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].
There are two ways to have more money; I can earn more, or I can spend less. I’m always working on both strategies, looking for new things we can produce on the farm for sale, and trying to find things that we buy that we could do for ourselves. Money is tight these days, so we’re making do with the infrastructure we have and we’re focusing more on broadening our offerings at market and in the farmstand.
Pops does a tremendous amount of canning, processing, baking and cooking. He makes lunch three times a week for anyone who is on the farm, and does all of the cookies and muffins for the farmstand. This time of year with an abundance of tomatoes, peppers and other crops for processing, the workload can be intense.
Anyone who knows him knows that Pops is an early morning guy, and he does the bulk of his processing in the wee hours of the day. For some time I’ve been feeling like I needed to figure out a way to be helpful when I load him up with cases of tomatoes for salsa or piles of peppers for pepper jelly. We’ll be looking at hot sauce and zucchini relish this coming week, and he has already completed the full line of marinara, tomato sauce, pizza sauce and ketchup.
When we harvest cannabis we start at 5:30 AM, clipper blades flashing in the light of headlamps long before the dawn. We do so because the terpenes are at their highest at the end of the night, declining during the day as the sun hits the plants and then rising again through the darkness. I love the coolness of the early morning, the feeling of excitement that harvest brings, the slight manic edge of the extraordinary effort.
Last week I had a realization; if I get up extra early to harvest cannabis, why not do the same thing and go down and work with Pops to process produce? It feels like an apprenticeship, as I haven’t done much canning in my life and am excited to take on the skill. We drink coffee, chatting and chopping our way through the work. Pots boil on the stove and the whine of the grinder and slursh of the food processor are background to the effort.
So far we’ve done two batches of pepper jelly and two of salsa. I love to eat the things we produce, and it makes me happy to sell them at the farmstand. It always feels good to offer something that I feel like I can stand behind because I enjoy it myself. The pepper jelly is a classic example; my Ma used to make it but I never used to mess with it until this last year when Pops made a batch. It’s so tasty that I’ve started spreading it on cheesy toast and it’s phenomenal on crackers with a soft cheese.
There is such continuity in our little farm, a depth of familial experience that drives me and fills me with joy. Working with Pops to do the canning is the beginning of something special for me, a return to something that I can feel but can’t quite get a hold of to articulate.
Ma was always the foodie, a trained culinary chef and lover of all the things we produced. She led the way in processing, preserving and her love of feeding people. When she passed, we all looked at each other askance, unsure of the footing moving forward. Pops stepped into the breach, assuming the centrifying role of bringing us together to eat, to break bread, to share in each other’s company.
As Pops has expanded his skill in all things culinary, we speak often of how proud Ma would be to see how we are managing, that we are learning to thrive in her absence by way of the many years of her wisdom and guidance. When I look at the offerings in the farmstand, I think of how pleased she would be to see it, and I think back over my memories of her to remind myself of what things she would want to sell there.
I walk down the driveway from my place, arrive in the darkness of early morning, and open the door of the home where I was raised. Pops has the coffee going and we set to work, while I feel Ma’s presence looking over our shoulders and reminding us to be careful with each step, to make sure we get it right, and showering us with love and affection. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!