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’m battling the ol’ seasonal blues with these dark days when my whole world seems like mud and poop. It’s sacrilege to grumble about the rain, but I’m sure looking forward to some sunny days when they arrive. Keeping animals dry with fresh straw has a mounting cost of time and resources that makes me feel behind. With all that though, watching the water bound through the creeks brings me great joy and my spirit soaks up the moisture as my boots squish across the landscape.
The feel of the cold, moist soil sends me inward, reflecting on our farm operation and my life. The work of the season gone is still upon me as I finish out the mowing of old crop detritus and begin to think of spring. Though the days are short and dark, each one is a little longer than the last and the difference is already perceptible. All of the perennial and cut flower beds are tucked in for winter, and the hoophouses are starting their process of renewal.
This weekend I’ve been working on transplanting beets, turnips, lettuces, scallions, spinach, bok choy and Chinese cabbage. Today I’ll sow salad mix and radishes with the seeder, and with any luck I’ll spend some time in the propagation house sowing onions, shallots and another round of tenderlings for transplant with the paperpot.
Five hoophouses are planted, four still in full production from fall, and one just planted this weekend. There remains the farmstand hoop that collapsed in the snow last winter; it needs significant repairs before I can consider planting it this winter, even though I fully cropped its bent frame with tomatoes and peppers through summer and fall. I have all the parts, and it’s next on the list after I get the seeding done and we catch a break in the weather.
Production winter farming wouldn’t be possible for us without the hoophouses, and it’s nice to have a dry place to work during these rainy days. They produce such high quality crops that it feels good to walk around on Sunday and make the harvest plan for the week. The trouble is when big snows come; we learned some hard lessons last year and we’re hoping not to repeat the same mistakes.
In any crop management system there has to be an evaluation of costs in time, energy and resources. A smart farmer has a cutoff beyond which they know that the law of diminishing returns applies. There comes a point where it isn’t worth the effort and you have to cut your losses. This year we’ll be pulling the skins from hoops if/when we get the big snow. We’ll just have to accept some crop damage as a result to avoid the physical damage of the hard work to keep the tunnels clear of snow.
Winter farming is always a gamble; the seasons here are so variable that it could be sunny and in the 70’s, or dark and wet, or frozen solid. There’s something of the excitement to the gamble that draws me, keeps me enthralled, but it’s also about the quality and type of production. Of all the things we grow, winter greens are my favorite to eat, they’re so cool and crisp and crunchy, they speak to my soul of spring and the return of the light.
The older I get, the more I crave the winter greens, and the more joy I get in producing them and sharing them with family, friends, and community. Each crop feels like an old friend, a fellow traveler through this shared journey that we call a farm. My identity is entwined with these seeds and the plants they become; I reflect on the sacredness of this relationship as I strive to honor them by growing them the best that I can.
There is something so special in seeing plants grow and thrive, reach full abundance and be harvested for food, sustenance, lifeforce. A feeling of deep connectivity and replenishment from a wellspring that seems endless. Yet I know that it is finite, that there will come a time when my body can no longer do these tasks, and it makes the experience feel more precious.
When I’m in my best and highest self I treat the work as ritual, as ceremony. I acknowledge the sacred duties of land care and community and I take time to do the work in a way that honors all. When I’m rushed and harried I try to do the work as fast as I can to move on to the next thing as quickly as possible. One method is intentional and calm, one hectic and frustrated by delays or expectations. Everyday is an opportunity for me to live the lesson of which way I want to be. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!