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].
Well alright, it’s been a dramatic, exhausting few days. I want to say first that the experience at the cup was so sweet, a taste of the old festival days when you see friends but once a year. It was such a throwback to earlier days, farms represented in the Small Farms Initiative area.
The effort to make that happen for us was monumental and was done from heart and love. I’m grateful to everyone who worked so hard, especially to navigate the challenges that arose. Big ups to the Emerald Cup, Origins Council, MCA, Madrone, Mendo Distro, Redwood Roots, Sovereign, and all the wonderful humans who make up these organizations. Big ups to any organization I’ve missed. These folks care about their communities with such depth that they’re willing to go above and beyond to work through byzantine and pointless regulatory hoops.
It was also so bittersweet, remembering the times before the bad regulations, when small farms were legion and the cup was a bright and shining culmination of a season’s work that we all looked forward to. When working class people could celebrate their successes or commiserate in their woes and the corporatocracy hadn’t arrived yet.
Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t know what was coming. The purity of the feeling of normalization in those days, of seeing the herb on the table with the vegetables and seeds and canned goods, was one of the highlights of my life. I’ll never forget Pops saying almost in awe “Robert would be so thrilled but almost wouldn’t believe it”. Grandpa Robert always said “let us be happy in our work”, and both he and Pops are guiding lights to whom we set our compass on the farm.
I miss those days of naive confidence and bright hope that good would overcome, and I think that blind hope played so many parts in the rest of the story that it will take me a decade to unwind the threads of my time as a policy advocate and a part of a corporate machine. I know that my hope has dwindled over the years, but this weekend was a spark, and I remember.
You can’t buy, fake or build galvanizing moments in social movements. They happen organically, and this is the first time I think I ever experienced it. It’s like stronger plant medicine work, is it fun, no, but is it empowering and inspiring? Yes, on a level that I’ve never encountered. I feel the galvanization that I felt when I was younger and more naive. More tired and less blindly optimistic now, but hope has returned. It’s good.
It’s clear that the cultivation tax is broken. In a flooded market, the idea that the state will raise the tax in January to $160/lb, more than half the sale price of some herb is an open slap in the face. Given the local taxes as well, even you weed haters can’t say that an initial tax rate of more than half is fair, and if you do you’re clouded by ideology.
Farms need direct market access. It’s about the authenticity of the connection. People want to buy things for a reason, and that’s good and right. The problem is that the state wants to treat it like any other commodity that gets stuffed in a package with no access for the people to experience. Cannabis is experiential, and denied the authenticity of that experience, folks have gravitated to the highest thc numbers because it’s a quantifiable metric. But it’s wrong. You can’t distill a complex being like cannabis down to one number, it would be like the old story about the blindfolded men feeling different parts of the elephant.
It broke my heart to leave behind some of my favorite strains because they tested at 17%, and every cultivator will tell you this. But that’s the thing with direct market sales. Face to face, people wanna see the authenticity of your excitement about something you love, and if they see that, they could care less about the numbers. We saw it this weekend at the Farm Cut booth, the Durban Poison from Whitethorn Valley Farm that is right at 20%THC was one of our best sellers.
It’s amazing herb that we all love and it did well because people could smell it, we could all reminisce about it and the experience is authentic. I think that’s the biggest heartbreaker, that the state is doing everything in its powers to strip out the authentic love and truth that cannabis connection has always engendered and compartmentalize it into another soulless commodity under the Department of Cannabis Control. But the more you tighten your grasp, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. Make sensible, reasonable regulations and people will follow them. I realized this past weekend that it’s the final straw, if we can’t display the herb and have that authentic connection, then there’s no soul and I quit.
But from that dark point I remembered what’s worth fighting for, I was galvanized by having a breakdown when the compliance officer told me to take the jars off the table, that we could display empty packaging but not the herb. It’s worth it to me to fight for authentic human connection that cannabis has always meant to us, and that’s as much of a reason for why I’m a farmer as any other factor. I see the community rallying in ways we haven’t been able to in a long time. I feel hope. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!