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].
This has been a week of ups and downs, a wide range of feelings arching through my psyche like electricity across the circuit board. Some days I’ve felt like I’m stuck in molasses, like I can’t get anything done, like there’s too much on the list. It all came together on Friday with a banner day of planting and maintenance that left me feeling good heading into the weekend.
I find myself spending a lot more time on market development work, trying to be organized and engaged with the changing cannabis space. The market crash has left us scrambling but surviving thanks to relationships that we are continuing to build and maintain. Creating new models always takes huge effort, and there is a funny sense of history repeating itself in the many conference calls and meetings that are taking place.
There are the same ups and downs in the landscape around me, and I think this is part of the challenge. The spring flowers scent the air with perfume that delights my nostrils, and the blooms fill my soul with joy. Yet the cracks in the ground from lack of moisture carry a sense of dread, a feeling of “it can’t be, it’s too early yet”. With rain in the forecast I cross my fingers and hope for a deluge, a downpour to wash away the fear and return things to normal.
But what is normal anymore? Each year spring comes earlier, and we say things like “this is unheard of” or “this has never happened before”. I have a sneaking suspicion that normal never was, and that it’s just a human way of trying to find sense in all of it. Farming is the practice of adapting to change, of having expectations but knowing that if I gamble too hard on what I think is going to happen that I may lose the whole shebang.
Prepare for contingency, expect the unexpected, know that life is a shifting kaleidoscope outside of my control. Control. The desire for it can be such a futile feeling, a demand against an impervious force, like screaming into the gusts of a winter storm. I’m reminded of the Bruce Lee quote “be like water”. Flow, accept, move on; I tell myself not to get hung up, to breathe, to keep going.
While there are trials and tribulations, there are also great successes! We’re harvesting a banger crop of cauliflower and romanesco from winter hoophouse plantings, some of the best we’ve ever grown at a time when I was worried about a production gap for market and CSA. Everything on our small farm is geared towards succession plantings, many small batches of the crops we love, each marching out through time to live out it’s life and provide for our family and community.
Yesterday we planted the first spring set of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and scallions into beds outside the hoophouses, marking the first tentative awakening of the broader farmscape. After a week of feeling like I couldn’t find the time to do it, everything came together just right, beds ready, irrigation laid out, plants in and watered and bird/insect netting over the top.
We’re trying out new methods that we hope will help to save water, labor and money. Last year we fallowed a number of beds during the summer because we didn’t have enough water for them. When the spring crop came out, we put down compost, alfalfa, cardboard and straw. As spring arrives, I slide the remains of the cardboard and straw into the pathways to smother weeds, and we prep the beds for planting with compost, broadfork and rake.
Worms love cardboard, and the populations in the soil have grown, which makes me happy. The remains of the cardboard/straw mulch don’t look so pretty, but they function well as they continue to break down, serving to cool and shade the soil in what has been the driest winter I have ever experienced.
In past years I’ve spent extra time to build low tunnels over each of the rows, but on warm, sunny days, the heavy-duty frost blankets hold in too much heat for tender, cool-weather crops. This year we’re just using the thinner insect netting as a layer of protection for the plants from birds and bugs, but also as a slight addition of protection from sun and cold. Laying the netting on top of the plants is much easier than building the tunnels, and it won’t blow off in the way that the frost blanket can with heavy winds.
We’re planting lots of crops that will come out early in case there isn’t much water this summer. More garlic, onions, shallots and potatoes than we have done in past years will provide good storage foods for our family while not using as much water. We’re pushing back our cannabis plantings to much later in the season, saving water and time in a year when we do not have capital for extra labor.
I’m coming to suspect that the name of the game in farming is always adaptation. Change is hard, and learning to work with it and not be ground down by it marks the difference between success and failure. Crisis brings opportunity, and I’m excited for the way my planning and the overall farmscape are evolving. There is much to be seen, and I look forward to the process. 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.