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].
Yesterday I tested positive for Covid. I had a scratchy throat on Thursday, but I tested and it read negative so I chalked it up to the smoky days and heat. By Saturday I felt hazy and slow, but also hopeful for a planned break from the farm to attend a celebration of life for one of our beloved elders. Alas, ‘twas not to be. I tested again to confirm that it was just a summer cold and not Covid, and lo and behold the test came back positive.
I’m bummed not to be able to make it over to the coast today, sad to miss the community gathering in celebration of someone we love. I’m also feeling a whole set of feels around the farm and how integral my role is in the operation. At first I was super overwhelmed thinking about the vegetables that need harvesting and the maintenance that needs to happen. I struggled yesterday trying to assess my timelines and work expectations, but I woke this morning feeling at peace.
It’s a hard set of realizations that if I’m not up to snuff the farm is going to struggle, yet it’s also the baseline of any farm operation; no farmer, no farm. I’m glad to be part of a family business that can help to pick up my slack, and I feel well enough to do some basic stuff, but with the heat I’m not up to any heavy work.
There’s never a slow time on the late summer farm, but this is perhaps the best time for me to be out of commission because it’s after light dep harvest, before the main cannabis harvest, and I can still start trays of fall crops in the meantime. I won’t be getting the heavy bed prep done over the next few days, but the propagation house can absorb that timeline delay without any trouble.
I feel a mixture of shame and worry around having covid and hoping that other people don’t get sick from me. I had already planned not to be at market this Monday because of vacation time, but now I won’t be able to harvest or sell produce through this coming week. I’m glad to have enough support on the farm to bring in what needs to be picked and I think we’ll be able to get some produce out to special orders without my participation, but it’s going to be tricky and I’m not going to take any chances.
Despite being bummed about being sick and missing vacation time, I’m stoked to walk around the farm and see the abundance rolling in. Summer crops are funny because they take such a long investment of time and energy before they start to offer returns. Plants that have been in the ground for several months are just now flowering and fruiting, and it always feels good to turn the corner, from waiting to full production.
Spring crops are fast, just a few weeks turnaround on salad mixes and quick root crops, which means that there is always something coming in, and always beds to flip for the next planting. Once all of the summer crops are in towards the end of June, I breathe a big sigh of relief because the huge bed prep lift is over until it’s time to clear them in the fall and prepare for winter plantings.
It costs more time and money to bring longer season crops to harvest, but they often have higher returns and longer harvest windows. Cannabis has been the leader in this area, although with the current market conditions it’s anyone’s guess this year. Tomatoes are our biggest producer for the longest time window, yielding hundreds of pounds each week during full production. The length of time varies, starting late this year in mid August but usually running through the end of November or early December because we get such a late first-frost-date up here on the ridgeline.
Peppers and eggplants are starting to roll in, and melons are swelling on the vine. We’ve been harvesting hundreds of pounds of squash and cucumbers each week, making good sales and feeding the large squash as a crucial animal ration that saves on off-farm feed costs. This year looks to be our most abundant harvest of winter squash and pumpkins ever, squash for us and pumpkins for pigs.
Despite being under the weather, I feel good about having some on-farm, low-effort time to rest, organize, clean and ready myself for the next big push. I spent a good portion of yesterday reading, and have plans to finish the book today. Futzing and puttering around as I feel able will be good, without the high intensity set of expectations that I normally hold for myself. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!