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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

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Just a Reminder

I know you’re going to get tired of hearing this – Opal’s Farm is having a ribbon cutting on February 15th! I just can’t help myself. I’m compelled to shout it from the rooftops!

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

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“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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Be the Candle

“We either add to the darkness of indifference … or we light a candle to see by.” — Madeleine L’Engle

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Build It and They Will Come…

Thoughts from the Porch: There is a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that has become a mantra of sorts in my life. “Build it and they will come”. I’m not planning on building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, but I am part of building a farm in the middle of a city. While it’s not the same thing, a farm in the middle of a sprawling urban area makes as much sense as a baseball field in a corn patch.

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Kevin Costner’s character wondered why anyone would travel to a cornfield in the middle of Iowa to watch a baseball game. Investing in such a baseball field defied common sense. It meant using their acreage for cash crops and their life savings in a venture that seemed a failure from the start. But, they built anyway. The movie ends with traffic coming from all directions to the “Field of Dreams”.

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Success seemed unlikely, the future unsure. It made absolutely no ‘common’ sense, but our hero stepped out in faith and did “the next right thing”. God took care of the results and the results were amazing. Still, it too an action and a step into the unknown. It meant trading common sense for uncommon sense and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

I was thinking about all of this when I returned from a budget meeting for Opal’s Farm. The good news is that the lease has been signed and everything is moving forward. The bad news is that we’re still well short of our initial start up needs. There are materials to be purchased, employees to be trained and paid, and time and money to meet those needs has suddenly grown shorter. Still, I keep hearing this still, quiet voice repeating, “Build it and they will come.”

I look back at all the events that have brought us to this point. Just like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams”, each of the right people have appeared at the right time to create Opal’s Farm. One by one we’ve partnered with the right people and organizations to take the right steps in building Opal’s Farm. Like the old baseball heroes in the movie, they’ve appeared at just the right time and just the right place. Organizations like Grow Southeast, Silver Creek Materials, the Tarrant Regional Water District, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand, and our County Extension office have stepped in one by one to lead and guide us toward our common mission.

My own involvement came about as a bit of a fluke. I found out about the farm through my son, Jeremy. He had talked to some people about an art collective project in another part of Fort Worth. They also expressed an interest in what was to become Opal’s Farm. I contacted them and though they soon stepped out of the project, I began attending Grow Southeast, a collaboration between a number of local farmers and organizations dedicated to bringing healthy food to Tarrant County. Through Grow Southeast, I contacted Ms. Opal and the process began.

Although an urban farm has long been a dream for both Ms. Opal and I, dreams require action to become reality. The time was right to step out in faith, to build it without the assurance that funds would be in place. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve felt like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. But everything has come together, and Opal’s Farm is moving forward.

Experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to take chances knowing that I’m responsible for the action and leave the results up to a power far greater than me. “Build it and they will come”. Common sense becoming uncommon sense…

 The people are in place. The land is in place. Building starts now. With your help, we can build it one step at a time, doing ‘the next right thing”. leave the