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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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Goodbye 2018…

Thoughts From the Porch: My body clock tends to get thrown of schedule when Christmas and New Year fall in the middle of the week. When I was in corporate America, I was always grateful for a holiday in the middle of the week. Now that I work from home, not so much. I’ve become a creature of habit. It takes days to get back on a regular schedule. I’m becoming my father…

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

I wasn’t sure I should write this today. A “year in review” seems a little too cliché for me.. However, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking back and made some decisions about the coming year. It’s not about New Year’s resolutions mind you. I’ve paid for enough forgotten gym memberships and Blue Bell ice cream to know they’re pointless, no matter how well-intentioned. However, the post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s lull is the perfect opportunity to learn from the past, dive in to today, and look to the future. Year-long increments make it all easier to digest.

The past year hasn’t been the best of years as far as finances are concerned. Starting a new business in a field I’ve been away from for some time hasn’t been easy. There’s been a definite learning curve. I’m grateful for the ability to learn today.

There’s been some lean times where more month was left than money. Looking back, even those times afforded new opportunities for growth and trust in the God of my understanding. God has never let us down. I can say that without reservation! However, I tend to forget that when I’m in the middle of life’s difficulties. Forgetfulness causes a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Fortunately, I’m haven’t been as forgetful this year. I keep placing one foot in front of the other. Let the proverbial chips fall where they may…

Whatever difficulties may have presented themselves this past year, they fade in the light of God’s goodness to us. Many of you know about Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal Lee, and Opal’s Farm. For me it was a dream come true. I’ve shared some of the events leading up to the farm. I see God’s hand all over it: one miracle after another. We ended the year by finalizing the Lease Agreement with the Tarrant Regional Water District and so it begins! You can learn more about Opal’s Farm by going to our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/unityunlimited or www.unityunlimited.org. Don’t forget that it’s the last day for a 2018 tax-deductible donation either…

I also want to take the opportunity to give a shout-out to the new friends this last year who have become a favorite part of my week – the members of the Fort Worth Development Group. I started looking for networking groups and I received so much more.  Thank you to Brenda Ryan and The Referral Resource Guide (https://thereferralresourceguide.com) for getting us all together.

I may not make New Year’s resolutions, but I plan on spending some time asking myself some of the same questions I ask my clients. I can easily get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day work and lose sight of what’s important: to my family, my business, my clients, and myself. I encourage you to as well.

  • Who are you?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • How do you want people to see you?

I can’t think of a better time to ask these questions than at New Year’s. Knowing who, and most importantly, whose I am fills the coming year with joyous anticipation!

I also need to stop and say thank you to the WordPress community for making my first year with you all a blessing. I hope that you all have a blessed, prosperous, and Happy New Year!

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Build It and They Will Come…

Thoughts from the Porch: There is a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that has become a mantra of sorts in my life. “Build it and they will come”. I’m not planning on building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, but I am part of building a farm in the middle of a city. While it’s not the same thing, a farm in the middle of a sprawling urban area makes as much sense as a baseball field in a corn patch.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Kevin Costner’s character wondered why anyone would travel to a cornfield in the middle of Iowa to watch a baseball game. Investing in such a baseball field defied common sense. It meant using their acreage for cash crops and their life savings in a venture that seemed a failure from the start. But, they built anyway. The movie ends with traffic coming from all directions to the “Field of Dreams”.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Success seemed unlikely, the future unsure. It made absolutely no ‘common’ sense, but our hero stepped out in faith and did “the next right thing”. God took care of the results and the results were amazing. Still, it too an action and a step into the unknown. It meant trading common sense for uncommon sense and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

I was thinking about all of this when I returned from a budget meeting for Opal’s Farm. The good news is that the lease has been signed and everything is moving forward. The bad news is that we’re still well short of our initial start up needs. There are materials to be purchased, employees to be trained and paid, and time and money to meet those needs has suddenly grown shorter. Still, I keep hearing this still, quiet voice repeating, “Build it and they will come.”

I look back at all the events that have brought us to this point. Just like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams”, each of the right people have appeared at the right time to create Opal’s Farm. One by one we’ve partnered with the right people and organizations to take the right steps in building Opal’s Farm. Like the old baseball heroes in the movie, they’ve appeared at just the right time and just the right place. Organizations like Grow Southeast, Silver Creek Materials, the Tarrant Regional Water District, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand, and our County Extension office have stepped in one by one to lead and guide us toward our common mission.

My own involvement came about as a bit of a fluke. I found out about the farm through my son, Jeremy. He had talked to some people about an art collective project in another part of Fort Worth. They also expressed an interest in what was to become Opal’s Farm. I contacted them and though they soon stepped out of the project, I began attending Grow Southeast, a collaboration between a number of local farmers and organizations dedicated to bringing healthy food to Tarrant County. Through Grow Southeast, I contacted Ms. Opal and the process began.

Although an urban farm has long been a dream for both Ms. Opal and I, dreams require action to become reality. The time was right to step out in faith, to build it without the assurance that funds would be in place. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve felt like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. But everything has come together, and Opal’s Farm is moving forward.

Experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to take chances knowing that I’m responsible for the action and leave the results up to a power far greater than me. “Build it and they will come”. Common sense becoming uncommon sense…

 The people are in place. The land is in place. Building starts now. With your help, we can build it one step at a time, doing ‘the next right thing”. leave the

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A Simple Thank You

Thoughts From the Porch: I stopped for gas yesterday. I only had cash, so I had to go in and pay for it prior to pumping. I was putting my change and receipt away when the cashier informed me that I had “been the nicest customer in the last six hours”. I was flattered but somewhat taken aback.

“Thank you. Has it been a rough one?”, I asked.

 “Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it”, she replied. “Everyone’sbeen crabby and sometimes downright mean. I just wanted to thank you for beingso nice and polite”.

“You’re welcome”. I headed out to the truck, grateful for the compliment and a bit sad that I was the one pleasant experience in her day.

I’ve thought about our little exchange ever since. I’m saddened that engaging in polite behavior seems to be the notable exception rather than the norm, especially this time of year. I’m grateful that I had “proper raising”.Mom and Dad were big on manners. “Mind your manners!” was heard more than once in our house.

 When I was growing up, I used to look forward to the days myDad would take me to his office for a visit. I always felt so grown-up when I got to go. He worked for the railroad. Railroad folks are a pretty tight knit community. I learned the value of a firm handshake and a proper greeting. I was raised to say “please, thank you, yes sir, and no sir”. My elders were to betreated with politeness and respect. I remember meeting one of his bosses and him commenting on “how polite I was. A regular little man.”

Things have changed since then (and no I’m not just waxing nostalgic…). Social mores are different today. Words like ‘please’ or ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ are heard less and less. ‘You’re welcome’ has been replaced by ‘no problem’ (I still have difficulty with that one, especially from service providers – you took my money – no problem…). What hasn’t changed is the need for kindness and common courtesy.

Exercising common courtesy is so much easier when I see a ‘person’ instead of their position. I guess having been in their shoes it’s easier to reallysee them. I know that’s not everyone’s experience. Yet, when I see a person, Isee one of God’s kids, just like me, most of the time. It’s much easier to treat a person the way I want to be treated, than it is a when I see a server, a store clerk, or some guy who doesn’t look like me.

 I’m not perfect at it. There are some folks who are downrightunpleasant. It takes a lot of work and patience just to be polite. My friend Edgar reminds me that I can’t always be unconditionally loving, but I can always be unconditionally kind.

 Another thing I’ve learned about living by the old ‘GoldenRule’ is that reciprocity doesn’t always apply. It really doesn’t matter what you do. It matters what I do.  

I felt the ‘thank you’ I received from the lady at the gas station was heartfelt. Kindness made her day better. Kindness made my day better. I filled the tank and drove off with a big smile. The funny thing is, I was kinder to friends and family as the evening progressed. I wonder if her later customers benefitted in the same way. I’d like to think so.

The takeaway from all of this is that I seem to get as much from simple politeness as the person on the receiving end. Sometimes more so.

This holiday season remember that the crabby sales clerk or servermay have been on his or her feet all day. The holidays bring their own set of circumstances to us all. Maybe, they had a long line of irritating customers. Maybe it’s just a bad day all the way around. Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows for any of us. Maybe, just maybe, your ‘please’, thank you’, and courtesy changes the trajectory of their day.

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Still Thankful

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Myinbox was filled with a multitude of emails announcing ‘Black Friday’ sales anddonation appeals. It pains me to know I can’t take advantage of either one this year.

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It’s been a difficult few months for Margaret and I, at least where finances are concerned. Business has been slow since my hospitalization in May. The up side is that it’s freed up more time to devote to the farm. The down side is that the farm doesn’t pay the bills, at least not for a couple of more months. Unfortunately, the mortgage and the bills won’t wait that long.

We’re not unique in this regard. A May 18, 2018 New York Post article cites data fromthe United Way Alice Project that, “Some 50.8 million households or 43% can’t afford a basic monthly budget for housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and a monthly smartphone bill.”That’s almost half our population that is one Emergency Room visit or carrepair away from being on the street. Knowing we’re not alone is bothencouraging and disheartening…

Last night, we shared a Thanksgiving meal with family. I struggled to remain mentally present. I had to constantly remind myself to “be where my feet are”. The Cowboy game was a welcome distraction and appreciated more than usual. It relieved my financial anxiety for a couple of hours.

We had a marvelous dinner. Everyone had contributed their own unique piece to the meal. Each had been prepared with love. Everyone ate their fill. I couldn’t help but think of how a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed five thousand folks. My mood began to lighten.

Following dinner and prior to desserts, we have a family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part. I wasn’t feeling very grateful. Yet, something happened as we began our way around the table.

As each of our family shared their gratitude, I gained a little more clarity. Here I was sitting around a table with a full tummy and the people I love and appreciate. That’s something that many folks don’t have. The holidays can be a terribly lonely time for some. Going to bed hungry is a reality for a lot of people. Here in Tarrant County, one in five kids go to bed hungry.

It became a little easier to see my blessings when it was my turn to share. I might have learned the power of ‘Gratitude Lists’ years ago, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and fearful that I forget it. When I lose gratitude, I lose vision. When I lose vision, I lose touch with reality.

What I know this morning is that I’m grateful for the life I’ve been granted today. I never thought I’d see forty and I’m still here at sixty to share my thoughts with you. (I know that may not be such a blessing to others at times…) I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Even when the proverbial financial wolf is at the door, I’m safe inside. It will be okay. I can’t think of one single time when it hasn’t. God has been faithful, even when I’m overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Sometimes I don’t see it until I’m well past the problem, but it’s always been that way.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Our friend Mary, (who doesn’t cook) made amazing dishes to enjoy; all the while being a valued friend and presence for Margaret. Adam, our ‘adopted’ son who reminds us regularly of the importance of sharing life together. Amanda, our new daughter (to say in-law would just be wrong!) who is such a loved part of our family. A great wife to our son, Brandon and mother to our granddaughter, Levi. They were just some of the folks around last night’s dinner table…

I’m even grateful for the current struggles we find ourselves in. For one, I have the gift of Margaret by my side. She has a much better grasp on faith than I do. I’m convinced that’s why God looked at Adam and said, “it’s not good for man to be alone”. I’m so grateful that he felt that highly of me and blessed me with her. She shows me how to love, live, and laugh better…

All in all, life brings its struggles to us all. Our current difficulties are nothing compared to many folks. In fact, they are far more pervasive than most of us would like to admit. Faith doesn’t exempt us from them, but it does provide the sustenance we need to get through them. Gratitude is the first bite of the spiritual food that gives that strength.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, whether it’sfinancial, physical, or far more internal, take a bite of gratitude. 

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Forget Black Friday. It’s Thanksgiving

Thoughts From the Porch: I slept in this morning. I didn’tbother setting the alarm since it was a holiday. I awoke to sunshine streamingthrough the window and it was 9:15 in the morning. It’s not often I miss thesunrise, but I’m grateful for the rest and a lazy morning on the porch.

I’ve had a plethora of text messages this morning. Everyone was announcing their contributions to our Thanksgiving feast. Margaret, Gael, and Mary are busy in the kitchen. Friends have come in and out. Work is on the back burner. The tradition of watching the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game will be fulfilled. God is so good to us…

Yesterday, Think with Krys Boyd, one of our local NPR shows, interviewed Anthropologist Jack David Eller, about his book, “Inventing American Tradition: From Thanksgiving to Cinco De Mayo”. I was surprised to learn that many of holiday traditions weren’t intended to be traditions at all. What didn’t surprise me is that retailers had a huge part in making them so.

For instance, the Dry Goods lobby tried to have Thanksgiving moved back a week. Then they could have an extra week of the Christmas selling season. I guess since it didn’t happen, they came up with the whole ‘Black Friday’ thing. It became the biggest retail day of the year. It’s since morphed into ‘Black November’ with advertising starting well before Halloween. At least they wait until November First to put the Christmas decorations out…

I don’t get as excited as I used to about the holidays, especially since Mom and Dad are gone. Dad was a big Christmas fan and it just isn’t the same without him. I’m more of a Thanksgiving guy myself. Other than turkey sales, it’s avoided most of the rampant commercialism of the season. We cook a lot, eat a lot, and watch a lot of football and we do with family and friends. What better holiday is there?

The only drawback to Thanksgiving is that it’s only celebrated once a year. I long for the day when communal gratitude is expressed daily. It’s hard not to get along with others when I stay in gratitude. Despite commercial claims, life goes better with gratitude than it does with fizzy drinks…

I could go on and on about the benefits of gratitude and thankfulness, but it’s Thanksgiving and the aroma coming from the kitchen makes it hard to concentrate. I’m feeling a bit inclined to sample the wares there…

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Take today to take stock of all the blessings. We’ve received. Most of all, take a moment to say thanks for the people in your life.   ff