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: PLEASE fill out Mendocino County’s emergency survey here by March 17 to report storm damage; as our columnist notes, “it will help our communities get the resources we need,” and support the county’s request for state and federal emergency assistance. More information about the survey is included at the bottom of the article, along with additional links to information about the ongoing rescue efforts in north county.
We’ve seen lots of big snow over the years, but in the 40 years of my life here on Bell Springs, there has never been a series of storms with the strength, duration and staying power of what we’re dealing with. The main roads are plowed but people are still hiking in and out of driveways, struggling to get supplies, many are low on firewood and it has been a struggle to keep livestock fed.
North county first responders are all volunteers, and all have been stretched to the breakpoint, in part by the strenuous efforts and in part by the lack of support from county and state government. In speaking with community members, many feel like we’ve been left without the needed resources to deal with an unprecedented storm series. Big gratitude to all the first responders and community members working to help care for each other during this difficult time!
It’s hard to be prepared for something that hasn’t happened before, so I’m going to share some of the learning lessons that we are gathering as a community reeling from a traumatic and difficult experience. We need faster recognition and implementation of emergency support including shelters along the 101 corridor. Leggett needs permanent generator capacity to keep the school in power so that shelter can be offered to stranded motorists. The lack of power and communications have severely hampered local support efforts, and coupled with a lack of institutional support has left many cut off and the communities left to fend for ourselves.
In the high country, the county has worked hard to keep main roads plowed, and we appreciate the significant efforts by the operators who are working long hours in difficult conditions. The nature of the rural roads is that there are many places that remain inaccessible, often with stranded community members who have run low on supplies because of the duration of the storm event.
One of the key needs is for upland community response vehicles equipped with tracks to navigate the deep snow on the many side roads and driveways. As first responders, we received requests for welfare checks on neighbors but we were immobilized ourselves. It’s a terrible feeling to be asked for help and be unable to make it happen.
Despite the tremendous difficulties, there have been incredible moments of shared effort that define us as community. It’s the old saying about how people pull together when times get tough, and I have been in awe of the dedication, strength and capacity of people working together to help each other.
Big shout out to all the equipment operators working long hours to help get to people and open roads for supplies for humans and livestock. Up here on the Bell, Frank Thomas Construction has been instrumental in helping access many neighbors. Ben O’Neill has gone above and beyond in his efforts to rally supplies and organize distributions. Big shout out to the snowmobile crew, Noah, Hannibal and Avery for making deliveries to stranded people.
Deep gratitude to the Community Foundation of Mendocino County for a grant that purchased food, fuel and livestock feed supplies. Without this support we would have been entirely on our own, and it has made a major difference in our community support efforts. We are learning to be more organized, more communicative with representatives, and to ask for help when we need it. The lessons learned in this experience will help us to be much more effective during future storm events.
Now that the rains have come, we’re into the sloppy, slick, messy phase of the snow. The adrenaline is fading, leaving the fatigue that lingers like the messes we’ll have to clean up once the snow finishes melting. On the farm, valiant efforts saved seven hoophouses, while two were lost to collapse. There is a large oak branch down on a storage barn, and one nestled in the narrow gap between two hoophouses in a miraculous touchdown that didn’t crush the tunnels themselves.
Farming has been on hold for almost three weeks (today marks 19 days under snow), at what is usually one of the busiest parts of our season. I’m not entirely sure how to get the wheels back on the cart; at best, our whole year is going to be late. The loss of crops and infrastructure damage, along with the exhaustion leaves me feeling cut adrift, yet I know that when the sun returns and the snow melts away, hope will spring eternal. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
Information about the survey:
February/March 2023 Winter Snow Emergency – Damage Survey
The County of Mendocino has begun the transition from response to recovery for the February-March 2023 Snowstorms emergency.
The County is seeking assistance from the public to self-report damage resulting from the severe weather and snowstorms that occurred from February 21, 2023, to the present. This information will be used to assist the County in understanding the severity of the private property damage and request assistance from state, and federal partners.
The survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SnowRecovery
Please complete the survey by no later than close of business on Friday, March 17th, 2023.
At this time FEMA has not authorized individual assistance to private property damaged by the snow emergency. Damage reported via the survey will help support County requests for state and federal assistance.Press release from Mendocino County.
Read more about the ongoing rescue efforts here:
- Letter from Bell Springs: Community organizes disaster supplies (photos)
- Governor declares emergency in Mendocino County; Meeting notification sent after the meeting
- Stranded in snowstorms, northern Mendocino County residents organize for better emergency response
- O’Neill: Where the snow goes (column)
- Local emergency declared in Mendocino County amid February winter storms
- Tax deadline extended until October 16, 2023 for many California residents and businesses after winter storms
- ‘Just trying to make the next minute work’: Shelters provide refuge in Mendocino County snowstorms