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].
When I worked in construction I wore a tool belt every day. The tools of the trade were near and dear to me, extensions of my physical body that enabled me to do the job at hand. Over time I purchased the tools I needed to be effective in my work, becoming more capable as my skills grew along with each new acquisition.
My life as a farmer has followed a similar trajectory, new capacity built with new equipment so that now our farm produces at volumes that I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Though we are still a tiny operation by measures of agricultural scale, our output is consistent and we have built the infrastructure and knowledge base to be effective producers year-round.
Some tools and equipment are large and expensive, but the things I use every single day are often small and simple. My pocket knife, holster and clippers, hand scythe and hat. The 30” rake and steel broadfork, shovel and wheelbarrow. With these tools I do the bulk of my work, and they take on a treasured meaning, like old friends.
Time can be measured in many ways; I’ve been farming for three of the woven reed hats that keep the sun off my head. I seem to get just over 4 years out of each; they start out round, with bright colors and a clean, strong weave. Over time the dust and sweat darken the gaps between the reeds and the outer edge of the brim frays. I lose a few of the edge courses through wear and tear, so that the hat comes to look closer to a bowler than a wide-brimmed farmer hat. The reeds that weave the sides onto the top of the hat break, so that the center starts to flop in the wind. Like the velveteen rabbit, my hat becomes real in a way that defines my identity.
When I first started wearing a farmer hat folks would chuckle and say “you look like you think you’re a farmer or something.” This was back when people who grew cannabis were “growers”, not “farmers”. As I deepened into the work of growing plants and tending animals, my identity evolved, and I came to think of myself as a farmer. Over time, I watched a cultural shift as cannabis became part of agriculture, and growers became farmers. That identity shift was important for me as I went through my court case for cultivation, and as I stepped into the role of growing and selling vegetables.
The tools and gear of any trade shape the person who uses them as much or more than they are used to do the physical work of the trade. My hat is a special friend, closer to me than any other article, tool or material. Boots wear out faster, and no other piece of clothing is with me every day in the way my hat is. The protection it provides from the beating sun is evident any time I step outside without it, an immediate reminder of the work that it does so that I can do the work that I do.
Breaking in a new hat means shaping it to my head and getting used to the different feel after years of a comfortable relationship. There is always a point where I want to go back to my old friend, but there is also the appreciation for the better shade provided by the new one as we work together to carry forward the efforts of the farm.
It’s hard to describe the relationship; such depth of feeling about an inanimate article, such a core part of my physical world that it defines my identity as much as any other item in my life. My hat becomes an extension of me, a part of my gestures when I wipe the sweat back with it or in conversation as a sort of “well shucks”.
Having come to the end of my third hat, I will retire it with its previous brethren, the three hats a reminder of my life and time, of the work we did together. The process is ceremonial, a reflection of vocation and calling and the inevitable transitions of life. I’m glad to be a person who wears a farmer hat; it reminds me of the reverence I feel for land, for plants and animals, and for the community who purchases what we produce. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!