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].
Christmas Day, 2021. The rain and sleet turned to snow about 4 o’clock this morning, and I awoke in the sudden silence. It’s always an eerie shift when the noise of the storm drops out but the precipitation continues. In the dim light I can see that little build-up has happened, but perhaps enough that we can deem this a white Christmas.
This early morning is a moment of reflection on the year gone by, taking stock of life and time. The fire ticks away in the woodstove and the coffee is warm by my hand. I’m recovering from a bad flu (negative covid test) that I came down with after the Emerald Cup. The flu rolled right into a brutal caffeine detox, and after almost two weeks of struggles I’m getting back on my feet.
I’ve always had the go-hard gene, taking things to excess and pushing too hard. This year has been one for the books, in some ways good and some ways not so much. Looking back, I can see the unsustainable workload, the overcompensation with coffee and the growing addiction. I knew it at the time but as Pops says, “any port in a storm”.
Looking back over my life I’m glad that I’ve kept my addictive tendencies to herb and coffee, avoiding the pitfalls of harder substances and the drain of alcoholism. As I look towards the beginning of a new year, I think about the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle. Throughout the book, Jurgis’ motto is “I will work harder”, and this has been my mantra.
As I approach my 40th year, I start to see that “I will work harder” is not a pathway that will last forever, and that I’m going to have to make adjustments to how I operate. Coming out of a deep sickness and recovery period makes me more aware of my inevitable mortality and makes me question what I want for myself moving forward.
I think about my work-life balance, and I think about the reality of cannabis production on our farm. Over the last few years, cannabis has become more and more dominant in its requirements, both for cultivation and for managing the regulatory burdens. The common thread among the community of small farms right now is a question of “how much quality of life am I willing to sacrifice for this?”
I had planned a final week of work after the Emerald Cup, figuring to plant the last of the green garlic and sow the remaining beds in the hoophouses to salad mixes, turnips, radishes and cooking greens. I was pushing an accelerated timeline to bring me back to the farmers market earlier than usual, with a full complement of winter crops.
As I fell ill, I grappled with the reality of changing my plans and my physical inability to follow through on what I had laid out. I recognized the exhaustion of a long year, and the drive to always push harder. I had planned on a two-week respite for the holidays, but it came earlier than expected.
The farm can drive me as much as I drive it, and though I am the responsible, acting party, there is often a feeling of being carried along by a powerful current. When things are good this feeling is bliss, a sense of right work and vocation that moves of its own accord. When times are tough the resulting stress is a background weight to the psyche that colors everything else that I do.
Winter is a time for rest and reflection, for planning and preparing. In looking back on the year gone by, I see that we’ve made critical infrastructure improvements and have acquired key new equipment that makes us more efficient in our operations. Looking forward to the year to come, I don’t see heavy infrastructure work, which will free up time for us to spend on operations and management.
We always seek a balance on the farm between growth and maintenance, and the last couple years have seen big advances in our capacity but at a human cost of overwork and monetary stress. With the cannabis markets in upheaval, our focus for the year to come is to hunker down and do more with less. We won’t be making upgrades or new purchases, and we’ll be focusing on developing our varied revenue streams via farmstand, markets and CSA.
It’s hard to believe that we’re about to begin 2022, but such is the passage of time for all of us, mystifying and beautiful with a tinge of sweet sadness for the losses that happen along the way. During the holidays I think more of Mama, her passing almost 2 years ago still fresh in my mind. I am grateful for family and community, for it is the people with whom we travel through this life that makes it special. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!