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].
Lordy lordy look who’s 40! I crossed that milestone on Friday and I’m feeling pretty darn good about it. As I take stock of my life, I’m grateful for many things, most of all health, family and community. I’m glad for the reminder to step back and reflect, and I appreciate the people with whom I share this journey of life.
When I turned 30 we were still in the early stages of building a farm business, learning the lessons through trial and tribulation. Now, a decade later, we are engaged in a variety of small-farm enterprises, from raising animals to cannabis to farmers markets, CSA and farmstand. There have been so many changes along the way, the loss of Mama the matriarch looms largest among them, along with the birth of my nephew who is now a rapidly growing small boy.
As the farm has grown and changed, the responsibility I carry and the complexity of the operations has increased to a level of coordination that challenges me on my best days and overwhelms me when I’m not up to par. Some things get easier over time, while others remain difficult and intimidating.
Killing and processing animals will never be easy, but the tasks have taken on a feeling that is closer to comfort than anxiety on a mental spectrum. I don’t enjoy killing, but I draw succor and sustenance from the depth of the interaction. As we deepen into the practice of raising many kinds of animals, I take on relationships with each and strive to serve their needs during the course of their lives.
The cycles of planting, tending and harvest increase with each season, becoming more routine as each year passes by. As the seasons move along, the tasks arrive with a feeling of consonance and steadiness, a sense of “I’ve been here before and know just what to do”. There are still many mistakes and learning lessons, but each year gets a little better. The physical nature of the work changes little, but I get better at pacing myself and not overdoing it, trying to maintain health and strength and paying more attention to how I do the work so as to avoid injury.
There are so many lessons that I was told as a younger man but that I couldn’t really internalize without experience. Basic things about health and taking care of myself, some of which I’m paying the price for now. I should have protected my hearing more, and I should have paid more attention to form when lifting to avoid hurting my back. That said, I’m glad for the physical capacity that I have for work and I appreciate the health of my body more and more as the seasons pass by.
I am still learning the lesson of “work smarter, not harder”, struggling to take the time to go get the right tool for the job when I can just push myself a little harder to accomplish it with my body. As I get older though, the lesson becomes more necessary and I can see the continuum of life that will eventually slow me down enough to not be in such a rush, to take the necessary time.
The last decade of farming has been intense, building the farm infrastructure, navigating the bullshit cannabis compliance process, enjoying the human interactions of farmers markets and the relationships built through our CSA program. These have been the years of frenetic, sprinting pace, often struggling with burnout and overwork, but I look around me and am well satisfied with where we are today.
One of my goals for the year to come is to institute more regular scheduling of time for processing and value-adding the things we grow. I also want to be more consistent with my efforts to gather forage and feed for the pigs, chickens, rabbits, sheep, turkeys and other animals we may take on. I see further efforts in pasture management and raising of crops specific to animals on the horizon and it makes me glad.
When I contemplate a life of farming, I see that it is impossible to sprint through it forever. I reflect on the need for more downtime, for managing workloads and not biting off too much. The learning process continues, and I look forward to the next decade in farming. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!