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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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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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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

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A Good Time Was Had By All…

Thank you to all who came out to the FWAFWC Evans Avenue Plaza Marketplace on Saturday. We certainly thank you for your purchases of truly local produce. Most importantly, thank you for your prayers and support for Opal’s Farm and our mission Building vibrant local communities through regenerative urban farming, faithful gathering, and lasting fellowship. We are so thankful to Dione Sims and the Fort Worth Association of Federated Women’s Clubs for inviting us to be a part of the festivities.

Evans Avenue Plaza Marketplace

I also need to offer a huge thank you to the Paschal High School Key Club members who came out early Saturday morning to Opal’s Farm to volunteer their time and energy. They’ve become “regulars” at the farm. I can’t tell you what a help this is going into the winter! They mulched walkways, weeded, and cleaned up the Summer and Fall beds so they can be prepped for Spring! Thanks so much for all you do for Opal’s Farm!

*** For volunteering with Opal’s Farm please go to http://www.opalsvolunteers@gmail ***

Thanks Paschal High!

I must apologize for my miscommunication about our Race Street market this Saturday. I marked the calendar for the evening, and it was during the day while we were at Evans Ave. However, the good news is that we will be at the Race Street Holiday Open Street next Saturday form 11am-5pm. We’ll be set up next to the Tributary Café. We can’t wait to see you all.

Finally, I want to extend an invitation to each of you to drop by the farm. We’d love to show you what we’re growing! We are blessed with a little oasis with Downtown Fort Worth for our backdrop!

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The Holiday Markets Are Here

A freeze finally came on December 1st. We knew it was coming eventually but this has been a long, warm Fall here (Yes, Fort Worth actually had a Fall longer than a weekend!). The dip below 32 degrees  ended a great season for our tomatoes and peppers. Opal’s Farm produced over half a ton of tomatoes this year and over 225 pounds of peppers this year. The bad news is that they won’t return until Spring. The good news is that we have plenty left for market this week!

We won’t be at our usual place at Cowtown Farmers Market this week. Instead, we’ll be at 1050 Evans Ave, Fort Worth, (76104 if you’re using GPS!) from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM for the Evans Avenue Plaza Marketplace held by the Fort Worth Association of Federated Women’s Clubs. Please come by and check us out. Come and support local small business!

Image may contain: text that says 'Federated w omen' Clubs limb 1917 Lifting Fort Worth Association of Federated Women's Clubs #evansplazamarketplace #marketplacefwafwc Hatchaetitee FREE Appl EVANS AVE PLAZA Marketplace 2030 S0, RESCHEDULED Saturday, December 5, 2020 11 AM PM 1050 EVANS AVE. FORT WORTH, TX 76104 Holiday Music Not LACK CK Friday, but GREEN Saturday! Help us support our local small businesses For more vendor info, visit www.federatedwomenfw.org Vendor $50 Food Truck $75 SOCIAL DISTANCING WILL BE OBSERVED'

Later that evening we’ll be outside the Tributary Café (2813 Race Street) for the Race Street Holiday Open Street. We’ll also be there the following Saturday evening as well. We love our friends at the Tributary Café (Chef Mike – your gumbo and fried green tomatoes are awesome!) and can’t wait to see you all there.

http://www.tributarycafe.com