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].
Change does not come easy. Last night, along with advocates Jude Thilman and Hannah Nelson, I received a Mendocino Cannabis Advocacy Award at an event hosted by the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance. Looking around the room at farmers, friends and fellow policy wonks made me reflect on the journey of the last ten years of changes in cannabis.
If I knew then what I know now, would I have made different decisions about how to proceed into regulation? I don’t know, but I know that the road has been rocky. So many trips to Ukiah for county meetings and to Sacramento to advocate for small farms, and the current reality is bittersweet.
Enjoying a meal featuring produce from local farms, sharing in conversation and getting to see people I haven’t seen all year was good for my soul. Gatherings are less common now than they used to be, and it feels good to see people, to share a hug and some conversation, a depth of commonality and community that brings me joy.
Cannabis has always fostered gatherings, bringing us together in a sharing of community and love for the plant. Harvest time is winding down and the new crop is in, curing and becoming ready for consumption. We brought in our best harvest yet, and I’m glad for the opportunity to share it with folks.
Looking around the room at the faces, I reflect on the number of policy meetings, and the effort to see regulations that work for small farms. In one sense, it has been a success; the rules are structured in ways that make it possible for my farm to exist in regulated cannabis. In a much broader sense, there is a deep failing in how many farms were left out of the process, and how much bullshit is required to deal with the regulators.
I love the community of farmers, and I see the struggle that we’re all working our way through. Some farms have shut down, and in the current market everyone is fighting to stay afloat. One of the key parts of my advocacy has been in support of diversified farming; that small farms need many different revenue streams to support the operations.
Our farm wouldn’t have made it through this year without the income from farmers markets, CSA, farmstand and special orders. We also wouldn’t have made it without the efforts of local cannabis distribution outfits like Madrone, Mendocino Cannabis Distribution and Redwood Roots. It takes a shared community effort for any small farm to survive, a labor of love from within and without.
Over the last year I’ve taken a step back from cannabis policy work to focus on the farm. It felt strange not to attend meetings, to be out of the loop on some of the efforts at local and state level, but it was necessary for my mental health and our farm. It feels good to see the work continue, and I appreciate the efforts of Michael Katz and MCA, and of Genine Coleman and Origins Council at the state level. I treasure the knowledge that the advocacy continues.
This has been a year of ups and downs, and I think for all the small cannabis farms a time of questioning whether or not to continue. On our farm we’ve faced the decision several times as money got tight and we were unsure of the future. Each time thus far, we’ve chosen to keep going, but it hasn’t been easy.
I believe in a future in which cannabis is available to small farms as a crop to support a diversified farmscape. I love the community of farmers, and I’m glad for the things they teach me, the many lessons in practice and life, the sharing of the journey. I want to see fewer pointless regulations and more understanding of cannabis as agriculture.
Getting into policy work in 2013 and 2014, I had a naive idea that it would only be a few years before cannabis normalization. Now, almost a decade later it is hard to wrap my head around the journey and all the things I’ve seen. I feel such sadness for the end result of the system, yet also such joy in the farms and farmers. I see us struggling against the odds and I find joy and succor in the effort. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!