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].
Sitting in a portable hammock under the redwoods, feeling the cool air move across my face. The sun breaks over the ridgeline on a morning of rest and reflection. The big O’Neill family campout comes at just the right time for some much needed recuperation.
With the hecticness of the fire last weekend and our regular schedule of rapid rotation farming it has been tough to catch up. I went to market running high on the adrenaline of the incident, but there was a crash in store for me the next day as the fatigue set in. Though I came away from the fire feeling victorious and hopeful, it took a toll on my adrenals and psyche that I’m still processing.
It is hard to separate a work-life balance and define clear time for self-care. Where do I draw the line between the things I do for work and the things I do for fun? If I raise animals for meat that we eat as a family, is that work, fun, life, all of the above? Without clear demarcations between the various efforts it becomes easy to be overwhelmed when something out of the ordinary occurs.
Assessing the farm after the fire, we’ve begun making several changes. We moved the pigs and sheep up to the ranch, getting them away from the burned pasture and melted electric fencing and onto forage that has rebounded well after we ran chickens on it this spring. There is still some green in the tall, perennial grasses, and the sheep are chomping away at it.
Coordinating the feeding efforts takes more work because I can’t just walk out my door and feed the pigs with the garden wastes we store in our above-ground root cellar. I have to be more clear about my planning so that the tubs of mixed forage are at the ranch and available at feeding time. The ranch is only a half mile away, but it still makes the difference between needing to drive there and not.
The turkeys and laying hens are already set up at the ranch, so as a team we’ve gotten a decent handle on making sure the animal chores are taken care of, but each new iteration brings changes in practice that have to be sussed out and coordinated. The farm evolves as we move through the season, and we learn to work together as a family and a broader network of land partners and team members.
Everything is growing fast, including the many weeds that still need to be controlled. We’re working on weed-eating and harvesting the burgeoning abundance as forage for animals, cutting alfalfa, mallow and comfrey and pulling out wild lettuce and grasses. Weed management is interesting on our steep slopes and the cut banks between the terraces. I want ground cover and habitat, and I value the perennials for biomass forage, fertility and support for pollinators, but things get wild and out of control this time of year.
The fire has put a new perspective on my thinking about the tall grasses, and with the abundant spring rains we have more clearing to do than usual. We now have a huge firebreak to the North, so our efforts turn to the grasslands to the East towards Bell Springs and the South where the prevailing afternoon winds tend to come from. Clearing around tanks will help protect those resources so that we can use them to fight fire and they don’t burn in a future event.
We lost hoses and temporary water lines that weren’t buried, and along with the melted electric poultry netting and pig fencing we still have cleanup to do. One of the big takeaways for me is that we will always rise to the challenge of the initial catastrophe, but organizing ourselves for the followup takes time and energy that is difficult to muster in the heat and bustle of summer.
Though my mind clamored about all the things that needed to be done, we loaded up the van and headed up to Richardson’s Grove for the weekend to see uncles, aunties, cousins and the full complement of the next generation scampering around like I did when I was little. It feels good to get away from the work, much needed rest and perspective to gather myself for the next push. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!