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].
And so dawns a gorgeous New Year’s Day, sun sparkling on the frost that coats the ground. I’m not so sparkly after getting home in the wee hours, so I move with slow steps through the morning chores. It’s easy to anthropomorphize animal emotions, but I feel like everybody likes a good sunny morning. Even more so, everybody likes breakfast.
I like to think the pigs are happy to see me, but I know they care more about the bucket of feed I’m carrying than anything else. They do like scritchins though, and I take a slow moment to scratch behind ears while they eat. Ms. Piggie the big sow is heavy and low; we’re expecting piglets soon.
The return of the sun is welcome on many levels, lifting my spirits and helping the sodden landscape shake off some of the excess water. This last series of storms was a doozy; I can seldom (if ever) remember seeing so much water move across the landscape. My non-scientific 5 gallon bucket has 13 inches of water since last Monday, and as the rain came down in sheets I was out in it for more than I might have liked.
Each year we plan for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to be for downtime and relaxation, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Some years it is so sunny that we can’t help but get out and do some work, chipping away at the list of winter maintenance, cleanup from the year gone by and preparation for the year to come. This year we had thought to hunker down with the rainy weather, but there is a tipping point in which too much weather means more work instead of less.
With milder storms it’s easy to sit by the fire and enjoy the sound of water ticking off the windows and tapping on the roof. With big weather I feel the call to check on things more; adding more straw to keep dry bedding available for the animals and keeping an eye on water movement through the farmscape. This last series of storms had me out clearing ditches, working on water bars and working to keep the flows from causing erosion.
The main ditch on Bell Springs road overflowed at the ranch, cutting a 6 inch channel down into the barnyard. In the midst of the downpour we were out shoveling gravel and doing our best to slow the massive flows of water. A feeling of awe and a realization of how limited I am in the face of the power of the storm swept over me, washing away my confidence like the rushing water shifting gravel on the road.
It’s easy to feel a sense of hubris with land management; the feeling of control is an illusion that holds up well, until it doesn’t. It’s good to be reminded of my place in the grand scheme of things, to be humbled in the face of natural forces so awesome. As the sunshine of a New Year’s Day brightens the landscape, I reflect on my journey as farmer and land steward.
Our farming and animal husbandry operations have grown to a point where the work is never finished, always more that I want to get done than I am able. Looking towards a new year, I think about the shared effort that we make as a family to engage in the calling we have chosen. Balance comes to mind, a desire not to overextend myself, to be able to take the time to do the work, to not feel pulled in multiple directions at once.
Planning is a big part of the recipe for success, but I’m coming to believe that even more so is the need to set appropriate limits for timing, production and expectations. I’m excited to apply the lessons learned in the last year to increase the efficiencies of our vegetable operation. Using the new paperpot transplanting system along with the Jang seeder means that I can cut down on the energy it takes to get crops in the ground.
Our animal operations have expanded a lot in the last year as we stepped into the new ranch project. Learning the lessons of a year on the pastures and working with our infrastructure gives me ideas about how to make things flow more smoothly so we can save time and maximize our shared effort. We made changes in our cannabis cultivation this year, focusing on smaller plants that are more uniform and take less work through the season, and I look forward to further refinements of our methods in the year to come. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!