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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 Trifecta

I celebrate fifteen years clean today, it’s World AIDS Day, and it falls on Giving Tuesday this year. The stars aligned to grant a day of lightness at the end of a onerous year. I hit the Trifecta! My Advent meditation yesterday was about the intersections in life – those places we encounter strangers, friends, family, and most importantly, God. I am deeply grateful for the intersections in life that brought me to this day.

Today’s meditation was about choices; especially how we choose to see the world. Fifteen years ago, I had a moment of clarity in the darkness around me. I had a choice – stay in the darkness or venture out into the light. The world (or at least my perception of it) has changed dramatically since then.

I’m not foolish enough to say, “Look what I did!”. I didn’t do squat. My previous intersections with people should have left me where I was. Yet, it was those same people who surrounded me with love until I could fully realize the gift of grace – theirs and God’s…

People familiar with the disease of addiction know what I’m talking about. Those that aren’t can’t appreciate the value of “a new set of glasses”. There are times I share my recovery epiphanies only to have people look at me and silently say, “Duh”. It took me a long time to become aware, to grow up. I just hope and pray that everyone appreciates the depth of God’s grace. I hope that your “grace moment” was gentler than mine.

Addiction has consequences. Mine was AIDS. The bad choices I made became physically evident on April 17, 2006. I was devasted and extremely fearful. Today is different. I’ve chosen to be public about my status despite the stigma that still exists. Secrets die in the light. I always find it ironic that my clean date fell on World AIDS Day.

It’s become more of a chronic disease rather than the death sentence I believed to be initially. My wife tells me we are a “magnet couple” – she’s negative and I’m positive. However, UNAIDS reports that globally, almost a million people died from AIDS-related illness in 2019. Moreover, there were as many as 220 million new AIDS infections in 2019. Those number get lost with the current coronavirus pandemic and lowered fear of the disease culturally. It hasn’t gone away folks!

I get to celebrate Giving Tuesday today as well. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have even heard of “Giving” Tuesday. I knew about “taking” and that certainly wasn’t limited to one day a week. Today I understand the importance and true value of giving. That doesn’t simply mean money (although I’m going to ask you to donate to Unity Unlimited. Inc. and Opal’s Farm in a bit!). It means being present and serving our community and one another.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in service to their community. They’ve shown me the joy that comes from being a servant and helped me experience it myself. I am incredibly fortunate to work at Opal’s Farm and practice servanthood each day. What we do – the produce we grow, the food we provide – is serving our local community and helping end food insecurity one vegetable at a time.

We can’t do it alone. We depend on the help of our community to expand and grow and serve even more folks. That’s where “the ask” comes in! Please celebrate Giving Tuesday and this Holiday season by giving a gift to Unity Unlimited, Inc. Cash donations are not the only way to give and to serve. Maybe it’s your time and energy (we LOVE our volunteers!) at the farm our with Unity’s other programs (Secret Santa is upon us y’all!) and Juneteenth. Maybe it’s just coming by the farm to say hello or purchase our tasty, healthy produce. Whatever you can do is truly appreciated – on this Giving Tuesday!

Please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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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.