Opal’s Farm Launches To Bring Produce To Fort Worth’s Food Deserts

An urban farm is growing on the banks of the Trinity River in Fort Worth. Opal’s Farm is named after 92-year-old Opal Lee, a retired educator and longtime community attorney who has fostered the vision of a farm to feed the food deserts of Fort Worth for years.

Lee celebrated that vision became a reality at a ribbon cut with community leaders and local officials today.

“That’s amazing,” said the former teacher and school advisor.

Right now, Opal’s Farm is a few acres of freshly turned dirt beside the Trinity River, ready to plant beds and sow seeds.

Downtown skyscrapers loom across the river, but that abundance seems to stop by the water. This United Riverside neighborhood is one of many Tarrant County’s communities that are classified as food deserts and where fresh, unprocessed food is difficult to come by.

One goal of the project is to provide fresh produce in an area where there is no nearby source of healthy, unprocessed food.

“There are over 40 food deserts in Tarrant County alone,” says Gregory Joel, who will be managing the farm. “Often people only have a choice of what they can get from the supermarket shelf or from the dollar store.”

This contributes to a higher rate of chronic problems like obesity and diabetes in these food desserts, which are mostly low-income color communities.

The other aim: to create jobs, especially for people whose criminal record is an obstacle to employment.

“There are still people who cannot find work, and so this agricultural project is designed to get them into farming and paying them a living wage,” says Lee.

Credit Paul Cline for KERA News

Opal Lee cuts the ribbon to mark the start of Opal’s farm.

Lee has been a long-time advocate of her community and the causes she believes in. She has long led Fort Worth’s annual June 19 celebration, which marks the day enslaved Texas learned of the abolition of slavery.

Two years ago, at the age of 90, she took a symbolic walk to Washington, DC, claiming that Juneteenth was supposed to be a federal holiday, although it was ultimately unsuccessful. This is hardly the first setback she faces. When she was 12 years old, a racist mob burned down her family home to evict her from a predominantly white neighborhood.

Lee has long been an advocate of affordable housing and civil rights. After retiring as a school counselor, she helped set up and run a local food bank.

Now at 92, Lee seems as excited as ever about her vision for a stronger, more vibrant community. And after five years of work, Opal’s Farm will start growing organic produce to feed the people.

“We’re going to have lettuce and tomatoes and carrots and peas and cabbage and okra and … celery. Any kind of vegetable you can name, ”says Lee beaming.

Some of the products are sold at a farmers’ market and to local cooks. The rest is given away.

Lee says community support made the farm a reality. The Tarrant County’s regional water district donated land along the Trinity, and local businesses and community members have donated supplies and time.

Opal’s farm was given five acres, with more land on the table if needed. At the moment, says Joel, the plan is to cultivate two acres and then expand the business. Planting should begin in the next few weeks.

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