I slept in today. It was 7:30 before I greeted the morning with a cup of coffee and some prayer. The Saharan dust cloud that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean and into the southern United States has left a greyish haze over what would normally be a sunny to partly cloudy day. It fit my mood for the day…
Perhaps the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. At least that’s what I told myself. The reality is that I’m tired. Grief is tiring. It drains me of all energy and drive, leaving me at times with an overwhelming sadness. Some days I simply feel defeated.
It may be too early in the grieving process to find gratitude in loss, but I’ve learned that gratitude is a powerful tool to change perspective and move forward. I can still be grieving the loss of my son and find the gratitude to move forward. Ironically, when I came in from the porch to check emails, the first three were links to articles on gratitude. I’m not huge on the whole numbers/numerology thing, but when I see or hear something three times I tend to listen. That’s usually when God tries to get my attention. This is what came to mind this morning…
First, what I’m going through is a part of life. Grief is a common experience to us all. Life is about birth and death. Everyone experiences loss. The loss of a child is a particular type of pain. My friend Edgar told me that there is no name for our pain. Someone who loses a spouse is a widow or widower. Children who lose their parents are called orphans. There is no name for people who lose their kids. Perhaps it’s because no one can find words for it.
I’m grateful for the outpouring of love and support from my friends and family. I’m especially grateful for those that acknowledge there are no to offer and not trying to offer comfort other than “I’m here”. Jeremy’s passing has shown me how blessed I am with the amazing people God has put into my life. I’m reminded I’m part of a community. Most importantly, I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to feel what I need to feel, and I don’t have to walk this journey alone.
Secondly, I’m extremely grateful for Opal’s Farm. I’ve always told people about “dirt therapy”. I can now say without a doubt it’s truly therapeutic. Something about seeing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in a garden centers me. It reminds me I’m part of something greater; that I’m a part of creation. After all, that’s why God created man to live in a garden…
Lastly (for this post anyway), it dawned on me this morning that Jeremy’s passing never caused me a crisis of faith. I’ve never doubted God’s goodness during this time. That’s a big deal. Had this happened several years ago I’m not sure I could say that. My coping systems were flawed then. I probably never would have recognized God’s constant presence and protection. I miss Jeremy dearly, but God didn’t “take him” from me. Instead, He’s carrying me through this time of grief. He helps me be there for my grandkids and those left behind who loved Jeremy so much.
I know there will be good days and bad days in the coming weeks, months, and even years as grief ebbs and flows. I’m still early in the process and the crash is still coming. Thank God for the people in my life who’ve experienced this special kind of pain and will lead me through the process. I know that gratitude can be found in even the most dire of circumstances if I search diligently enough. For those days when gratitude is elusive God will pick me up and carry me until strength returns and I’m able to walk the path hand in hand with Him again…
Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.
My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.
He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:
LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB
Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.
Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.
I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…
I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…
My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…
I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…
My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.
The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.
I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.
One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.
Down On the Farm It’s been a great week at Opal’s Farm. We had a bit of a thunderstorm this morning following a week of fantastic weather. Thanks to the Blue Zones Project we have a large sign for the entrance to Opal’s Farm. Our friends at Zimmerer Kubota delivered a tractor to begin plowing our second acre. Several volunteers, new and our regulars showed up to help this week. We hope it chased away the coronavirus blues!
We’ve been so busy this week we almost forgot to wish our fellow farmers a Happy National Agriculture Day. On Tuesday the 24th Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said,
“Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world. Now more than ever it’s important that the American people not forget that. Our farmers are resilient, and during these uncertain times they are still working, day in and day out, to produce what’s needed for our growing population. Today, on National Ag Day, I challenge the American public to keep our farmers, ranchers and producers on their minds – for all their work to provide us a safe, healthy and abundant food supply. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
We are grateful to you all as well. Your support is, as always, absolutely amazing! Tuesday was especially eventful. The sign for our barn at Opal’s Farm was installed, letting everyone know about Opal’s Farm. I feel bad singling people out for recognition, but Brenda and Carol with Blue Zones – Fort Worth have been incredible. I know it’s a team effort and I can’t thank Blue Zones enough.
Tuesday also saw the start of our expansion into acre number two. One of our sponsors and great friends, Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, delivered a tractor for us to use in plowing our second acre. We’ll be smothering the area in wood chips to control the weeds and provide compost for the next season. Brandon surprised us with a tractor with an enclosed cab and air conditioning. It was perfect for the above-average temps this week (almost 90 degrees…). Thanks Brandon, Jerry, Sam Zimmerer and all the good folks at the North Fort Worth store.
Special thanks go out to Kiersten, Alexis, and Mike for harvesting almost thirty pounds of sugar snap and green peas. You all saved them from my constant snacking as I went down the beds…
It’s a bit muddy following this morning’s rain, but the sun has come out making for a beautiful Saturday. We’re expecting a washout for this coming Monday so I’m off to make hay while the sun shines…
It’s a bit quiet down on Opal’s Farm. The last three days have brought rain and cold weather, but it’s not freezing. We’re always grateful for the rain, but especially since we were able to get all our onions planted (all 3000 of them!) and fertilized before the wet weather got here. We are so grateful for our volunteers that helped get the planting done.
We’re excited that Spring planting is under way. Through our partners and donors, we’ve been able to spread compost and organic fertilizer. Building and regenerating our North Texas soil is not only crucial to increasing production, but it’s essential to being good stewards of the land the Tarrant Regional Water District blessed us with. Mom always said, “Leave it better than you found it”!
2020 promises to be a successful second year for Opal’s Farm. Last year, with virtually nothing to work with except donated seed and a few volunteers, we were able to produce over 4500 pounds of food for the food banks, neighborhoods, and Cowtown Farmer’s Market. This year we’ve been able to add composting, fertilization, and a better irrigation plan so the yields from our first acre will be even higher and more of our neighbors will be served.
We’re also working toward better weed control and soil regeneration through the extensive use of wood chips. J. Davis Tree Care Solutions has been bringing truckloads of wood chips over the last few weeks. We are thankful for their help on Opal’s Farm!
We will be expanding into our second acre this year as the Spring planting continues. We hope to be able to utilize more land when Fall planting arrives.
We wouldn’t be able to do all this without some great partners. Blue Zones Fort Worth, Healthy Tarrant Collaboration and Grow SE have been amazing. BBVA Bank worked with Grow SE to provide compost. It’s been a huge blessing to us and to them we offer a huge thank you!
Our volunteer numbers continue to grow as well as our vegetables! Thanks again to everyone who came out to help get compost spread and onions in the ground.
One More Thing…
We have one major issue going into Spring and we need to ask for your help. Our farm truck needs some work done as soon as possible in order to keep up our work on the farm. While grant monies have helped our Spring preparation and planting, they are for seed, materials, and supplies only. They don’t cover maintenance, repairs, and most importantly, salaries. We maintain a low overhead in these areas, but they are important to the continued growth and mission of Opal’s Farm.
This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the
Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last
couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words
don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.
Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of
weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to
recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after
she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.
We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.
Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was
no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than
one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive
skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She
really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…
Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple
of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her
leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has
eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.
This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the
hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial
difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me
wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over
and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful
“village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most
because of the people that fill our lives.
That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has
wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting
has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops,
building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation
system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely
As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.
None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.
Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.
Along the way there have been many volunteers who have
lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of
fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in
Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us
through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project,
Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply
make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t
forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan
O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.
“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s
Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside
us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty
to ask you for more.
While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools,
supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash
position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most
non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit
When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I
spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew
finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty
that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were
supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing
that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what
God called us to do.
For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been
erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never
more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more
precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.
We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust
that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”.
That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and
Business, especially farming, requires planning for the
coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as
we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved
soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased
yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and
the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an
initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind
donations we’ve received from our sponsors.
Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm
grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly
be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm
and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your
support. We know this is a “we” project.
I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season
of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500,
each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more
urgent to help Opal’s Farm