As a small child, my father was part of a local construction crew with some of his brothers, friends, and neighbors. The cast rotated a bit during the years, but it was always a group of cheerful, hard workers engaged in a shared process of earning a living and building homes and outbuilding for other homesteaders in the community. Between the ages of five and seven, I went to work with Pops, toting my lunch pail and my small toolbox.
I worked on the job site doing cleanup and helping nail off decking, flooring, and siding. I took a great sense of pride in having the opportunity, and I was serious about the work. At the end of the week, I would tell the homeowner what wages I was due; Pops taught me that a working man needed to know his worth and be prepared to speak for it. I was always paid more than I asked, and it made me feel good to know that I had done a good enough job to receive a bonus. The homeowner was always happy to pay me because I was a genuine worker — even more-so because otherwise, the jobs I did would have cost an adult’s wages.
The opportunity to learn a trade as a child helped to prepare me for the life of a farmer. Building a work ethic and sense of responsibility at such a young age was an experience I would not trade for anything. The opportunity to spend time with my father and to learn from him, other family members, and close friends, exemplified the idea of “it takes a village.”
As an adult, I had the opportunity to return to the crew for three years after I got out of jail for cannabis cultivation. Amber and I were in the process of building our homestead, and the refinement of my construction skills gave me the tools to do so. Help from the crew at crucial junctures has been essential to building our lives here on the farm.
I learned a great deal about carpentry, and also about how to work. Being a farmer means building skills in different fields, and refining those skills over time. During the last few days of working with my brother Lito and my uncle Joe, we experienced a leveling up. We built a mobile chicken coop on skids, a small metal framed barn and finished up some siding projects, bouncing between our respective homesteads. It has been a glorious experience; I am grateful and a bit in awe of what we have managed to accomplish. My body carries the soreness of good work done, and my brain is bathed in the “farmers’ addiction” of serotonin release for jobs accomplished.
It feels good to work hard, to use my hands to tend the land and build the infrastructure that we need to better our efforts. It is wonderful to make new forays into animal husbandry, and to have the new storage capacity of a mini barn (that we built from a re-purposed 10×20 gabled hoophouse farm and corrugated metal) is a dream come true. Finishing up projects that have been awaiting the slower season brings a deep joy of closure and aesthetic contentment.
As we have grown from homestead gardens into small farmscapes, we have not expanded our storage space. As a result, my woodshed has been the storage for a number of items that we need for our farm operations, and our covered porch also been overtaken. Limited toolshed space has been overburdened with too many types of tools, fuel storage, irrigation parts, animal feed, etc. Having the new space enables us to move towards a life of “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” It is a deep and soulful change to undergo, for which I am grateful. Things have been very chaotic the last several years, but it is starting to feel like we are growing into our shoes as farmers. We are enjoying the efficiencies that come from familial working relationships and deepening knowledge of the craft. As we wind down the year, we make plans for the seasons to come, while also enjoying the moment in which we find ourselves. We are excited about the journey!
For more information, visit http://happydayfarmscsa.com
Casey O’Neill co-operates HappyDay Farms, a micro-diversified farm in northern Mendocino County, California. His family raises two acres of Sun&Earth and DEMPure Certified vegetables, poultry and medical cannabis in a small-farm setting while working towards sustainability. He is stoked about sharing food, medicine and cultivation techniques with others. He is passionate about representing small farmers and works to support Mendocino County policy-makers in crafting sensible regulations. You can find his radio show on podcast at HappyDay Farms - Farm and Reefer Report on iTunes or Soundcloud.