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].
I hear the spring birds chirping as the sun crests the horizon. Oh glorious sun, I am grateful to behold your return after an interminable winter. Yesterday I put fresh straw down over the mud and shit, and watching the pigs nap on it in the warm sunshine, I felt something loosen within me that had been wound too tight. It’s going to be alright after all.
My lightness of center comes after being uplifted on Friday with the help of dear friends who came to our aid. I’d been hamstrung and confused about how to proceed with hoophouse resurrection, feeling dispirited and sad every time I looked at the mess. In the classic spirit of “many hands makes light work”, the fam from Briceland Forest Farm came down to visit for a day and we straightened hoops, strengthened bracing and purlins and replaced sections too bent to still be of service.
The two quonset caterpillar tunnels are now as good as they’ve ever been, one already skinned and one ready to skin with the beds cleared of rotting brassica and ready to prep for an upcoming planting of light dep. The gabled tunnel out by the farmstand still needs a significant repair kit, with a bent purlin and six bows that are compromised, but with one person pushing on each bow, we managed to straighten it enough that it is serviceable for the time being.
Uncertainty is a killer for me, I struggle when I’m not sure how to proceed, and it’s easy to slip into overwhelm and lose motivation. Sometimes it’s a matter of fresh perspective, some willing hands to help build the head of steam that gets the job done. I treasure the shared journey of our small farming community, the way we show up for each other when things are tough, and the ways we celebrate the successes.
Despite the difficulties of this winter, I am buoyed by the loving support that I receive from so many friends, community members and fellow farmers. We all want each other to succeed, and the emotional current that comes from this sharing of energetics is a critical part of my life path. There is deep joy in community, a strength that I return to again and again, a wellspring that overflows my cup and helps me to bring my best and highest self to the work.
The beginning of each farming season is an evaluative process as we look at the different facets of the operation. The more clear-eyed we can be about the levels of work and labor required, the more effective our year will be. Each year we hit the manic spring window, when anything feels possible and we take on too much because we just KNOW we’ll get it all done.
This year there is a different evaluative sense, brought on by the difficulties of the winter, the late start, changes in our physical and mental health, and the inevitability of aging that forces a reconsideration of our farming. My body pays the cost for an overload of work, and that price gets a little steeper every year. This spring is a unique opportunity to step back and reflect, in part because we’re 6 weeks behind where we’d be on a normal year.
When the different parts of the farm go well, each facet of the operation tends to become a little bigger every year. This mission creep can be dangerous, like a riptide that lurks in the background until it catches us at a low point of capacity and sweeps away all our careful plans. Going into spring with more livestock than we’ve ever had, along with the beginning of the cannabis season and a late start for summer crops makes me take a hard look at what we’re up to this year.
We’ll be scaling some things back, planting far fewer tomatoes and peppers this year, and doing less canning than we have in past seasons. The late start makes this something of an inevitability, but rather than rushing to try to fill the space and hoping for a long fall, we’re taking it back a notch. We’ll also be minimizing the amount of winter farming we do this year, which will level out some of the hectic work of fall as we won’t be scrambling to get lots of crops in the ground. I’m shifting away from plantings of large, heading brassica in the winter, because they take up too much time and space, and are more of a gamble because the heads will rot in a cold snap.
I long for certainty, to know what to expect based on my experience and knowledge of this place. This longing is part of the human desire for security, for sameness. I’m practicing being comfortable with the vagaries of farming, the changes and difficulties along the road. It is a challenge that is made easier by sharing and exchange with people I love. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!