We asked local farmer, and Mendocino chair of the California Growers Association, Casey O'Neill what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving. He responded with some thoughts on the land and our role in it.
BELL SPRINGS RD., 11/21/18 -- Thanksgiving is here, marking the beginning of the holiday season, a time for gathering and enjoying the company of family. A time for visiting with friends and reflecting on the events of the year that is winding down. My family has always done a big get-together; we do the ol’ “go around the table and say what you are thankful for.” Growing up, the running joke was always “Thankful for Safeway,” but this year I’m not. This year I’m thankful for just the opposite of Safeway. As we sons have grown into independent local farmers, what I’m thankful for now is our localized web of strong small farms. And this year, very little of what sits on the Thanksgiving table will come from Safeway and agribusiness.
Husbandry of the land implies a love and care that is denied by the industrial paradigm. Last week, I attended the Mendocino Herb Guild Dinner and heard Corine Pearce, a local indigenous Pomo herbalist, basket weaver, teacher and author, describe the sadness of the landscape.
She spoke about the trees missing their human caretakers, and of the ways that Native Peoples had shown their love and gratitude to the land. She spoke of presenting gifts to the oaks of middens, that serve as useful nutrients, and thanking them for their work, and helping them to propagate by planting acorns. The love, the joy, she described filled my heart and soul, and gave me direction as a husband to the land. I am thankful for the words that Ms. Pearce spoke and for the teaching that she offered.
Our ecosystems have been damaged by industrial practices: logging, ranching, farming all have contributed to the problem. Communities have been damaged — traditional agrarianism has been subsumed, as smallholders have been pushed off the land. The landscape is sick because of direct negative impacts, but also because of a loss of stewardship.
Last week I also spoke with Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance. During our conversation, she noted that because the cultivation permit program in Humboldt requires archeological surveys for new cultivation, Native peoples are being asked to survey parcels for tribal artifacts. There is so much layered into this that it makes my heart ache; a gordian knot of historical injustice that carries ramifications for our present and future.
I am entering this dialogue in full recognition that I may lack sensitivity and carry cultural blind spots. For this I offer heartfelt apologies. I’m not sure how to go about addressing this subject, but it feels important to try. Native Peoples are, for the first time in many decades (if not longer), being asked to walk upon land that was part of their traditional stewardship. Since the settlers, or “unsettlers” came, violence and taking occurred; for many, today is better described as “Thanks-taking.”
I don’t have the answers for what to do from here, but I believe that dialogue is a first step. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from Corine Pearce, and I look forward to a future in which humans can engage in sharing and process that builds more equitable land-use practices and societal patterns. I hope that we can attempt to address historical injustices; that we can evolve structures and institutions to create a better future for all.
Mendocino County is an amazing place for agriculture. Our local communities are knitting together a fabric that encompasses farmers, eaters, and the businesses that help to make the connection and transfer between these two groups. The mutually beneficial flow of nutrients and resources is a two-way street that involves communication and sharing; this is the essence of community.
As a farmer, I depend on the people who live in my bio-region to purchase the food that I grow — the old saying “you’re a gardener unless you sell something” rings true. It is a deep joy to feel supported as a farmer by the community members who purchase from us, and it’s in turn, the same deep joy to purchase from people we know. The sharing of communal production and economic reciprocity forms the basis for traditional agrarian society. Our ideals as a nation are still much imbued with the agrarianism of the past, and as we work to close the gap between reality and those constructs, we create a healthy and sustainable future.
Returning to Safeway, and the agrindustrial complex in general — what are the benefits of such a system? Agribusiness delivers low cost consumables through direct subsidization and by externalizing costs (passing them on to future generations) in the form of soil depletion, population obesity, water pollution and contribution to global warming via CO2 emissions.
Though industrial agriculture is “efficient” in economic terms, it is inefficient in human terms — removing most of the human element from farming and increasing the scale of operations.
Fewer farmers, fewer farm families, fewer thriving rural communities — but what can we do?
I don’t have time or energy to waste being angry at Monsanto, I’m too busy being excited about what I see in our communities. We are rising to the challenge as farmers and land stewards, we are imagining a new, 21st century food system. Gene Logsdon, the famous farmer and intellectual, said, “It’s not get big or get out; it’s get small and stay in.” Sharing of information and knowledge has made access to farming practices available in ways that have never been possible before. Resource use is beginning to balance in the small farm landscape as the discussion of regenerative farming practices takes hold.
The post-modern recognition of infinite perspectives has given us the opportunity to begin to build a multi-faceted worldview that honors different lenses and open-sources knowledge with total accessibility. Beneficial land-use practice follows this natural course, expanding into new areas of agricultural dialogue.
Small farms can now exchange information about new techniques easily across the world. Practices like rotation mob-stock grazing, living soils, healthy forest management, etc. all create new opportunities for carbon sequestration. In a time of great challenge, with climate change upon us, I am thankful for the many who are engaged in envisioning a new agriculture that leads a revolution in human resource-use.
I'm also thankful for new initiatives and ideas like "The Green New Deal.” Just as the New Deal brought us out of wartime and into an era of peace and prosperity, so too shall the Green New Deal. We humans have been at war with the planet; an industrial regime of subjugation and domination that carries an inherent futility. We are part of nature, yet we wage war upon her. It is time that we venture into a new era of peace and prosperity, rebuilding the destruction caused by wartime mentality.
Much love, and happy gathering time; we hold gratitude and love in our hearts along with gravity for the past and hope for the future. It is a joy to share the journey.
Casey O’Neill co-operates HappyDay Farms, a DemPure Certified vegetable and cannabis farm in Mendocino County. You can find his radio show on podcast at HappyDay Farms Farm and Reefer Report on iTunes or Soundcloud. HappyDay Farms' website: www.happydayfarmscsa.com