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].
In the old days I judged the Emerald Cup, smoking bong hit after bong hit and making my notations for each strain. I relished the comparisons, the point keeping system, the excitement of going through a batch of samples and meeting new strains. I’d smoke everything once, notating which ones I felt should go on to the next round. Each round got better and better as the chaff was weeded out and the cream rose to the surface.
I look back on those days with fondness, but I could never do it again. My lungs would wheeze by the end of it, after smoking as many as 60 bong hits on some days. I took the job seriously dedicating myself to the effort for the month in the lead up to the cup. Amber would be exasperated “I don’t want to smell anymore weed and you can’t just smoke bong hits and make notes all day we’ve got stuff to do”. “Babe just smell this last one real quick and tell me what you think”.
As the Cup grew and changed I followed it from Area 101 to the Mateel and then on to Santa Rosa. That first year in Santa Rosa I remember seeing a bunch of our friends in the Aficionado seed booth and it was like a light bulb going on, a moment of realization, and a commitment to be there the next year. In 2014, we had a booth at the cup, and it was one of the highlights of my life. In an industry dominated by glitz, everything silver and black and pink, our downhome vegetable tablecloth and burlap was unique in the space.
We had our collective paperwork, and we had jarred up ounces and ½ ounce jars. We had carrots and apples for folks to eat and big jars of herb on the table for folks to sample, roll a joint or smoke a bong hit. It’s always been a family affair, and with Amber, me, brother Lito and Pops we enjoyed the experience to the fullest.
In 2016 we entered our Great Success and placed 11th in the Cup, and I’ll never forget the cheers from the crowd when it was announced. I’m hyper literal, so when it comes to cannabis strains my tendency was always to call them by their exact genetic lineage. The Great Success was a cross we made of Ogre Berry and OG Strawberry, so when we started talking about entering it in the cup Lito asked me “what should we call it”. “Well Ogre Berry x OG Strawberry”.
He said “I think we should call it The Great Success” and a new era was born on the farm. Great Success has always been the farm motto, like an affirmation of life and work. That, and “Let us be happy in our work” from Grandpa Robert make up the mantras of life for us.
As the Cup has grown and changed, I miss the old days of a small, funky scene. I’m excited this year for a new, Mendo local competition called the Kure Mendocino Invitational (KMI) hosted by local dispensary Kure Wellness. There are 28 entrants, so that the judges box is an ounce of 1 gram samples. The judges are the people who buy the boxes, so it’s populist voting and a chance to sample some great herb from Mendocino farms. We entered our best herb and I’m curious to see how we fare.
At a time when the market is in turmoil, this is the type of innovative and fun activity that we need to bring some lightness and joy. I hope that it can become a new tradition, and that it can grow into a Mendocino cannabis competition and festival, bringing canna tourism and providing an opportunity for farms to do direct sales to customers.
I foresee direct market sales on the horizon for small farms. The chaos with the DCC this last week at the Emerald Cup was disconcerting and frustrating, but it’s these types of situations that foster a crucible for change. We’ve got a real opportunity this coming year to achieve a direct-market opportunity for farms, and I’m grateful to Origin’s Council for doing the work to organize the legacy-producing regions into a values-based trade association that can represent us in Sacramento.
Change takes work, and it’s often slow and excruciating. This year has been one of small victories but many losses. The Mendocino Producers’ Guild held the first farmers market in July, and it was a smash success. I look forward to more of these events for the opportunity they offer to have the conversations with folks who will take our herb home to smoke it. The evolution of the cannabis space continues, and we continue our collective efforts to carve out a niche for the small farms. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
“Let us be happy in our work” reminds me of an old war movie, The Bridge On The River Kwai.
In the movie, Colonel Saito, Japanese Commandant of the Prisoner of War Camp, announced to the prisoners while standing in formation while under guard, … “Be happy in a woke.”