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].
Editor’s note: You can find more information about the cannabis history series currently going on at the Mendocino County Museum in our previous article.
Yesterday I had the deep joy of attending the first in a three-part series of events at the museum in Willits entitled “Cannabis in Mendocino County: Our Story”. Pops and I sat on the panel for “Back to the Land Generational Storytelling” along with Don and Chiah Rodriques and Emmy Good. The discussion was moderated by Annie Waters and the event is in conjunction with the life work of Richard Jergenson cataloging and archiving the counterculture. Thanks to Museum Administrator Karen Mattson and the museum for holding the space and history of Mendocino County!
Walking through the museum I was reminded of Ma bringing us there as children, looking at the displays and hearing her tell of the work of one of the craftsmen we knew. Freddy had taken the defunct Willits Creamery and reconstructed it as a display in the museum where it remains today. Freddy and his husband Paul were our neighbors, both were lost to AIDS in the 80’s. The hills up North provided a refuge for many gay and lesbian couples, influencing the homestead culture and part of the fabric of our lives. Paul had a telescope and one of my early memories is of him teaching us about the constellations.
Going to the panel with Pops was a special experience that we shared and I will never forget. I love hearing stories of the early days of our homestead, and I find in myself a joy at hearing the tales from elders of their arrival here in Mendocino County, and of the shared efforts in community and homestead building. The older I get the more I treasure the elders, deepening into a respect for the past and an appreciation for the stories they have to tell.
Living in community fosters a transmission of knowledge down through generations. Respect for our elders creates fertile ground for learning, and I am grateful for the time that so many have spent to offer lessons to me over the years. A hearty “Thank you!” to the elders, some gone on and many still willing to share.
The inevitable end of life holds a bittersweetness that makes me hold tight to the memories and drives me to cherish the present, the opportunities to interact with my elders. I think of the many teachings that Ma instilled in me, her lifeforce carried on in our memories, the goodness of her spirit guiding us forward. I think of my grandparents, their actions a litmus test for us today. We often ask ourselves “what would Grandpa think?” as we go about our efforts on the farm.
The event yesterday was a mix of poignant moments, hilarious anecdotes, stories of shared efforts and the trials and tribulations that came with homesteading here in the era of CAMP. One of the main commonalities I find in the back-to-the-land generation is that they came here because it is a special place that allowed for connection to the land and freedom of expression in many forms. Cannabis was an integral part of the experience, but it wasn’t the driving force that it became later.
In the early days, cannabis was a means to an end, a way for people to be on the land and earn some income to help support the homestead, as were the many other undertakings. Some were tradespeople, some developed other skills, some had town jobs, all in service to the budding homestead, family and community.
There came a point when cannabis became an end unto itself, growing into a monocrop paradigm that spawned the later green rush. In this new paradigm, many of the qualities of balance and the homestead lifestyle were left behind, but now is as good a time as any to return, to plant food, to treasure the land.
During the panel we spoke of the lifestyle of the early days, the freedom of children roaming the countryside and adults sharing the responsibilities of a rural community. In response to a question about food farming, I spoke of the cycle of energetics, the effort that we put into the soil producing food that gives us strength and fortitude to raise the cannabis crop that grows alongside the food crops. We send this medicinal herb out into the world, knowing full well the impact it can have on those who consume it. We are serious in this duty, just as we are with the food we produce, knowing it will go into the homes of our friends and family to nourish and sustain them.
I realized yesterday that one of the reasons I like public speaking is that it gives me the opportunity to speak from the heart in a way that often isn’t possible in conversation. I’m grateful for the chance to do so, in part because it helps reveal me to myself, and in part because it allows me to share my goals and beliefs. The event yesterday was a powerful reminder of my history, a grounding in why I do what I do. Though the foibles of regulation have turned bitter in my mouth, there is a kernel of truth that carries me forward.
As daylight breaks I ready myself to head out to chores, feeding rabbits, pigs and chickens. Later today I will transplant salad mixes into the hoophouse, where I will tend them until it is time for harvest. I carry in my memory and psyche the lessons of the elders, and I am glad for the reminders that they offer. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!