This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville and has long been an advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his authorship can be found here. The opinions in this column are those of the author. If you would like to send a letter to the editor, feel free to write to [email protected].
And so begins 2022. What a year it has been, so much hard work, so many ups and downs, so much life. It’s easy to get caught up in stress and work, and I forget that this is living, that this is what I’m here to do. It’s good to sit back and reflect, take stock of the victories and notice the things we can do better in the coming year.
The farm has been under heavy snow for more than a week and I’m a little nervous to see how all the winter crops that are outside the hangers have fared. We have plantings of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, romanesco and various vegetables that have been buried under a blanket that I hope insulates them from the vicious cold we are in.
In my nearly four decades of living on this mountain, I have never seen a December storm like this. We get lots of cold at this time of year, with light snow accumulation, but the almost two meters of snow that fell was like a February or March storm, heavy and wet with a cold front as a result that has prevented the snow from melting much . A whole week later, I still can not quite get a vehicle out of the steep driveway, even as it approaches.
A combination of being laid off with illness and not being prepared for such heavy snow in the early season means that I have had major damage to the temporary animal structures that I use for summer poultry rotations and shade for pigs. Everything can be reconstructed without too many problems, but my inability to get them moved under the trees or backed up with extra props is going to cost me time and energy to repair them.
It can be discouraging to look around and see that there is now more work to be done, and with the slow melting of the snow, I have struggled with frustration and a bit of eye-opening. It has also been good to have no choice but to take a break and focus on supporting my health with good meals and lots of homemade chicken broth. Sometimes a little forced downtime is just what the doctor has ordered.
One thing that can be said about a long, slow melting process for a major snowstorm is that it will do much more to recharge groundwater than if the same rainfall had come in a single rain event. As it melts, the snow will soak into the ground and the runoff will be much more gentle with less sludge than it does in heavy rain. The county road, which lives just below the ridge, is the biggest factor in the sludge of the volatile canals that run through our farm.
Over the years, one of the ongoing practices for us is to build small, brushed, controlled dams to slow down the flow of water during heavy rains. This contributes to silt from the county road falling out into sedimentation beds, and avoids downstream silt problems when the water enters fish-carrying streams. Sedimentation of gravel spawning beds has a major impact on salmon stocks, and I hope that funds will be made available for this type of sludge removal effort.
This is work that we will continue in the coming wet months, clearing some of the invading spruces and pines from the oak forest that make up a large part of the farm. The stacking of features that support forest health and water retention in the landscape is the perfect combination of multiple successes for unique efforts, removal of overgrown conifers and lowering of water flow to reduce sludge and increase infiltration into groundwater.
As we cross the line for the new year, my thoughts go to planning the upcoming season, working on crop rotation and building the budget. With so much uncertainty in the cannabis market, it’s hard to know what revenue will allow our expenses to end up being, but with so many fixed costs from various taxes, fees and mechanics to get the product on the market, we have to see how it walks .
The light begins to return and changes every day in a way that is noticeable and brings the joy of the eternal “hope leaps forever”. As we move into the new year, I’m excited to see the effort begin, yet be careful about health concerns and not overdo it too soon. After the last year where I pushed too hard for too long, I am on guard against overengagement, overexertion and burnout.
It’s easy to end up on a treadmill with too much on your plate and end up sacrificing work-life balance to get everything done. This is most common for us on the farm with infrastructure work because it adds an extra effort to the normal cycles of crops and maintenance. I hope this is the year of minimal infrastructure upgrades and that we can focus on agriculture and minimize burnout. After a year of hard lessons, I look forward to a new year of excitement. May 2022 bring blessings and abundance, and as always, much love and great success to you on your journey!