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].
One of the hardest things about farming is that you’re always working a season in advance. Cool weather fall and winter crops need to be sown and transplanted during the heat of summer, and hot crops during the cooler spring. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, and after missing come crucial windows and losing two key plantings to heat stress this summer, I’ve been feeling the scarcity of harvests.
When there isn’t enough to harvest I find myself stressing about filling orders, but also on a deeper level because it messes with my sense of self and identity. If I’m not producing, who am I? Some of this is internalized capitalism, but it’s also about my overall life goals, my desire to tend land to grow food, and my love of connection and sharing with community.
Trying to do all the things myself is a recipe for burnout and overwork, but sometimes I lose sight of that in the rush. It’s times like this, when my production dips, that I’m reminded of the importance of shared community and the necessary but difficult logistics and distribution methods that make up a local food system. It takes many people working together to get food from farm to fork, and it feels good to both support and be supported in this shared effort.
This past week has been one of big experiences in reconnecting with the food farming community and the infrastructure necessary to support this community. On Monday night I had the pleasure of attending the benefit dinner for the School of Adaptive Agriculture at the Willits Grange. Looking around at the packed house, I was struck by how much I love the shared commonality of service to food production, nourishment, and healthy bodies that help build healthy community.
We gathered to raise funds for SAA to continue the outstanding work of teaching and training young farmers, but also in celebration of the local food system, the farmers, the teachers and community members who are all participants in our local foodshed. It feels good to be reminded of the continuity of it all; from young farmers starting out to our elders who share their knowledge and resources to help foster and create space in a time when land access and farming education are difficult to come by for young people.
I’m reconnecting with other farmers to help gather produce for our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which is a $20/week bag of produce that is made up of whatever we’re harvesting, but also supplemented when I don’t have enough coming off the farm. During the lean times when my production isn’t enough to cover the CSA, markets, farmstand and special orders, I’m intensely grateful for the chance to work with other farmers to fill the gaps.
One of my biggest stressors is the production and coordination to fill all of the orders each week, but it’s also one of my biggest joys. I love it when the produce comes together to make a beautiful mixed bag, while still having abundance to sell on the market table and stock the other market channels we supply. Building connectivity between farms and customers is hard; it’s the nonsexy work of logistics and food miles, but it’s some of the most important efforts in the whole process.
I’m delighted to be plugging back in with the MendoLake Foodhub after a hiatus of a few years, in part because we’ve managed to shift the delivery route so that there is now a Friday morning Laytonville dropoff. With the Hub based out of Ukiah, it’s been tough to manage the logistics to make connections happen, but now that I can get bulk produce delivered, it helps me augment my CSA and farmstand offerings. It also creates opportunity for other folks to order from the Foodhub, either as wholesale purchasers or individual customers for their Bounty Boxes and other options (you can find their website with a google search of MendoLake Foodhub).
Whether it’s producing myself, purchasing direct from Laytonville area farms, sourcing from the Foodhub, or getting produce down from Humboldt when my farmer friend comes to visit, I’m all about getting quality food into the hands of people in my community. It brings me great joy and peace to work on food production, food systems, and supporting programs like the Food Bank which happens in Laytonville on the 3rd Friday of every month. One of my main goals as a food system advocate is to see a linkage formed between the fledgling Humboldt Foodhub and the MendoLake Foodhub so that quality produce can arrive where it is needed during the lean times and shoulder seasons.
It feels good to see the cycles of life bring me back around to food systems advocacy and effort. Each trip around the sun brings new opportunities and new challenges, and gives me a renewed feeling of dedication and joy in the work. It’s so good to connect with people who share these goals, to celebrate the harvests and acknowledge the challenges. To support the School of Adaptive Agriculture in its mission to train young farmers, you can mail donations to SAA, PO Box 650, Maple Lane, Willits, CA 95490. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!