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Can a Tomato Change the World?

Thoughts From the Porch: I need to get a little personal here. I have an issue that’s close to the heart and after this week, I’m driven to share it with you. I haven’t spent much time on the porch. The early blast of Arctic weather has limited my time there. It must’ve delivered some silent signal to our trees last night. They seemed to release all their leaves at once. Except for the few bold ‘hangers-on’, the yard, sidewalk, and most of the porch is covered in dead and dying leaves.

My tomato and pepper plants succumbed to the freeze. I knew it was coming. The cycle of the seasons is inevitable. I know the time will always come to say goodbye to homegrown tomatoes for the winter. I had hoped we’d somehow escape the unusually early frost. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to tasty, fresh tomatoes, even if it’s only temporary.

I spent this last couple of weeks working on grant applications for Opal’s Farm. Everything met with our Director’s approval and I’m submitting them this morning. I haven’t written grants in many years, so there’s more than a little fear there. Did I do it right? What if they don’t come through? What if, what if, what if…

I want to do well: for the farm and as a writer. I guess I’ll find out how well I did when the grants are awarded.

I’d like to be offering a grand update on our progress, but the wet Fall weather has slowed tilling and bed preparation to a crawl. There’s still much to be done in this holiday (and giving) season. November 27th is the Global Day of Giving. I hope that you’ll keep Opal’s Farm in mind if such days are more convenient for you. Please remember though, donations aren’t contingent on special ‘giving days’, they are accepted 24/7, 365 days a year!

Professionally, I write strong appeal letters for non-profit organizations. Opal’s Farm is intensely personal to me and far more than just another job. For those of you who don’t know about the farm, our Mission Statement is:

Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.”

Personal experience has taught me that ‘playing in the dirt’ has the power to change lives and communities and provide solutions to problems far beyond food deserts and food scarcity. If that were all it did it would be a noble undertaking, but it’s much bigger than that.

Several years ago, I was working on a community garden in a local westside neighborhood for B.U.R.N. Ministries. Some of the young men who were in the youth program came to help one day when harvesting had begun. One of the young men asked me what “those are” as I was picking tomatoes. The question kind of took me back. I just assumed everyone knew what they were.

You see, he had grown up in an urban food desert. Most of his diet had consisted of processed foods from the local dollar and convenience stores. He had no idea what fresh produce looked like!

I pulled a tomato off the vine, wiped it off, handed it to him, and invited him to try it. He was reluctant at first. He took a small bite. I watched as his face went from a turned-up nose to a beaming smile. “That’s really good”, he said as he devoured the rest of the tomato. “Can I have another one?”

I’m not saying that one tomato is going to change the world. But I couldn’t help but notice how it changed his face and his perception. It was like shining a light in to a dark place. Once he ‘saw’ the opportunity in front of him he was able to taste the goodness of God’s world. I’d like to think it provided more than simply a great taste sensation. I’d like to think it provided hope.

That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important: to people, to the community, and to the next generation. A simple tomato has the power to change everything. That’s why I’m so passionate about a couple of acres and some wonderful produce.

I could go on and on. Educating people, feeding folks, and empowering individuals for stewardship and the opportunity to leave things a little better than they found it leaves me humbled and in awe of God’s creation.

As a professional writer, I’m supposed to craft my words carefully and ask you to be a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. I’d love for you to be a ‘farmer’, right alongside us whether it be with financial support or digging in the dirt. Moreover, I’m not too proud to beg. My wife always reminds me, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”. This is a golden opportunity to make a difference; to do something tangible. Right here. Right now.

So, I implore you to join us! You can reach us at:

 

Opal’s Farm

C/O Unity Unlimited, Inc.

2119 Harrison Avenue

Fort Worth, TX 76110

 

Or contact us through my website:  www.gregoryjoel.com

On the “Contact Form” below

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One Down, One to Go

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves beautiful
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thoughts From the Porch: I shared the porch with my lovely wife this morning. The sun was just rising though its efforts were thwarted by an overcast September sky. A southbound cold front and a northbound low-pressure system promise rain for the next couple of days. I’m enjoying the porch in advance of our son’s wedding tomorrow (we don’t have step-kids, Brandon). The rehearsal dinner is tonight and judging by the level of stress and anxiety of all involved, I’m sure everyone will be sleeping in Sunday morning. I’ll have some real quiet time then. As for now, the whispered conversation Margaret and I share is broken only by the squirrels, who started early, chasing each other through the trees in our front yard.

North Texas Giving Day is over, the wedding soon will be, and I can go on to other things I’ve been putting off due to time constraints. I watched the 10:00 o’clock news last night and the total one-day contributions for North Texas Giving Day were over $43,000,00.00 and counting. I can’t tell you how many local charities will be helped. It restores my oft-waning faith in human beings…

Astronomical Fall begins tomorrow. I’m so ready for it. It’s my favorite time of year. We have five Pecan trees and several other trees in our yard. As Fall moves forward and they prepare for Winter, they tend to make mowing a little difficult. Still, that can be remedied by blowing the fallen leaves into big piles that the grandkids (and Pops!) can jump into and crush into a fine mulch.

forest meadow leaves autumn
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Fall brings out the kid in me, at least I think so. I only have fleeting glimpses of childhood. It’s not because I have middle-aged memory lapses. It’s always been that way. Others share about their childhood and I’m at a loss for mine. Ironically, I can remember most of the years I drank and drugged my way to the bottom. There’s something wrong with that picture…

Maybe that’s why I long to jump in a big pile of leaves. I’ve been given the opportunity to create new childhood memories. Jumping into the leaves isn’t really an adult thing. It requires letting go of some adult inhibitions. I keep hearing that one enters a second childhood when one gets older. If that’s true I hope I live a long while…

The Rabbi once told his disciples that “unless you return to square on and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the (spiritual) kingdom”. He went to say that life is about becoming “simple and elemental, like a child”. Sounds like good advice to me.

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Today is the big day!Today is the big day!

 

NTX Giving Day Logo

Your donation today will help us continue to sponsor several community events and activities including:
• Healing the Broken – Domestic Violence Forum
• Diabetes Awareness – Walking for Wellness & Expo
• Opal’s Urban Farm
• Juneteenth Community Celebration

Juneteenth Logo

We invite you to become a community partner or “urban farmer” with us. Together we can continue to build healthy, vibrant Fort Worth neighborhoods.

 

 


North Texas Giving Day offers a special opportunity to become a financial partner with Unity Unlimited as we work to better the world around us. GO to https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc.  to make your secure donation.
Find Out More

Copyright © 2018 Juneteenth 150th Anniversary Committee, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Juneteenth 150th Anniversary Committee
2119 Harrison Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76110

Add us to your address book!

 

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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!

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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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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….