Casey O’Neill cultivates cannabis, vegetables, and fruit in Mendocino County. We will be publishing his weekly newsletter regarding growing cannabis and produce sustainably.
Pulling weeds and planting bulbs. Feeding pigs, chickens, ducks and rabbits. Cleaning and organizing. Trenching and working with drainage for movement. Such is the work of January. Thinking, reading, planning, sharpening the blade in both a literal and figurative sense. Each year we make upgrades and take new steps in our journey. Sometimes the steps are measured and clear, sometimes frenetic and confusing, like the difference between tracking footprints on a clear trail vs trying to read sign at a crossing.
Our track record for good planning is pretty dismal. There have been so many times where we’ve made major and unexpected changes during the course of a season, and that always adds a layer of stress and additional workload that makes it hard to maintain personal quality of life. Planning has to work backward from sales, to harvest, to sowing and planting.
In the harvest timeline of any crop there are several variables that need to be assessed. How long is the harvest window, and what are the benchmarks of quantity or quality loss over time, either too early or too late? What are the processing needs and how much volume can be harvested and processed in a day? What are the sales outlets and what is the timeline for sales? What is the plan for the bed after harvest, including what are the nutrient requirements for the incoming crop, and is it food, cannabis or cover crop?
We harvest salad mix with sharp harvesting knives into 10-15 gallon tubs and bins. Last year we purchased a converted washing machine for spinning the greens, upgrading from the heavy labor and smaller capacity of the 5 gallon hand-crank salad spinner. We have purchased the parts for a bubbler tank to wash the greens without handling them as much as we used to, using 5 gallon tubs that sit right into the washing machine so that the greens are dumped into the bubbler and scooped out with the tubs and then bagged from them after spinning.
This process means that we can bring a product to market that will keep much longer because there is less bruising of leaves during the washing process and the high speeds of the spinner gets the leaves more dry. These new steps mean that the salad will stay fresh much longer in the refrigerator.
It is important to us to bring quality produce to market. Farming is a process of learning that happens as much from mistakes as it does from successes. Under the old adage of “you’re a gardener until you sell something”, a farmer relies on the response and support of customers in a literal, economic sense, but also in a spiritual sense in shared recognition of vocation and calling.
Farms that produce and are supported by interaction within community are tied into a complex web of interaction that carries with it honor, responsibility and joy. If someone gets a bad bag of salad mix from me, they know who it came from and they can make a decision about how to address it, whether to ignore the issue, ask for a refund, a new bag, or not to purchase from me anymore.
How I operate as a farmer in a community governs how customers feel about purchasing from me. My actions and how I communicate them give people a clear choice about whether to support me or not. How I am, in the world, has as much to do with whether my farm is successful as the quality of my production; both are important and necessary components for a farm to stay in business.
Being tied into community, producing as farmers in relationship with those who get our products is the traditional hallmark of agriculture, interconnected and inseparable from other humans and the land. It is when we break these connections that the travesty of industrial agriculture has the space to arise.
Those who tend and raise, are in community and shared responsibility for the sacred process of nourishment both to land and family. This is the Farmer’s Contract. When we break those bonds we separate producers from the deep grounding of accountability that land requires, reducing it to acres, production targets and revenues. Fertilizer becomes nothing more than input, and outputs along with production are soil loss, pollution, worker degradation and impoverishment of the spirit.
We need balance in agriculture, and we need a fundamental purpose of production that is good for the land, good for the farmer and good for people who will take it into their bodies. We don’t need endless fields of corn, wheat and soybeans that we force into any amalgamation or market to the detriment of all. Without a broad reconstruction of Western agriculture to focus on the health of land and humans in each step of the process, we will continue to see increasing devastation of the earth and her populaces.
Each day is an opportunity for small steps towards a better future. Each human makes up part of humanity, and how humanity evolves is a sacred and solemn duty in which we each participate. Listening, learning, practicing an open mind, being able to experience duality and ambivalence are some of the steps by which we grow. As always, much love and great success to you in your journey!