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’ve always felt that fall comes early here, arriving with September instead of awaiting the equinox, but this year it feels more pronounced than ever. I know we’ll still have some spells of fierce heat, and I’m not counting fire season out yet, but it sure has been nice to get some cool weather and moisture. Crops are changing as pumpkins turn orange on the vine and butternuts swell towards the finish. The air smells sweet and the plants glisten with dewdrops; I rejoice.
Yesterday we were planting as the first real rain shower came on. We underestimated it and kept planting hoping to finish the row, and we soon found ourselves saturated. The downpour didn’t last long, and fortunately for us, neither did the planting, but it was a hilarious contrast in life, dry one moment and soaked the next.
Lately I’m fascinated by journeys in my life that have come full circle after decades. An old friend has been coming down to help out on the farm this summer, bringing up so many sweet memories of my early adulthood. I used to travel down to Honeydew from Portland, where I was going to school, to work on his cannabis farm in ‘03-’05. This was a formative period for me as I finished my sociology degree and returned home.
I remember one of the elders in the community saying to me “so you went off to college and now you’re just back here growing dope huh?” It was kind of a joke but kind of not, and it gave me pause for thought. It seems to me that cannabis has been the portal back to agriculture for so many people, creating and fostering a love of growing things that bloomed into the driving force in my life.
My friend has been crucial for us on the farm, helping with the many projects and especially providing critical expertise on the big construction project we’ve been doing at Pops’. We finished the siding this last Friday, all that remains is to paint it and then take down the scaffolding. I love how life can move in circles, bringing me back to sweet experiences and opening up new avenues in a twisting braid that forms the cord of my being.
When we were kids my brothers and I used to go work for the rancher next door pulling star thistle out of his pasture for $3-4/hr. We all recall it as one of the least enjoyable jobs we’ve done, so there is a deep irony in finding myself now caring for that same pasture and out there pulling star thistle. We’ve made a major dent in it, and each plant I pull carries with it a reflection of the consonance of life, the shared journeys, the many returns and repetitions. Back then it was just a job, now the work is imbued with a broader sense of landscape care and hope for the future that makes me feel good as the pile of pulled thistle in the big totes in the barn grows larger and the number of plants in the fields shrinks.
The incremental nature of farming and life is at the core of all of my reflections these days; one step at a time goes the journey. There are so many aspects of our enterprise that I don’t dare step back and consider all of the steps to get to the goal because I’d be too overwhelmed to proceed; it’s only when I keep my head down and bite off a chunk at a time that the work feels doable, and it’s amazing how much gets done when I look back at the end of the year.
I’ve been picking up apple drops and blown out squash from other local farms to feed to pigs, and the nature of gathering takes me to a place that I can only describe as primal. It makes me remember when we were kids and Ma would send us out for the day with a backpack full of picnic lunch and instructions not to come back unless someone was bleeding. We’d range all over the landscape, and would invariably find something we could gather and would fill the backpack with acorns or bay nuts or buckeyes or interesting pieces of wood or shiny stones.
That gathering instinct runs deep, and even though there wasn’t any use at the time for what we brought home, I’ll never forget the joy of filling the backpack with a resource we had found in our travels. Those feelings come back to me now as I gather apples into the crate, a deep sense of right action that is meditative and complete. All the worries and stressors drop away and I’m in an obsessive zone, unable to stop until either the orchard is cleared or I can’t fit another crate-load in the truck.
I love working with animals, and I love the process of gathering and creating food for them. Watching the sheep eat the patch of irrigated green that I open each day by moving the electric fence makes me happy. Watching pigs eat apples and squash that I gathered makes me happy. Watching chickens and rabbits eat cabbage leaves and comfrey makes me happy. So many things to be happy for! As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!