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Preparing the Soil

The sky opened up yesterday afternoon and let go of all the accumulated tropical moisture that blew into North Texas from the Gulf. I started getting nervous when the water moved up from the yard toward the back door. It didn’t last more than thirty or forty minutes before it turned into a gentle soaking rain for the remainder of the afternoon. The weather folks said we only got two inches, but even two inches in a short period of time like that can be disastrous. There’s a good possibility of even stronger thunderstorms this afternoon. If it floods, it floods. Only a few weeks ago we were complaining about the drought…

I haven’t posted much this week. I’ve been preoccupied with the two big projects going on in my life lately. One is filling my sales pipeline. Starting a new business isn’t easy for anyone, especially when it involves a whole new clientele. My previous business efforts paid off in referral business because of the quality work I offered and served me well for several years. It takes time and that can be a difficult process for me. So, I continue to do the footwork even when I haven’t reaped a harvest yet. I believe in the “Field of Dreams” theory – “Build it and they will come…”

That’s even more appropriate when it comes to the second big project – Ms. Opal’s Farm. At present, there’s little reward in the form of monetary means. Still, it receives most of my effort these days. It would make more sense, financially at least, if it were secondary to money-making activities, but financial rewards aren’t always the number one priority. So, we’ve ‘tightened our belts’ a bit and moved forward in the knowledge that this is where God is leading us.

The wheels are turning more quickly now. Although verbal agreements and intents are in place, the final paperwork is frustratingly slow. Still, groundbreaking on our urban farm is in sight. Then the real work begins – soil to be prepared, irrigation laid, and seed to be sown – all the things that require commitment, patience, and sweat – kind of like life…

The Rabbi I follow often used parables to get folks thinking about life and how they were living. Spending most of his time in rural towns, he liked to use farming as an example. One of my favorites is the one known as the Parable of the Sower.

To make a long story short, (the whole thing can be found in Luke 8. 1-15) a farmer is sowing seeds (and a bit haphazardly, at that) and they land in some different places with different results. There’s the trampled soil of the path itself, the rocky soil, the ground covered in weeds, and the nutrient-enriched, ‘black dirt’ soil. The seeds either were eaten by the birds (the beaten path), couldn’t take root, (the gravel), or were choked out by the weeds. Only good old black dirt produced a rich bounty. Even his followers were slow to understand what he was talking about, so he breaks it down further, so maybe they’ll understand what in the world he’s talking about…

I grew up hearing this story many times. The standard interpretation was that ‘the seed’ was the word of God and I had better have a righteous heart to receive it. I believed that until a friend asked me, “What kind of soil are you?” Honestly, I was a bit confused by the question. I won’t bore you with the details of the conversation that followed, but I will tell you that I see the story a bit differently today. It has far more to do with the soil than the seed and it means far more to me today.

I quickly realized that I’d become ‘the beaten path’ – life was too hard to grow anything. I had allowed life, and others, to wear me down, to trample over me, until I couldn’t sustain anything for long. It was readily apparent in my addiction and often, people-pleasing manipulation. For that I’m somewhat grateful; it’s far more, subtle for most people.

The first thing we’ll be doing for Ms. Opal’s Farm is preparing the soil. We are fortunate. The land designated for our farm is rich, Trinity River bottomland, but it still needs to be prepared. Using 100% organic means (in other words, nature’s way), we’ll nurture the soil to prepare for planting through composting and covering. We’ll follow that up with planting, watering, and eventually, harvesting. I’m excited about the harvest because I know that the good soil, the ‘black dirt’, will produce a bumper crop for the surrounding community.

Just like on the farm, we’ll be preparing the ‘soil’ in the neighborhoods as well. We firmly believe that an agricultural intervention can not only bring much needed healthy fruits and vegetables denied to low-income communities for far too long but build community, as well. Low-income communities have been ‘beaten down’ by a myriad of issues; food insecurity, the lack of access to healthy foods and the resulting medical issues, and by isolation as well. The farm will produce opportunities, not just high-quality agricultural products. Work, training, and entrepreneurial spirit are the natural by-product for communities that are often overlooked by others.

I’m excited for the future of our farm, the surrounding neighborhoods, the growth ahead. I plan to keep you posted as to our progress. If you’d like to share in our work, in ‘preparing the soil’, please contact myself or anyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your donations, whether it be in dollars or time, are greatly appreciated.

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Ms. Opal’s Dream and the Best Birthday Ever

I sat on the porch this morning, thinking about yesterday and making a mental list of today’s lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I turned sixty years old yesterday and it was the best birthday ever! I spent it with some incredible people. The new project I’ve mentioned in previous posts has become a reality. I’ve been looking forward to the day I could tell you all about it and that day has arrived.

To understand the importance of yesterday’s events, you need to know what ‘food insecurity’ is. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. In Tarrant County, one in four children, and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic, go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live under the Federal Poverty Threshold of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25 % of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Feeding America websites)

The bottom line is that there’s a problem with hunger and the myriad of health problems that are a consequence of food insecurity. It’s not just an economic issue, but an availability issue as well. Food Deserts, which the USDA defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”, which  mean that there’s no local grocer or farmers market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. Tarrant County alone has over forty food deserts according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Often the only food available is at local convenience stores and is often of little nutritional value. Processed, convenience foods are one of the largest contributors to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. What can I do? My friend Edgar once asked how would I eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. Yesterday, a meeting with some fantastic people took a bite of the proverbial elephant. Sometime back, Ms. Opal Lee, a long-time activist from Fort Worth and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) was granted use of vacant acreage in Fort Worth by the Trinity River Water District for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Yesterday, that first bite, her dream of building an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community, moved into action.

I am blessed and unbelievably excited to be a part of Ms. Opal’s dream. I was familiar with Ms. Opal some time back, particularly because of her “Walk to Washington” and lobbying to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. Although I was formally introduced to her only a few months ago, she has quickly become one of my heroes. At 92 years young, Ms. Opal’s energy and selfless-spirit is contagious.

The farm will initially encompass five of the sixteen acres available and preparation for planting will begin shortly. The farm uses the model provided by Bonton Farms in Dallas: an agricultural intervention as a means of eliminating the local food desert and contributing to the health and overall, both physical and spiritual, well-being of the community. The farm will be 100% organic. Planting will be based on the needs of customers and the community. Long-term plans include goats, chickens, and beekeeping as well. Above all else we want the farm to provide local jobs, job training and new entrepreneurs and neighborhood Fort Worth.

The meeting yesterday started the wheels turning and I’m so blessed to be a part of it all. This has been not only Ms. Opal’s dream, but mine as well. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘farmer’. I’ve prayed often that God would open the doors of service to others. Yesterday was simply another of God’s answered prayers. We could use yours as well.

I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of our urban farm with you as we move forward. We plan for development to proceed quickly enough to have the initial planting later this year with a winter crop. If we have any doubt about our success, we need to remember that Ms. Opal’s already prayed about it and that’s pretty good assurance….

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Today I was asked to repost this, and given the long list of things to do today, I’m grateful for the brevity required to put this up today. I wish all of you a wonderful and blessed day!

It’s raining today here in Fort Worth. It’s the kind of Spring rain I love: constant, but not too heavy, gently soaking the soil, and intensifying the vibrant greens of the trees beyond my porch. I’ll be picking strawberries this weekend! It’s the perfect morning for sitting here and simply enjoying the day. My thoughts stray and wander among the raindrops. All is well, except for the dogged determination of one little bugger that keeps asking me why good people do messed up things…

Many of you know that I tend to be a news junkie. It’s a habit I acquired in high school and college, long before the “24 Hour News Cycle” and the up-to-the minute “reporting” of the Internet. I was a student activist majoring in Political Science and had some pretty high ideals. I guess everyone thinks they can change the world when they’re young, but the reality of family, jobs, bills, and the often unfortunate drudgery of adult living hasn’t set in.

My motivations have changed over the years. I still watch the news (more than I should), it still drives me to some degree of activism and usually, insanity. The high ideals of my youth have come full circle. The difference today is in the lens that I view the world with. Today I see things differently because of my relationship with the God of my understanding. I’ve talked about that “lens” a lot. I apologize for any redundancy in my posts. Just think of a blind man suddenly seeing for the first time and maybe you’ll understand my obsession (one of the better ones that have dominated my life!) with visual clarity.

Seeing the world differently has enabled me to see all sides of the story. I say all sides because, as my friend Jim used to say, “There’s three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth”. I must confess that growing older, and hopefully a wee bit wiser, has helped broaden my vision as well. That’s probably why I understand “conservatives” better.

That being said, I hate political and social labels like conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, and socialist or libertarian. They seem to be ways of dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with you. It’s just one more way we divide into “us versus them”. Moreover, they don’t really define who we are. Most, if not all, of us are not the labels we use to define one another.

I am not the labels you assign me, nor are you the labels I often find myself assigning to you. I still do that even though I know it’s not true for any of us. Changing one’s way of thinking is a difficult and most likely (for me anyway), an impossible task. It took a new relationship with a power greater than myself to transform my thinking and, more importantly, my actions. I’ve grown a little less judgmental as a result. My vision is beginning to clear.

I’ve come to re-prioritize my belief structure and activism. Things that seemed so important in my younger days have been put on the back burner, and more often than not, taken off the stove completely. Social justice and peace are fantastic things to work toward and my calling toward them hasn’t changed, but the locale has. I’m not going to change the world, but I am going to change my response to it. I probably won’t change my Senator’s vote (especially our Senators!), but the way I live may influence someone else to live a little more loving and kind right here in my neighborhood. I’m not going to impact Washington, D.C. but I am going to do things different right here in Fort Worth, Texas. I’m going to look beyond the labels and be a little kinder, courteous and, hopefully, a lot more accepting. Above all, if I’m to be labeled, I hope I’m thought of as one of those crazy followers of the Rabbi…

It’s a little easier to be an “us” today. There’s far less of “them’ today. I still have differences of opinion with people on political, social, and economic issues. Cultural differences are hard to get past at times. I continue for clarity, to see people as God sees them, and they become easier to understand. If the truth be known, becoming older has made it easier to understand people who want to “conserve” old ways of thinking and acting. Change is difficult at best…

When I came in from the porch, Margaret was watching old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful and idyllic a place like Mayberry would be. I know a lot of other people, at least Baby-Boomers like myself, who share in my feelings. Nostalgia, no matter how well-intentioned lacks any foundation. There never was a Mayberry. Even in the early sixties it was just a TV show. It may have mirrored a simpler time, but not reality. I grew up in the last few years of the Jim Crow South. I know. I still recall the resistance to civil rights and acceptance of horrors like Vietnam. The reality makes me wonder about one’s motivation toward conservatism. How can you” conserve” an illusion; something that never was?

I was meeting with a business mentor of mine a while back and he pointed out that I’m a dinosaur. I know he was referring to my lack of technological savvy (I can still create great content though!). I don’t need any reminders that I need to ask my grandchildren for technical support sometimes but, if I’m honest, I am a dinosaur and I’m okay with that. There are times I wish we lacked some of the communication, informational and mis-informational ability in our world today. Just because you saw it on the Internet doesn’t make it true, if you know what I mean. There’s enough crap out there to cement anyone’s convictions – real or imagined.

I have a long, long way to go in my journey toward the kingdom where God’s will “is done on earth as it is in heaven”. My experience is one that tells me to move forward down the path and don’t look back. I’ve made my fair share of detours and walked in a lot of circles. The cool thing is that you have, too. We’re far more alike than either of us would like to admit. Maybe we can set aside the labels, lending a helping hand and try to figure out how to help navigate to wherever both of us are headed…