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].
May 8th, Mother’s Day. The snow swirls outside with fat, wet flakes tapping against my hair and face as I bring in an armload of firewood. The stove is warm, the oak chunks burning with a brisk humor that is a source of deep succor. My thoughts are both heavy and light, thinking of Mama, the joy of her memory and her many gifts, and the sadness of her loss.
Though her physical form is no longer with us, she is imbued in the lives of her family in so many ways, treasures great and small that guide us with love. We hold the candle, sheltering it from the wind with words and actions, carrying the flame forward through the years. The litmus tests of life arrive and pass along, we gather in joy of her memory.
Mama was a chef and she loved to feed people, marking holidays and special occasions with meals tailored to the event. She loved lamb at Easter and in the spring. Her May 14th birthday always falls near or on Mother’s Day, and so we honor her memory with a shared meal of marinated lamb and the closeness of family.
Each of her three sons have learned to cook in different ways, men who are well capable in the kitchen. I make simple, serviceable meals that lack the flair of spice and deep flavor that she loved so much. Both Ben and Nathaniel take more after her, marinating and flavoring their meals in ways that would make her proud.
Food is central to life, so much a part of the fabric of a human journey that we tend to lose sight of its importance. The basic necessity of sustenance masks the ritual and significance that food holds, the methods of preparation and the beauty of sharing a meal with loved ones. So often we are moving too fast, harried and impatient, losing sight of the power and import of breaking bread.
Mama understood that the key to family life is food. She reveled in her ability to gather us at her table with the oft-repeated refrain “gotta feed da boys”. Today, Pops has stepped into her role as family chef, feeding us with hearty flavor that sends us back out to do the hard work of farming.
This is the first year that we’ve raised lambs, and though we have not yet arrived at the day of slaughter, I think about how glad Mama would be to see us step into another part of our family’s food cycle. I look back over the years, to my childhood as her garden helper, turning over the beds in the spring and helping her with the work of tending and harvesting. Her love of gardening formed the foundation for my life as a farmer, though I wouldn’t realize it until many years into my farming journey.
Like any chef, Mama knew that good ingredients make for good meals, and she loved the changing of the seasons and the flavors that each brought. She taught me about green garlic in the spring, her excitement for the fresh flavor a palpable experience that imprinted upon me. She loved the fresh spring greens, the first summer squash, the beginning of basil season. Eggplants and peppers brought her joy, and she and Pops shared a deep love of all things tomato.
Mama was all about seasonality, long before I had any concept of it. Like many lessons that our parents offer us, it took years for me to awaken and realize the gifts, finding the mileposts along the journey of life that she laid down for us. Every year I feel a deepening love for each new crop, each harvest that returns like an old friend. The consonance of these relationships is one of the defining characteristics of my life, bringing a sweetness that becomes more clear and precise with each new year.
Life passes with exquisite joy, pain, love and heartbreak, a river that carries us along until we arrive at the end of the journey and enter the sea of memory. Mama’s physical form is gone, yet she lives on in us as mother, teacher, mentor, friend, community member. The lessons she offered carry on, and we walk in her footsteps with joy. Thank you to all the mothers out there for your efforts to light the way for those who follow you. Thank you Mama, we love you! As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!