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].
The setting sun bathes the garden in golden light as I plant the first full-season cannabis plants, nine Orange Durbans find their homes. The soil is soft and luscious, dark chocolate cake into which we’ve poured our lifeblood energy. Like the velveteen rabbit, the farm is become real, it gets under my skin, it breathes in my soul.
The most stunning thing about this late spring is the growth in the perennials. Everything is the brightest, most vibrant green, sucking in the loving rays of the sun and producing abundance. Peonies and roses are edging into full flower and I remind myself to stop and smell the rose blooms each time I pass, for what’s the point of growing them if not to revel in their sensory glory.
As I plant the cannabis I think about the journey to this point, the many years of repeating this same treasured task, fingers in the warm soil as day draws down to dusk. Though so much has changed over the years, some things remain the same, holding the comfort of routine in concert with renewal and growth. I think about the genetics, seeds that we save here on farm from male pollen that we paint on forming flowers with a delicate brush.
So much has changed over the last decade, a whirlwind of advocacy, policy development, regulatory gauntlets, marketplace turmoil, incremental victories, crushing defeats. I breathe in the peace of the evening and think to myself “I’m still here, still doing what I love.” I feel gratitude for the opportunity, and sadness for the many small farms who have had to hang it up in the face of so many challenges.
As I plant the female plants I painstakingly sexed to make sure no males go into the garden, I think about the act of saving seed in a marketplace dominated by clonal production. The place for seed plants is dwindling, yet I hold on with a grim joy, a stubborn refusal to let go the old ways. Though more than half of the crop in my garden will be clones, the seed plants still bring me the greatest connection to the plant and the process.
Life is cyclical energy, ebbing and flowing in a kaleidoscope of interaction that reflects and refracts along the path. I raise food to eat and to share, and I raise herb for home use and for the enjoyment of others. Cannabis changes my consciousness, and as my friend once said, it makes me want to be a better person. As I shovel the soil, place the root ball into its hole and pull the earth back in around it, I think about where the seeds came from, where the finished flower will go.
I offer up the hope that these plants will go out into the world to help folks in their journeys, brightening days and bringing peace and happiness. Perhaps they will relieve sorrows or bring joy, perhaps they will offer calm and connection. Wherever they may go, I am conscious of the energy I put into them because I have high hopes for what it can accomplish.
In a spring that has felt hectic and compressed by a late start after a brutal winter, this moment of peace reconnects me with my purpose and goals in life. It is a culmination to an evening of pondering the workload, the long days, the never ending task list. As I carried the plants down the slope to their terraced home, I asked myself “do I really want to be doing this at dusk?”
As I gathered myself for the final push of the day, I ruminated on the life I lead, thinking about the many different aspects that come together to make our farm organism. Animals rotate across the pastures while plants cycle from seed to propagation to planting to harvest. Another year is well underway, and the milestone of the first outdoor plantings is always brought home to me as the harbinger of summer.
I love this time of year, the lush greenery that makes everyone feel like smiling, the beauty that can stop you in your tracks with the breath caught in your throat when the light hits just right. The ache of growth, of labor unto a calling, of the infinite magic of life. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!