This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
I’m a farmer’s market farmer. I love the interaction, the conversation, the sharing and exchanging of our farm products for the money that helps to support our family. I love the sacredness of providing nourishment to my community, to sustain and be sustained by the shared bonds of humanity.
Yesterday we were glad to go to market in Laytonville for the Mendocino Producers Guild Cannabis Farmers Market. It was a joy to see everyone. We used to do these types of gatherings regularly in the 215 days before the passage of the new regulations.
Those markets back in 2014-2015 were a dream come true, a feeling of arriving at a new era as Prohibition breathed its last gasps. We felt excited, joyous. Little did we know how crushing and absurd the regulations would become, that it would be years before we would be able to return to the joy of direct-marketing cannabis along with other goods from our farm.
To set up our table with all of the offerings from our farm is one of the deep joys in life for me. So often our farm exists in a bifurcated market with cannabis traveling down the highly regulated supply chain to dispensaries around the state, while our food remains localized within this bioregion. To offer both on the market table is the fulfillment of my dream as a farmer, and it is a workable business model.
I went forward into the regulatory process because of the strength that I found in those early markets. It wasn’t until I got down the path that the regulations developed in such a way that we lost the ability to do direct to consumer sales. As a vegetable farmers market producer, I’m not much for wholesale, the quantities are too high and the prices too low. This is why we direct market all of our produce through markets and CSA.
I built the cannabis business model based on the direct market access that our farm had by participating through the Collective model. Without this ability under the new regulations, we have struggled to make it. Yesterday shines as a bright ray of hope for our farm and for our community of small farmers. It is the joy of sharing and gathering in community and celebration, the joy of connection, and access to an economic engine that can help to power our farm.
I have tended to shy away from conversations around economic development and tourism, but I am coming to realize that there is great potential for communities of small cannabis farms to make this new model work. With a centralized distribution hub that holds a retail and an event license, there is possibility for direct market access for farmers.
There are several ways to make this work in partnership with community-based organizations. The market yesterday was hosted by Mendocino Cannabis Distribution, and I want to recognize the huge effort that went into making this a reality. I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity, and I look to a future of canna-tourism that can have real benefits for our rural communities.
Cooperative groups can form to acquire the licenses, or community-based distribution companies can lead the way in fostering connectivity for farmers. Connections made at the markets will translate to downstream sales opportunities as relationships are fostered and maintained within the supply chain.
The more transparency and connectivity we can bring to cannabis, the more authentic and valuable the experience becomes for everyone who participates. Communicating who we are through our representations of self and farm gives opportunity for deep resonance that builds lasting connection.
I love the replicable nature of this model, though compliance through the state is complicated given the multiple requirements for different licenses. I see this pathway as potential for legacy farming communities anywhere, as regulations continue to be promulgated and cannabis becomes more normalized in our society. This is a bellwether moment, one that fills me with deep excitement.
The last 8 years of regulatory chaos have been draining, with many uncertainties, wrong turns and mistakes. There have also been bright, shining moments that have given me strength to continue on the journey. Yesterday was one of those times, and I feel reverence and gratitude for the experience. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
Casey O’Neill owns and runs HappyDay Farms, a small vegetable and cannabis farm north of Laytonville. He is a long time cannabis policy advocate, and was born and raised in the Bell Springs area. The preceding has been an editorial column. The Mendocino Voice has not necessarily fact-checked or copyedited this work, and it should be interpreted as the words of the author, not necessarily reflecting the opinions of The Mendocino Voice.