foundation) pulled together our wish list and added things we needed and didn’t even think of. We couldn’t ask for a better partner and friend of Opal’s Farm. We give them a tremendous “shout out” and an even bigger “thank you”.
Thanks Home Depot!
  • Blue Zones Project Fort Worth has been one of our biggest fans and supporters in so many ways – financially, volunteering, and setting up compost pick-ups with Elrod’s Grocery on the Northside and Foodland near the farm. Our composting program has drastically improved since last year. Thank you, Brenda Patton and Blue Zones!
  • I wouldn’t even think of forgetting to thank our biggest supporter, the Tarrant Regional Water District. Not only did they grant the acreage for Opal’s Farm, but they have also supported us in far too many ways to mention. They will be assisting us with new irrigation means in the coming months. That will improve our irrigation dramatically and make it more efficient. Efficiency leads to increased yields in both quantity and quality.

We hope the changes will be exciting to you as well. We want to make Opal’s Farm more accessible to everyone.

Please don’t forget Cultural Kitchen this Friday at 12 PM CST – 1 PM CST Hosted by Fort Worth Community Arts CenterThe Arts Council of Fort Worth and Opal’s Farm