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North Texas Giving Day is tomorrow!

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon here in Fort Worth. The days are getting shorter and it’s been dark when I venture onto the porch. A cool, calm resides in our little cul-de-sac. There aren’t many things better than seeing the light slowly creep across the yard until fills the morning and another new day awakes.

Please excuse the lateness of the hour. It was a very busy morning. Between doctor appointments and meetings there was little time at the desk today. However, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that tomorrow, September 20th, is North Texas Giving Day. I know, I know; you’re shocked that I mention this again, right?

North Texas Giving Day is the perfect opportunity to make your donation stretch farther. You can find them at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc. And just in case you forgot about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm I’m reposting (again) our North Texas Giving Day article. Thanks, and y’all have a great afternoon…

A Very Special North Texas Giving Day…

How Do You Eat an Elephant in the Desert?

 

The word ‘desert’ conjures up images of intensely hot, arid weather, sand dunes, and harsh conditions. We tend to imagine them to be far-off places like the Middle East or Africa. What if I told you that the desert was only a few blocks or a couple of miles away from your front door? While it may not be hot and covered with sand, it’s just as harsh as the Sahara or Death Valley. It’s a local food desert and it affects us all.

The USDA defines food deserts 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.”

This occurs when there’s no local grocer or farmer’s market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. The only food available is at local convenience stores and “Quickie Marts” that carry only processed convenience foods that have little or no nutritional value and contribute to the obesity epidemic, diabetes, and heart disease.

The USDA Economic Research Service has mapped “census tracts” and defines them as a “census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low‐income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.”

According to government data, Tarrant County alone has over forty census tracts designated as food deserts!

How does this affect you? First and foremost, this is a humanitarian issue – EVERYONE has the basic human right of access to food and health. Tarrant County is fortunate to experience strong economic growth and has for many years. As the population grows and more residents move to the suburbs, the grocery stores and farmer’s markets follow them, and often close the less-profitable stores left in low-income urban neighborhoods where food and hunger exist as well.

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 below the Federal Poverty Threshold of household income 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 Bankhttps://tafb.org/ and Feeding America www.feedingamerica.org).

Not only is this a humanitarian issue, but one of economic concern as well. The resulting health issues from lack of nutritious food create more emergency room visits and hospital care for often preventable illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Low-income residents, often uninsured, are forced to utilize county hospitals such as John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Care for low-income and indigent clients places an additional burden on the county health system and is often borne by the entire community in a variety of social and economic ways. Longer wait times for healthcare and additional property taxes are just the tip of the iceberg…

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming, but there is a solution!

Addressing food issues is much like eating an elephant. It can only be done one bite at a time! Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) has taken the first bite!

Unity Unlimited, Inc. was granted use of thirteen vacant acres in Fort Worth by the Trinity Regional Water District (TRWD) for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Ms. Opal Lee, a longtime community and humanitarian activist in Fort Worth, is a founding member of Unity Unlimited, Inc. focused on helping people overcome racial and cultural division so that they can live productive lives in harmony with their fellow man. Talks with TRWD led to the dream of an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community. That dream has become reality.

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The necessary permits are being issued and Unity Unlimited, Inc. will soon be breaking ground on Opal’s Farm. Located just east of downtown, the farm sits on rich, fertile bottom land near the Trinity River. Initially, five acres will be prepared for planting right away. The remaining eight acres will undergo soil preparation for additional crops. Only 100% organic methods will be utilized with special care given to the soil and the environment.

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Following each growing season, produce will be distributed throughout area food deserts, helping restore health and vitality to local neighborhoods. A portion of the fruits and vegetables will be sold to local chefs, restaurateurs, and markets to support local farm-to-table needs and to help make the farm self-sustaining.

It’s not only about the food – that’s just the first step. Changing lives, educating, providing growth opportunities – that’s what agricultural intervention can do!

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The farm will create jobs, provide job training, and bring a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-reliance to the local community. The 13 available acres of urban land will connect food production, processing and distribution in the same space. This is basically from farm to plate; which is a win-win for the residents, county, state, and country.

Opal’s Farm and North Texas Giving Day

Opal’s Farm invites you to become an “urban farmer”, to take the first bite out of the proverbial elephant. Whether as a volunteer, farm sponsor or financial partner, together we can take a bite out of surrounding food deserts and build healthy, vibrant Fort Worth neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 20th, 2018 is North Texas Giving Day. Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Giving Day offers a special opportunity to become an “urban farmer” and a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. Make your secure donation at  https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc. Throw on your overalls and become a part of Opal’s Farm today!

Activism, Christianity, Class, Community, Conservation, Creation, Environment, Faith, Fighting Poverty, Food Deserts, Food Insecurity, Gardening, God's Economics, Gratitude, Hope, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Prayer, Responsibility, Service to Others, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming, Work, Writing

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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The Pause Button

It’s going to be a hot one today, but the westerly breeze across the porch felt so good I stayed a little longer than I should. There’s much to do today. The farm project moved to the front of everything and events are travelling faster than I imagined. A shout-out to the Tarrant Regional Water District (which I wrote erroneously as ‘Trinity River’ Water District yesterday… please accept my apologies because you all are wonderful….) for jumping on this so quickly.

I’ve been so excited about this project that I dove in with both feet over the last three days. In all my excitement, it dawned on me that I’d failed to spend time thanking God for the blessings, of which this project is only a small part. If I believed prayer life required formal prayers and a pious stance I’d be seriously remiss. Prayer has become more of a conversational process with God. I’m sure people think I’m crazy since it looks like I’m talking to myself all the time, but that’s not the case. I converse regularly with the God of my understanding and I’ve even learned to listen better, which has been a major accomplishment given my tendencies toward self-obsession…

However, things have been moving quickly. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t stopped to thank God for granting me the desire of my heart (of which this project is a part). I’d probably done it mentally (I’m not confused where the blessings originate), but I hadn’t done so verbally. So, I spent the extra time on the porch today making a mental gratitude list and thanking Him aloud for each of them, one by one. Before I knew it, my list had multiplied exponentially, and time had flown by. Hence, the late start to the day.

It’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of daily projects, both personally and professionally. In the process I often forget to thank the one who made it all possible. There are times busyness consumes me. I forget that the only reason I have so much to do is because a loving God extended His unbelievable (and undeserved) gift of grace: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. That grace has transformed me. Today I like the face I see in the mirror, and believe me, that hasn’t always been the case. It relieves me of the oppressive thoughts and feelings of ‘never doing enough’ and never being enough.

I know all-too-well the danger in moving too fast, of forgetting the source from which all blessings flow. It doesn’t take long to become filled with a sense of self-accomplishment and the ungrateful spirit that comes with it. That’s shaky ground for those of us who suffer from an exaggerated, often unrealistic, sense of self. When it becomes all about me – what I did, and what I’ve accomplished – I’m not far from the inevitable self-sabotage that follows, especially when I finally realize my self-deception.

In the book of James, the brother of Jesus (called “Old Camel Knees” for his devotion to kneeling in prayer), says, “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of Heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1.16 from The Message). That’s been my experience as well. It is all grace. It’s not about me. God invites my cooperation in the grand scheme of things, but it’s His grace that enables me to live freely and joyously in a world that often tries to wear me down. Grace is what reminds me that God is especially fond of each of us. Grace leads me to treat others, and myself, better. Grace is so overwhelming that I must share it with others. Imagine that: me of all people living a life of grace, and grace leads to a life of gratitude and service.

I’m going to keep this brief. I have a lot (and I mean a lot) to do today, but I’m extremely grateful I pushed the ‘pause’ button this morning and talked to the giver of all “good and perfect gifts”. The funny thing about gratitude is how it increases and seems to overflow into everything in my day. I feel a deeper love for my wife, for my kids, and all the people in my life. I’m better able to see the ‘big picture’ and look to the bigger community of which I am a part. Most importantly, I’m able to tackle the difficulties life throws my way, be a part of that community, and walk in the light. That, my friends, is a pretty good way to live…

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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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Hotter than hell…

I’ve written a lot (probably too much!) about the hundred-plus degree temperatures we’ve experienced here in North Texas. It’s always hot in Texas in the summer, but this year the thermometer began to climb earlier than usual. Heat-related illnesses make for crowded emergency rooms and everyone seems a little worn down by it all.  One local municipality even passed an ordinance against leaving pets outside. The heat is hard on everything and it isn’t limited to North Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Report for June 2018, states that 2018 is on track to become the fourth hottest year on record. The previous three years account for the top three. Somini Sengupta, International Climate Correspondent for the New York Times, reports in an August 9, 2018 article, that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001”. I get it…

In California, where excessive heat and dry conditions led to one of the worst wild fire seasons and the largest wild fire in state history, ‘the new normal’ has become a staple of official vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the term is incorrect. This is not the ‘new normal’. I wish it was. That’s not what the data suggests. Reaching a plateau now would be a relief, but the fact is that we’re still trending upwards in average temperature. We haven’t reached ‘normal’ yet.

I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like for my grandchildren. Like every other parent and grandparent, I want the very best for my kids but I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. When the changing climate alarm bells began to go off, we either hit the snooze button or turned the alarm off altogether. We went right on sleeping, oblivious to everything around us and, at the risk of sounding crass, sh** got serious. I hope our kids are forgiving…

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. According to a 1912 article in the Rodney and Otamatea Times. Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, scientists foresaw the continued burning of coal leading to climate change. It wasn’t an immediate concern, so why be inconvenienced? Besides, our brilliant minds and emerging technologies would take of it! So, we ‘kicked the can down the road’ and carried on, charging ahead full of denial and greed. That’s the reality of it. We stuck our heads in the sand and left it to the business and political powers that be and left it to posterity. To our chagrin, our kids pay the price for our willful ignorance, laziness, and neglect…

In the Hebrew Bible, God says that the sins of the father will “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Children, in their innocence, bear no guilt on their own, but they suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices. We chose to delay action and failed to heed the warnings. Now our children face an uncertain, and possibly even hellish future. Again, all I can do is hope our kids are forgiving…

I’m not sure about the whole ‘heaven and hell’ thing I grew up with, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that a loving God didn’t create hell; nor does he wish it on any of his kids. However, I firmly believe he loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices (you know, the ‘whole free will’ thing), and whether they’re good or bad, they all have consequences; sometimes reaching into future generations.

I don’t know what the future holds for this wonderful planet we live on. Though the prognosis is bleak, I’m hopeful about our ability, and particularly our kids’ abilities, to adapt and change course. I believe in redemption. I believe in grace. I believe in ‘repentance’ – that change of thinking, perspective, and direction that leads to positive change. That’s my personal experience and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of countless others. Amazing things happen when I take responsibility for my actions and begin to make better choices. I hope my kids harvest the positive seeds I sow today. Maybe then their future won’t be so hellish after all.

In recovery, there’s much talk of ‘breaking the cycle’, whether it’s of alcoholism and addiction, abuse, or a myriad of other downward spirals in one’s lineage. Yet, only I can choose to break the cycle by the choices and actions I take today. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. I may not be able to stop climate change on my own and save the planet, but I can save my tiny space in the world and urge others to do the same. I can grow a garden, love my neighbors, and do something because it’s the right thing to do, not just for my family, but for the common good of the community around me.

Despite the fires, droughts, melting ice caps, and rising seas, I have faith and a hope today that my kids won’t have as much to forgive me for. Just as poor choices and short-sightedness leave its mark on the next generation, so too, do good choices and right actions. Today, I’m looking beyond myself, toward the future my kids will inherit, and pray my actions only pass on good things to ‘the fourth and fifth’ generation’.

What will you do?

What’s the one thing you will do to make your world a little better today?