Casey O'Neill on the farm

Tell me about your background. You’re a CSA farmer, right?

Yes, I am. We farm about an acre and a half of intensive row crops on steep terraced slopes that we’ve put in the last few years. We have about 60 customers and we put together 30 to 40 CSA $20 bags and sell at two farmers’ markets. If we can’t fill it out from our farm, we use other farms that use the same growing standards. Participating in the CSA model has allowed us to be a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of an operation.

It’s been phenomenal to be nurtured and fostered in this community. The older farmers were thrilled to share their wisdom with younger farmers with vigor. We value above all our community and our place within it.  The farm has been this sort of organic-in-the-original-sense-of-the-word process.  We grow the food and the customer base always seems to work out just about right.  Food rarely goes to waste but we haven’t had to turn folks away for more than a couple weeks when we’re between production swings.  If we get a big bump in production, it seems like there’s always an event or some way of using up the extra.

This is our fourth full year as a CSA. We’ve made a shift in perception this year. We’re no longer thinking of ourselves as starting a farm. We run a farm; we are a CSA and we are looking for ways to better serve our community. We run a diversified crop system of 40+ vegetables, medicinal and animals. We rotate all of our crops (including cannabis) to prevent diseases from building up in the soil.  We provide vegetables 50 weeks/year and take pride in participating in a year-round local food system.

I want people to realize how much space we aren’t utilizing. For instance, in the Emerald Triangle, a lot of people grow in greenhouses in the summer.  In most parts of the country, greenhouses are used for winter growing.  If we can start to harvest more than one crop out of our greenhouse spaces, we’ll see a dramatic increase in farm-fresh bounty at a time of year when there is a huge need for fresh, local produce.  Everyone gardens in the summer, we all need to start gardening in the winter too!

We don’t have huge greenhouse space, but we want more for sure. We grow huge amounts of winter food outside with agribon frost blankets. All we have to do is get people to understand that they’re already masters of creating a connoisseur crop.  If you can do that, you can grow any other crop you want. If we diversify our crops into other sectors of agriculture, then we’re buffered from a monocrop reality.  Everything we produce is one less thing we buy, and one more thing we barter with neighbors for the things they produce.  We eat dramatically higher quality stuff than is available for store purchase.  Fresh, quality, local, these are the legs that our tripod stands on.

Over time, we’ve become healthier, more vibrant, and tuned into our community. That’s the magical thing about reefer is that it opens us up to this. We’re just reaching the point where this discussion is happening.

I’ve already been in trouble for weed, so why not speak about it? The conversation is ongoing politically, and if we don’t come out of the weed closet as a people, we’re at risk of losing our way of life.  We’re already running a diversified farm and medical collective, but if they want to come cut my weed, they can do it cause that’s how it works.  We want it to be regulated and legitimate so that we don’t have to be afraid anymore.  We’d like to move out of this grey-market atmosphere and into a legitimate industry position.

My experience is that there are thousands of these small farm homesteads and if we have a discussion of our farming practices, we open it up to a whole new creation of reality.  There are no government farm services for reefer growers, and as a culture we’ve got to create this.  We need a dialogue about farming that includes cannabis production.  They’ve instilled this artificial separation between “growers” and “farmers” that we’ve gotta erase to move into time of new truth.  I like what one old farmer said: he didn’t care about reefer because it’s the only thing that brings dirt back up the hill.

If we’re able as a culture to set quality standards so that we produce top shelf medicine, we’re preparing for legitimacy.  I use the term medicine because to me, if it makes your head feel good, that’s a medicinal effect, plain and simple.  They’ve tried to pigeon-hole medicinal use, but I feel like all cannabis use is inherently, by definition, medicinal.  Self-medication has become a pejorative term but to me it makes utmost sense.  Who has a better sense of my self and what it needs than me?

There’s all sorts of hungry corporate wolves pulling up to the trough. To me, they should codify specifically that it’s only for small farms and homesteads. 10 to 1000 acres, I’m open to debate on it. I definitely think less than 1000 acres and codifications should be set up to encourage diversified, sustainable production models so that more bounty is created over time.

It’s hard for me to make a distinction between the medicinal value of my broccoli and my reefer. I can grow as many broccoli or cauliflower plants as I want; they’re in the same family but we all know that I can’t plant broccoli and grow cauliflower.  With reefer though, I have one absurd plant count with no distinction made for strains.  We’re doing medical efficacy work with a wide variety of different types of cannabis.  Some folks may not understand the nearly infinite strain-branches of the cannabis tree.  Each strain has an individual cannabinoid profile that is unique much as are we humans.  We have a vast world of medical information to be gained from this plant, and at this point much of the evidence is anecdotal and is being gathered on the small farmsteads in the Emerald Triangle.

Our farm grows nutrient dense food and medicine that will nourish the bodies who consume it.  I would have a much harder time growing production vegetables to feed my community if it weren’t for reefer. Vegetables are hard work with slim margins, cannabis is an ideal tool to support small farms.  It paints a more beneficial farm culture than without it. Around here we call it the farm subsidy program. The federal government doesn’t subsidize small farms, they subsidize big farms.

With the grey market, there’s no incentive for people to do the right thing.  Without the ability to self-regulate through growers cooperatives, we don’t have a way to provide quality assurance to industry buyers which means that they control the price breakdown.  If you look at the Sunkist Farmers’ Cooperative, quality assurance goes hand in hand with price control.

As a culture, if we can codify our legal ability as producers, then we can form growers cooperatives that set both price and quality standards.  Codification of self-regulatory principles that we put forth as an industry would create a system of retail access that would put cannabis farmers back in the price-driver-seat.  As a producer, I would certainly have more price flexibility if I could sell direct to consumers, pay taxes and not be afraid of going to jail.

Our area has a tremendous climate for cultivation of all things food and medicine.  We have decades of back-to-the-land loving, intentional culture. The Emerald Triangle has long been the center of domestic cannabis production, and as a people we need to stand up and claim that right. It really is up to us as a culture to rise to the challenge. It’s happening in Colorado and in Washington and they’re forming the regulatory system in Sacramento right now. If we’re not careful, we’re going to get aced right out of it.

We have to be able to work to codify a way to keep it for small farms. We don’t need a centralized, government-run reefer processing facility. We’ve established this magical network of people — this decentralized system is unique in America. The whole cheap fuel, truck it all over the place is completely wrong and fallacious.  We need to come out of the reefer closet and claim our identity for the quality producers we are.  If we stand as a culture for the good things cannabis has brought to our communities, we can codify these things for the future.

We’re in the process of creating a model that creates a sustainable future for mankind. The idea that we shouldn’t grow reefer is absurd. The idea that we put people in jail for growing flowers is wrong. We’ve got to figure out a way to say how we’re going to farm this.

I’m really excited. It’s a really cool thing that’s happening. I feel like our culture coming into the light is magic.

What brought you to Mendo?

My folks were part of the original back to the land movement. Pops bought 20 acres of land for $8,000. They came here not to grow weed but to have their land. It wasn’t a commune but a family getting away from the intensity of modern culture. They were looking for 80 to 100 acres with good water, flat space to farm,

First couple of years were really hard because they didn’t come here for weed and they didn’t come with the skills they needed. It was hotter and drier than we were used to coming from further south. My people are bricklayers, manual tradesman. In the early years, they were all builders. They built a lot of the houses in this area.  Pops became a teacher in the ‘90s when construction got too hard.  My family has always been big on building and educating.

I was born in 1982 and raised on the hill.  In the ’80’s, it was a whole different world; the choppers used to hover right on top of your house and the men would lean out with watching, fully armed.  As a kid, it was terrifying.  In 85 a chopper landed in the meadow below our house so they could cut down 30 plants. The climate was incredibly different then, huge resources from the military industrial complex were thrown at the NorCal homestead and cannabis movement.

I got busted out at Island Mountain during the big Fed sweeps in ’08.  So here I am, I know I’m a good guy but this court and these police officers don’t know it. I was a few credits shy of a sociology degree. College of the Redwoods was offering a Soil&Fertilizer class and a Sustainable Vegetable Production class. I signed up and went to the first Soils class and the whole thing might as well have been in Greek.  I went up after and said “I’m not dumb but none of that made sense.” The instructor told me it was the second semester of a two-part class on the subject and that we were starting chapter 8 in the textbook. I asked if I could read the first seven chapters of the textbook to catch up.  I was able to get a tremendous amount out of the class because of my cultivation background.  The instructor was stellar, he wrote a letter to the judge on my behalf.

The judge said I could finish the semester and would then have to spend two months in jail. I started all this thinking and studying about farming, and the end-of-class project was to make a farm map for your future farm.  It put this whole thought process in my head and I got to sit and marinate in it for two months.

During that time, I had a job in the organic garden at the jail and talked with the older hippie lady running the program, who gave me all this advice. I got books sent to me by friends and family every week.  Mendocino County Jail has a great organic gardening section in the library because when you get out you can’t take the books you’ve had sent to you with you, so there was also great resource already available.  It ended up being this incredibly positive experience for me to put toward my future. I planned my farm, how I was going to do it, and what I wanted to grow. The farm didn’t come out how I planned, but knowing more or less how I wanted to go about it gave me the basis for doing it.  Plans never come out how you think they will, but it’s the act of planning; setting down goals and ideas creates a mental template that you can overlay any situation with.

It’s a soul-filling reality to help people receive their medicine and nourishment.  Participating in seed to food or seed to flower is a magical journey that I treasure very much. It’s a big part of what’s made us human over the last 10,000 years. Our participation in the ecosystem has defined who we are. We’ve become so separated as a culture from this that becoming a farmer as an adult felt like an awakening to something real and true.

I love what I do and get up every morning excited to do it.

What makes you a Ganjier?

Cause I love weed as much as anybody I know. I always call myself a weed geek. There’s so many properties and so many different strains. My palette is refined; I know exactly what blend I wanna smoke before I sit down.  I almost never smoke just one strain, I like to mix them to access the different cannabinoid properties.  In the future, I’d like to be able to sell my own cannabis blends along with the seeds to create them to anyone who wants to buy them.  I could talk about reefer, farming and the politics surrounding it all day, every day and I’d be fine and happy with it.

There’s so much to talk about.  Reefer philosophy, cultivation techniques, where we’re going as a culture and industry, regulation: this infinitely faceted topic provides infinite conversation. The love and intention that goes between us and reefer as a species, specifically for me growing and smoking it, I feel like reefer’s been with us from the beginning. I think it was the dry, resinous material that original man used to couch an ember and blow sparks to flame.  I think humans carried a skin-pouch and sprinkled highly nutritious cannabis seeds wherever they traveled so as to always find a ready supply.  We made rope and cordage from the stalks, found food and medicine in the flowers.

The Stoned Monkey Hypothesis says that we consume mind altering substances, expand our consciousness and become better, more capable humans as a result. When I’m troubled or stressed I smoke weed and it calms me down and helps me think.  When I’m excited or happy, cannabis accentuates this experience to make it even more enjoyable.  It makes the worst of times better, and brightens up the best of times, like chocolate syrup on your bowl of ice cream.  For me, life is a beautiful journey in which I strive for the fullest of loving intention, and cannabis vastly enables my process.  I get excited about weed; I start jumping around like a funny little hobbit. It lights me up like nothing else in the world. I’ve always been fascinated by the different kinds and properties.

I sold weed in college and one semester I decided to keep a little jar of each of the strains. At the end of the semester, brought home 32 jars and we spent the summer exploring the different properties between them.  I feel like that was my true introduction to the world of the Ganjier.  That was when my knowledge of cannabis started to deepen from an infatuation into a deep, soulful love affair.   This was before purps, way before the fuel strains.

When we moved into the world of fuel, something different happened. I always loved weed intensely, but the new generation turpenoid profiles have created a whole different feeling of electricity in my brain.

My friend explained it like this: “the terpenoid profile that you smell inputs the code to your brain for what the eventual high will be.  Then you smoke it and fulfill the pathways that the terps have laid down.”

It’s a two-part process that embodies the smoking ritual, the dry-hit of the joint, the smelling of the crumbled weed.  For me, it takes five minutes to build my bong hit, a small chunk off of several different strains.  I put an uncrumbled chunk in the bottom of the bowl to stop bad-taste-resin-sizzle. Sacrificial nuggy.  Then I grind up the other four little chunks (these days one piece Strawberry OG, one piece Sour Strawberry, one piece Headband and one piece OgrexRoyal) and put the blend into the bowl on top of the sacrificial nuggy.  That way the crumble burns fast and evenly but doesn’t give me the dirty-mouth-resin-sizzle that happens without the sacrificial nuggy.

As a culture, we’re starting to refine our process and be given a pathway to bring it forward into the light for everyone to see.  I feel like we’re moving in the right direction and as a community leader, it’s my job to promote and continue our journey in cannabis.  That’s what makes me a Ganjier.

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As part of the Ganjier Media's founding team, Allison served as the first editor-in-chief of and executive producer of events like the Golden Tarp Award and the Ganjier Spring Kickoff. She owns Eris & Edrington Writing Company and has provided media consulting services for businesses and political candidates. She is also the Cannabis Editor for The Clever Root magazine. As a “recovering journalist,” she has contributed to major publications including The New York Times, The SOMM Journal, and Skunk Magazine. She has previously worked as a staff writer for daily newspapers, covering local elections, Humboldt cannabis policy, city government and criminal court cases.

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