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].
Last weekend I sat for a medicine ceremony, invoking the spirits of plant medicines and asking for perspective, lessons, and with a request for joy and childlike wonder. I’m still processing and have deep integration work to do, but the response came back that I’ve become too serious, too focused on work, too out of balance with the life I want to lead. The plants answered with visions and realizations, leaving me thunderstruck and daunted by the effort of change that remains in front of me, yet hopeful in a way I haven’t been in a long time.
It feels good to clean out the cobwebs, to reconnect with the ideals and values that I hold dear, and to remind myself of how I want to be in the world. Looking back on the year, I see myself sacrificing quality time with loved ones in favor of work. I see that I have honed my body and psyche to a keen blade for cutting through the efforts of farming, but I have become singular in my purpose. I haven’t made enough time to be in loving relationship with the people around me.
I was reminded to be authentic in the love I want to put out in the world, and that to do so I need to find balance between work and the other, beautiful aspects of this life. I need more walks, more engaging with the children, more time for my spouse and family. I see that I’ve taken on too much with the many aspects of farming in which we’re engaged, and that I need to take steps to pare things down and streamline our operations.
In many ways, I’ve already been working on making our operation more efficient, but instead of utilizing the extra time to put energy into my relationships, I’ve tended to take on more projects. It’s a deep and difficult reflection for me to understand that I can’t do all the things I want to do, but I feel hope in a learning process that prioritizes long-term health and happiness.
As we approach the winter solstice there is a natural slowdown, and the holidays are focused on family, so it’s a great time to remember how I want to be in the world. I have a hard time understanding that the work can wait, that it will always be there, that I have only so much to give. Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” had a profound effect on me; I admired Jurgis and his mantra “I will work harder”. But there comes a day when Jurgis hurts himself and cannot work harder, and as I edge into my 40’s I find that my body doesn’t respond as easily as it once did.
I’m learning the lesson that flogging myself with caffeine and rewards of ciders at the end of the day isn’t healthy for me in the long run. With a little perspective it’s easy to look at the habits I’ve built up and see that I need to make some changes for my overall health, but I’m unsure of how to proceed. I can see a few clear steps, starting with a planning process that bites off smaller chunks for the year to come.
As a food producer, I feel the closing of our local grocery store deep in my psyche, a sense of scarcity that I feel called to try to fill. It’s a hard lesson; that a small farm does not a grocery store make, but it’s also an important opportunity for gardeners and farmers to pull together to fill in some of the gaps in our local food availability. The collective farmstand at the feed store is a bright spot of potential that gives me great hope.
A big shout-out to the folks who are volunteering together in shared effort at the Laytonville Food Bank. We’re in a time of tremendous need in our community, and the ways in which people are working to gather and distribute food to community members gives me hope. I also see and appreciate the Health Center for leadership in wellness and new programs that help provide transportation for people to get groceries and other necessities. It takes many strategies and people working together to build and maintain healthy community, and in a time that can feel dark and difficult, I see great reasons for hope.
Despite the struggle of learning hard lessons here on the farm, I also feel great hope in the changes we’ve made in our practices in the last year. New tools like the paperpot system for seeding and transplanting have saved dozens of hours of effort, and a better understanding of how to use the precision seeder has also enabled me to produce more food with fewer hours of labor.
As I start to rest my way out of seasonal burnout, I reflect on the lessons learned and how I want to be in the world. I begin the planning process for the year to come by re-engaging with my personal values worksheet, and I check in with friends and family. As the darkest part of the year draws to completion, so too do I turn inward and explore the darkness. May the light shine brighter for each of us in the year to come, and as always, much love and great success to you on your journey!