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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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Who’s Your Village?

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Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

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Rolodexes

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a crazy week already and it’s only Wednesday. It’s all been ‘good’ crazy. My professional obligations have overflowed into my personal time. Combine them with whatever allergen blew in with the last cold front and I sniffle and sneeze my way through the day…

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure many people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write for a living and that includes the web and social media. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes, kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was helpful as caller ID was still years away. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world in a microsecond. I definitely find research on the internet preferable to the long hours spent in the library or on the phone. Unfortunately, technology is often impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. One of the biggest complaints a friend has about me is that I don’t answer my phone right away. I leave it in the truck when I’m meeting or working with a client. They aren’t paying me to answer my cell phone. I always return calls. I am not, and I refuse, to be tethered to my phone. Besides, I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on?”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

Here in a bit, I’ll head off to a Development Group that meets weekly to discuss personal and professional development, how to be of service to others, and network with other professionals. It’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. There are no cell phones or computer screens present; only good food and good folks. We spend the time together trading business cards and the weeks news. I always feel uplifted and full of energy when I leave. That rarely happens when I step away from this computer screen.

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships. Technology is a great tool, but they are not the be all and end all. So, before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll stop by the office supply store and see if they carry a Rolodex…

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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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Facetime without my iPhone…

Thoughts From the Porch: And a very good morning to you all!

I haven’t posted much the last week or so. North Texas Giving Day is Thursday, September 20th, and preparations have taken time away from the porch. This is an extremely important day for Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. We meet with the Tarrant Regional Water District next Tuesday to finalize plans for breaking ground. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am! I hope you will each consider helping Opal’s Farm on North Texas Giving Day! Your gift can go a long way toward transforming lives. Go to www. https://northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc to be an “urban farmer” at Opal’s Farm.

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I took a break this morning to spend some time on the Porch with my lovely wife. In addition to the excitement building around Opal’s Farm, we are preparing for our son Brandon’s wedding this weekend. We are blessed to have the addition of his fiancé, Amanda, to our family. She’s a beautiful young lady, both inside and out.

The blessings of family and friends are not lost to me. My single regret is that I often get so busy with all the goings on in my life that I fail to nurture those relationships with a simple phone call or pause to meet at the local coffee shop. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I received a phone call from my friend David on Saturday. I’ve thought of him a lot over the last couple of months, but I never seem to stop and call to check in. I was so happy to hear from him. It gave me pause to think of the people I love.

David was one of the reasons I began this blog. There were business reasons, of course, but the idea for “Thoughts From the Porch” came about while my dear friend was battling cancer. I thought a great deal about the people who have made my life what it is. Maybe I could share my feelings about them, about grace, and about gratitude. The three are intrinsically linked and have made me the man I am becoming (I definitely haven’t arrived yet…).

I am pleased to report that David is clear of his cancer. I already knew that from various social media posts, but David wanted me to hear it ‘from the horse’s mouth’ when he called Saturday. We talked for a long time and caught up on the goings on in our lives. When the time came for goodbyes, we decided to meet for coffee later in the week. He said something during our conversation that has stayed with me. It was something to the effect that we needed some “face time” to sit down together instead of talking on the phone.

I’ve thought long and hard about “face time”. It’s not just David I’ve been missing it with. It happens with many of the people in my life. I look up from my busy schedule and two, three months or more have gone by without stopping to spend time with the people important to me.

When David first received his diagnosis, there were many unknowns. I spent time with my friend because the thought of losing him was difficult and I wanted to be there for him and his wife. I would drop everything to be there when he needed me. As his treatment progressed and the prognosis was better, I quit visiting and calling as often. The calls became farther apart until it had been a couple of months since we had spoken. As is often the case, I draw near in times of crisis. Once the crisis begins to fade, so do I.

I’m not unique in this, nor is it always a one-way street. Sometimes we just get busy. I get it. Still, I was reminded once again of the truly important things in life: God, family, and friends. A few months ago, I was afraid my friend might not be here, and I don’t want it to be the motivating factor behind any of my relationships today. I don’t want to take them for granted…

I’ve experienced the loss of several good friends this past year. A couple were expected, and a couple were sudden. At their ‘celebrations of life’ or memorials (the word funeral is no longer in vogue), I’ve thought about all the things I wish I’d told them while they were here. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to leave things unsaid with the people that bless my life. I don’t want to stay stuck on the wheel of crisis, relief, forgetfulness, and regret…

Sitting here this morning, I find myself impatient to get this post published. Despite the important meetings on my schedule, I need to make some phone calls and find out when David and I can get together for coffee. Maybe we can take a walk on Opal’s Farm together…