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].
This is a big week for events, coming off the fabulous Winter Feast fundraiser for the Good Farm Fund on Tuesday, and departing today for the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball. I feel a mix of feelings, excitement at getting to see folks, but also the pull of hibernating and puttering on the farm makes it difficult to leave. These cold, dark days are great for checking on animals and keeping the fire stoked, but not so enjoyable for travel.
The Winter Feast happened again this year for the first time since the pandemic began, and it felt so good to gather in celebration of food farmers. We shared the bounty of the local food system and gathered to raise funds to further the efforts of farmers via equipment grants and support for the Market Match program.
The Market Match program provides double the purchasing power for EBT at the farmers market. Folks can take up to $30/week off of their EBT cards and they get up to $60 in market match bucks, which means that farmers take home more money and community members take home more food. Dollar for dollar it is an incredibly effective program and one that has helped sustain my farm this year as prices have risen on everything and the cannabis market has struggled.
I know a number of farms who have benefited from the Good Farm Fund grant program, using the funds to upgrade their operations and be able to produce more food to go into the local food system. The shared effort of production, distribution and sales is a monumental undertaking with so many committed people working in concert to feed our communities.
It feels good to be part of a movement dedicated to small-scale production that helps to feed the people. As a community, we take measured steps each year and the joy in gathering to celebrate the journey holds a palpable place in my psyche. We are so often hustling to market or working on the farm that getting together is a rare and exciting treat, rife with reflection, networking and a bubbling of excitement for the year to come.
The other day I was reflecting on my life and asked myself the question “what is it that gives me meaning?” After pondering a moment, thoughts of family, friends, community came to mind, along with images of the work I do as a farmer. As I marinated on this, I asked myself “is this meaningful? Am I happy?”
Thinking it through, I came to the distillation that I find meaning by growing plants and raising animals while being connected to the land and in community with the many people with whom I share this journey of life. I delved further, asking myself “is this enough?” The answer came back from within. “Yes, it is just right.”
This has been a long, hard year with many trials. Looking back on the water difficulties, the fire that burned right up to our farm, the wild pig incursions, and the upheavals in the cannabis markets, we have weathered the stress and risen to the challenge. We stopped the fire, expanded our animal operations, brought in our best crop of cannabis yet and are redoing our fences to keep the pigs out.
Farming is an uncertain calling, with so many variables and difficulties that it can weigh on the psyche. In reflecting on my process, I think what I was asking myself was “am I happy with what I’m doing, or do I want to do something else”? The long hours and endless work can wear a person down, but during this period of reflection I am finding the answers to my questions are in the affirmative; I want to continue the journey.
I love arriving at the barn in the morning and loading the feed cart, headed out to tend to the animals, our combined breath steaming in the winter air. I love seeing the rows of young seedlings sprouting in the hoophouses, and the burgeoning growth of the crops as they size up. The miracle of life unfolds itself and it is my gift to get to tend to it; this is enough, and I am happy.
It’s easy to put my head down and work, not taking the time for reflection and evaluation. Turning 40 this fall has made me begin to think more about the longer scale instead of focusing on the needs of the season at hand. Our operation has solidified enough that I am starting to shift to build things with more permanence, so that I don’t have to redo them every few years.
When our operation was young and fast-changing it made more sense to keep things temporary as our needs and goals shifted so often, but now there begins to come a clarity that I love. It gives me the opportunity to slow down, not to be in such a rush, to try and do things right. One step at a time goes the path. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!