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].
I walk out the front door to the sounds of fall; the leaves rustling in the breeze, drifting to earth to form a blanket for the soil. We live in the oak woodlands, and though the transition occurs at slightly different times each year, the shift is rapid and striking. The color of the light has changed as the sun dips lower on the horizon, creeping towards winter. The golden light matches the colors of the landscape, earth tones of brown and tan replacing the vibrant greens of summer.
This past week has been idyllic, cool nights and nice warm days with the inversion layer in full effect keeping us above the hard freezes in the valleys. Winter crops are growing well, and the pace on the farm has become measured and kind. There is time for reading in the mornings and plenty of darkness for cribbage, backgammon, movies and early bedtimes.
Farming tends to be a sunup to sundown vocation, meaning the days of midsummer are long but the late fall and winter days are short. There was a time when I couldn’t relax into this rhythm, wanting to work more than the seasonal daylight allows, but over the years I’ve found peace in the cadence. Rest is the antidote for burnout, and I’ve begun to find some recharge as the final days of November slip by.
We’re packing and processing for winter, bringing in the storage crops and going through them before placing them into the back bedroom that serves as long term storage, cool and dry. Onions, shallots, and winter squash are being tucked away. This was by far our best year for winter squash ever, somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 lbs of butternuts and a similar number for pumpkins.
We eat or sell some of the pie pumpkins, but most were grown with pigs in mind to supplement the rations of grain and alfalfa pellets. These store-bought feed sources are not cheap, but after a year of gathering pig food it became clear that I needed to take a step back and begin to plan for next year. These sources will fill the hole in our lineup of available feedstuffs, the late winter/early spring time after the pumpkins and apples have all been fed.
I have hopes of working forage turnips and fodder beets into our production system so that I have a good feed source in the late winter, but have not managed to do so as yet. Even so, this was by far the most successful year of forage production yet, with several tons of summer squash fed all through the hot months, along with a couple thousand pounds of apple drops that I gathered from local orchards.
This is the time of year when I take stock of the journey, where we are, where we’ve been, and I start to think about where I’d like to go. Looking back, there has been tremendous growth in our systems and capacities this year, especially in terms of animal production. Stepping into the new ranch project up the road has been difficult but amazing, working with true pasture and a proper barn has allowed us to level up across the board.
The ranch has challenged me to be better at coordination and to learn to ask for help along the way. There have been tremendous successes in terms of our total production, more laying hens, more pigs and more turkeys than we’ve ever done before, along with a similar number of meat chickens as past years. Learning to work as a team in land partnership has been an experience of growth and capacity building, and having proper infrastructure for storage, pasturing and shelter has been an amazing experience.
Doing something new is always hard, and there will always be unexpected challenges. Brene Brown talks about FFT’s; “Fuckin First Times”. Whenever I do something new there is anxiety and challenge. If I’m not careful with my expectations I can set myself up for failure, but if I’m gentle with myself and remember that new things are always hard, there is a much greater likelihood of success and a lower stress rate along the way.
I love the unhurried nature of these slow fall mornings, the swish of my boots through the dry leaves, the grunts and squeals of the pigs and the hubbub of the laying hens when I arrive with food. I also love that I’m not the only one who does the work; shared burdens are easier to carry. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!