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].
Farming for me often means selling the best of the production and keeping the funky stuff for farm use. There are different reasons for this, and I’ve been reflecting quite a bit about it. My nature is to maximize what I can sell and be happy with the leftovers, which is different from producing the best for myself and then selling the rest.
Both ideations have value, and I don’t have a sense of whether one is “better” than the other, it depends on the context and metrics used. I’ve been thinking about my identity as a small farmer, and my desire to both provide for my market channels and to have the recognition as a producer.
I live the life I live because I want to know my food, for the land lives in my blood through what I eat. I am a walking manifestation of the properties that are present in the soil, a collection of organisms, nutrients and cells connected in shared lifeforce. I want to make these efforts in ways that what I produce is worth sharing with community.
There is a seriousness to providing nourishment to others that I hold sacred, a contract that is much more than the exchange of money. The depth of energetics in that connection is treasured, the knowledge that what I send out into the world supports and sustains people in their own journeys.
This summer I’m making some hard calls about quality, productivity and overall production. The drought and the heat have combined to damage some crops, and pests have impacted others. As much as some crops have struggled, early tomatoes and basil from the hoophouses along with turnips and salad mixes have been outstanding.
The brassica are struggling with harlequin beetles, which suck life out of leaves so that they look mottled and ugly. It doesn’t change the edibility but lowers productivity and lessens the visual appeal of the harvest. Squash plants have been battered by the heat and are slowing down in production, but will still put out another few good flushes of fruit.
I had planned another large succession of squash for when the garlic came out in June, but by then it was clear that there wouldn’t be water for those beds so we’ve fallowed them under layers of compost, alfalfa, cardboard and straw. I’ll run the water once a week or so to keep the soil active but can’t plant them until the rains come.
The changes in production because of heat and water have been unsettling, a rollercoaster that has forced deep reflection in me. Like all crises, there is opportunity for adaptation of practices and deeper understanding of self. I evolve as I learn, taking in the new lessons and digesting them along the way.
As I experience the seasonal lull and the effects of the drought, I am reminded of the power of cooperation. I am grateful for other farmers to talk to, to share stories and lessons, to lean on. We work together to supply what we can to our communities, gathering and distributing and getting better at it each trip around the sun.
Running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) vegetable subscription service is a commitment to produce, and our version of it is also a commitment to work with other farmers to make sure that we are consistent in our offerings. I want to deliver high quality produce, and I am glad to work together with other producers to fill gaps and niches that I cannot.
A business depends on customers and working relationships to be successful. Our farm is a part of the local food system, and we are glad to share in the effort with others. I am grateful for the mutualism that small farms hold, that we all want to help each other out and cooperate where we can.
It is in my nature to gather, to harvest, and it is in my nature to sell. I love the interactions, getting to see so many people, having that direct connection to my community. Being a producer is tied deep into my identity in a way that is comforting and centering, though during tough times it can also be difficult to experience. Such is life, 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.