Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happyday Farms-No Juice-Just a Cup

This is the tenth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms:
No Juice-Just a Cup
“They come because they seek a sense of community.”  I wrote this in the last post called Rocking the Quarry ] when I was discussing the farmers’ market conducted each week at the rock quarry, four miles up Bell Springs Road. 

One convincing element is the kids.  Kids have the run of the spot, scrambling around the quarry, intent on having fun.  There is such an expansive arena in which they can roam, there is no shortage of action. As through traffic passes by, it must slow, simply from the profound transformation of the landscape.

Removed is the graveled road, and the widened, mostly-barren rock quarry on the east side of the thoroughfare, and the dust-covered fir trees lining the west side of the road.  In their places is a cornucopia of vehicles, most of them four-wheel-drive, and clusters of people, dressed in every conceivable style.  

Adding to the landscape, on the south end of the arena, is a series of stations or booths, where fresh, organic produce, baked goods, prepared food, beverages and other farmers’ market fare is sold.  And everywhere, there are the kids, who illustrate for us all, what it was like to be able to run around with unlimited energy.  I remember all that energy, even as it requires an inordinate amount of energy to leave the house in the middle of the afternoon these days. 

For people on the mountain, it’s a given that the kids would join in on this event; it was invented for kids.  As they clamber up the rocky side of the quarry, the oldsters will wag their gray heads and wonder how parents can allow their kids to run around like that.  

But even this old graybeard remembers going to a rare gathering of the O’Neill clan in SoCal, located at an expansive park out in the direction of San Bernardino, where I had the opportunity to scramble up the side of what seemed like a mountain.  I was probably about ten and inexplicably on the loose.  Living in the flatlands of the San Gabriel Valley at the time, “climbing” up this lightly-wooded hillside, all by myself, was an exhilarating experience.

Of course, the kids cannot climb up the side of the quarry that is precipitously steep, but on the south side, up behind the booths, is a lightly-wooded hillside, which allows kids to feel as though they are scaling something big.

I mentioned in Rocking the Quarry that I operated a mini-organic juice/fizzy water bar last summer and that it was very lightweight.  If I actually made enough to pay off the ingredients and the ice, then I figured I was lucky.  I did not get lucky that often last summer.  The booth had been operated by some member of the Matt/Charly clan for the past many seasons, but they were ready to relinquish their role in the operation.

Now, I always help Annie with both the math of adding up her baked goods, plus dealing with the making-change element.  Annie relies on me for this because I’m good at it and it’s one less thing she has to worry about while trying to keep one step ahead of the action.  So my little mini-juice bar was situated right alongside of her table of baked goods.

One particularly toasty July Wednesday the Q was livelier than usual and the kids were everywhere, getting their faces painted, pestering parents for money, scaling the sides of the hills, and working their faces into a rosy red sheen, as they ignored the July heat.  

I had a steady stream of little munchkins come past my stand, each asking me if they could borrow a cup.  They did not want juice-only a cup.  Now I had about forty of these giant cups, but I had also fortified my stand, after the first week, with a dozen or so kids-sized cups, less than half the size of the big cups.  So I was able to provide them with a cup apiece, and still have plenty should one actually do something weird, like buy a fizzy juice drink.

After the fourth or fifth one stopped by asking for a cup, I finally asked the little tyke in front of me, what she was going to put in the cup.  

“Water!” she announced happily.  

“Where are you getting the water?” I inquired, simply out of curiosity.

“From Davy!” she replied, as though I were just a little dense.

“Davy?”  I asked, blankly.

“Sure.  He’s got a whole cooler full of water but no cups.”


But that’s one of the most incredible things about the quarry.  Here’s Davy, savvy enough to know that even though the adults will all have a beverage in their hands, all those kids roaming around the arena, would not.  It just so happened that I had a bunch of cups looking for some water.  What could be more natural?

A match made in the quarry.  


Monday, May 26, 2014

Happyday Farms-Rocking the Quarry

This is the ninth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms-
Rocking the Quarry

When one thinks about the conventional farmers’ market, the likely image would be an urban street or wide sidewalk, lined with booths in muted colors, with very little bling.  One sees an assortment of fresh produce at many of the stands, possibly a booth with organic meat, maybe booths that feature honey, herbs, spices, salves, vegetable starts and whatever else fits into the motif of an outdoor market.

Folks wander through, pausing to buy something from a couple of the booths, and depart.  Occasionally, there will be live music and people may linger to listen to a number or two, but they do not tarry long.  It’s nothing more than transporting the local organic produce market outdoors.

Up on the mountain, we have a different type of venue.  Folks who come here, have gone out of their way.  It’s not as though you take off for a quick run to town to get a dozen eggs and end up at our market.  You have to come up Bell Springs Road four miles to attend this gig.  If you’re like me and you’ve been driving Bell Springs for forty years, then it’s no big deal.

Others, however, occasionally experience a little anxiety while driving up here in our neck of the woods.  I think it has more to do with others on the road than the road itself.  Out here in the wilds, it pays to drive defensively because there is a certain breed of twenty-something-year-olds, who do not recognize the danger of driving too fast on a graveled road.  What you can do on pavement does not match what you can do on gravel, no matter what you think.  

In any case, the standard directions to the quarry market are, “Turn off the 101 onto Bell Springs Road and drive until you get to the cars.”  If the directions are totally accurate, they will include the notation that you should be prepared to walk, as often the line-up of vehicles on both ends of the quarry is endless.

What is the attraction, you might ask?  Why do folks come down from Island Mountain, a good ninety-minute commute away, over rugged terrain?  Or from Laytonville and Leggett?  Or from Cow Mountain?  Or from points beyond?

They come because they seek a sense of community.  They gather at the quarry because it’s not pretentious.  They mingle together in work clothes and shorts; in hippie clothes and Levis; to talk and to laugh; to eat and to make merry.  There is always music and mostly it’s loud.  There is always an assortment of beverages to drink, with contributions readily forthcoming to defray the cost of the nectar.

Casey and Amber, with Courtney, are selling Happyday Farms produce, while distributing CSA shares.  In past years Annie and I would be selling gluten-free baked goods, with an emphasis on the multi-grained breads.  Last summer I even did the organic juice/fizzy water booth, which doesn’t bring in any more loot than to cover the cost of the ingredients, but was kind of fun in a lightweight sort of way.

In any case, it begins earlier each summer, and stretches later each fall, so maybe I’ll see you there one of these Wednesdays, from four to six in the afternoon.  Bring whatever floats your boat in the way of refreshments, and if you don’t feel like driving home, bring a sleeping bag.

There’s a nice awning under which you can crash.  See you there.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Happyday Farms: The Bread-Zone

This is the eighth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

The Bread-Zone

Happyday Farms fulfills a critical need in our community, affording the residents of North County the opportunity to eschew the sordid offerings of Corporate America’s pesticide-ridden, genetically-altered fodder, in favor of locally-grown, fresh, organic produce.  Happyday Farms currently participates in two weekly farmers’ markets, and will up that figure to at least three, and possibly four when June arrives.

One of these venues is the Laytonville Market, every Monday, at which time many of the CSA shares are distributed.  The second is the farmers‘ market situated each Wednesday at the rock quarry on Bell Springs Road, approximately four miles up from the 101.

The gatherings each Wednesday are a special blend of local flavor and folks up from the lowlands to participate in a uniquely quaint, down-home fair.  Besides Casey and Amber with their produce, flower bouquets, herbs, spices and other Happyday Farms products, there is always an assortment of other vendors selling food, arts/crafts, vegetable starts, and occasionally services offered such as knife-sharpening, massages given, or face-painting performed.

Annie has been baking gluten-free products under the name, Happyday Farms, Mama-Made, Gluten-Free Baked Goods for many years.  She usually bakes around six or so foot-long loaves of her multi-grained, gluten-free bread, and I slice them by hand, after first cutting them exactly in half.  To ensure uniformity, I use a wooden rack which has a series of measured slots on both sides so that, as long as I keep the bread stationary, all slices are exactly the same thickness. 

I am fanatical about being the bread-slicer.  You see, Annie can’t do it because of her Carpel-Tunnel issue, and for the first couple years I really struggled to stay on task, it being the kind of job that requires one hundred percent of my attention.  The nature of market day is that Annie has to bake early and carefully monitor the entire process to make sure that the bread cools in a timely manner.

Warm bread cannot be effectively cut; it must be completely cool.  However, by the time this has taken place, the witching hour is darn near upon us and I need to get ‘er done, so that we can depart for the quarry.  The kicker for me is that I am desperate to be the helper in this endeavor.  Partly it’s because the bread is so well-received by people who can’t eat bread with gluten, but mostly it’s about letting Annie know that if she goes through the hassle of baking it, I will make it look pretty.

Her customers are always so appreciative to get the bread that I get an acute sense of enjoyment that I am part of that process.  I have found that what works the best for me is to put the old headphones on and get into the bread-zone.  And of course, Annie is always so happy to get the bread ready for market, that I am always going to benefit, in some tangibly pleasant form.

After all, I have not yet described the other gluten-free items that could accompany the bread to market on any given Wednesday.  In no order whatsoever, any of the following might be on the docket: chocolate-cherry cookies; salted chocolate cookies; lemon cookies; jalapeno corn muffins; bacon-kale muffins; tri-berry muffins and any of a number of different flavored and frosted cupcakes; cheesecakes; focaccia bread, and pizza bread.

Then there are chocolate-zucchini cakes; zucchini spice cakes; carrot cakes; lemon cakes, and banana bread; there are the chocolate puddings and her Texas sheet cake.  I could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea.  Annie is the Gluten-Free Guru.

Next post: Rockin’ the Quarry


Friday, May 23, 2014

Happyday Farms: Money Talks and Good Health Walks-Right into the Cancer Ward

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms: Money Talks and Good health Walks-
Right into the Cancer Ward

Happyday Farms is more than an organic garden-it is an effort to redirect the negative accumulation of energy that has resulted in the unfathomable advance of the poisonous and evil Monsanto.  Never in the history of mankind, has a population been so imminently endangered by the practices of its government, which turns a blind eye because it has been paid to do so.

Never before has the power of money played such a vile role in the decimating of a world’s food supply.  Never has a government proceeded so willingly down a destructive path than what we are seeing now with the indifference of an uncaring entity.  Money talks, and good health walks-right into the cancer ward.

With the rate of deadly cancers soaring higher every day, and the reality of the genetically modified food being hugely responsible, what will it take to make our leaders realize that money will not be able to fix the calamity which results?  What will it take to remove this permanent overcast from our horizon?

It will take thousands of small enterprises like that of Happyday Farms.  It will require tens of thousands of people willing to work sixteen hours a day, digging, sifting, adding the rich, black compost, weeding, watering, tending, monitoring, and harvesting.

I view Happyday Farms as a brave enterprise, kind of a little engine that could, so to speak.  Situated ideally along the top of a ridge, still close enough to the Pacific Ocean to benefit from its temperate effects, with a better-than-six-months long growing season, the farm represents all that is good and right about the rural landscape.

The Bell Springs area is zoned for agriculture.  If we mosey only four or five parcels up the road from Happyday Farms, we encounter Blue Rock Ranch, owned and operated by the same family for close to three-quarters of a century.  The O’Neill family, led by patriarch Robert, has been growing produce for the dinner table for close to forty years, so the concept is certainly not new.

In fact, Robert also grew a sizable vegetable garden on our one-ace plot down in suburban SoCal.  Growing food is in our blood.  One of the predominant factors propelling me and several of my siblings, to make the move from the Los Angeles Basin up to northern Mendocino County in the first place, was the desire to find a means of subsisting that did not involve a daily commute into town-or any other venue-in order to put food on the table.

In the early seventies, for Buddha’s sake, while I was overseas, my sibs and I exchanged ideas and built up a plan of action through a series of letters and cassette tapes, outlining the things we would have to accomplish before we could achieve our goals.  One was to take advantage of the California educational system, at that time one of the best in the world, so as to fortify our philosophical ideals with a little reality.

I took a series of classes in 1976, at San Jose State University, on alternative energy and lifestyle applications, which better prepared me to meet the challenges of moving to such a remote and agriculturally rich paradise.  After working in the trades on the mountain, for the first eight years I lived on Bell Springs Road, I returned to the classroom to get my California teaching credential and taught in the school district for the next sixteen years, commuting back and forth to town, six days a week.  

Now my sons, educated and returned to the mountain in the prime of their lives, have hewn out the food-producing terraces from the land and are creating and expanding on one of the most optimum professions conceivable for the geographical area, just as those who originally came up from SoCal envisioned.  Everything that we espoused as youthful, adventurous, back-to-the-landers, has come to fruition, through the efforts of the third generation.

That anything-or anyone-would attempt to impinge upon this endeavor, particularly while portraying Happyday Farms as a “negative commercial enterprise,” is inexplicable.  For anyone-for any reason-to denigrate these efforts on the part of the crew at Happyday Farms, is not only laughable, it’s ludicrous.  
No man has the right to tell another man what he may or may not do on his own twenty-acre parcel.  End of discussion.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happyday Farms-Snake in the Grass

This is the sixth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms
Snake in the Grass

Every player on a team needs a role and I have mine: I am the maintenance guy.  Doesn’t sound very glamorous but it’s the perfect spot in the lineup for me.  The maintenance guy does the stuff that the farming crew does not have time for, or that the crew would have to somehow manufacture time to complete, if I were not around.

One of the first things I did, even as the crew was preparing the excavated terraces for planting, was to carve a set of five, eight-feet-wide steps, into the four-foot-high, sharply-sloping surface area immediately outside the back door, to gain access to the lowered yard.  This way all traffic, whether carrying buckets of compost or a hose, or just traveling empty-handed, had better maneuverability in every direction.

I put together Annie’s herb boxes, directly south of the greenhouse, in an area about thirty feet long, by twelve feet wide.  Of course the ground slopes, so I did two parallel retaining walls, so as to break the area in half down the length of it.  That way Annie could access the lower one from below and the upper one from above.  

I also got the bed for our tomato plants all prepped for the grand event, and plopped those kids in the ground yesterday.  I rarely put the tomatoes out before June 1st, unless I have good reason to think the weather will stay nice and avoid a late spring frost.  Tomatoes are not fans of cold weather.

This morning I filled the gas tank of the weed-eater, and ran it until the tank ran dry.  That is approximately an hour and a half, and afterwards I took a break.  The weed-eater is just about the only device we use that makes a racket, but what are you going to do?  If I don’t weed-eat, then the weeds represent not only a fire hazard, but a means of concealment for those critters who use it to hide in, like snakes.

A neighbor to the immediate south of me was heard to be expressing disparaging words because of the noise from what he termed a negative commercial venture, meaning Happyday Farms.  He thought there was a rototiller going all day, but that was his error.  Folks use a rototiller to break up the soil when it has lain fallow all winter. 

However, here at Happyday Farms, crops are rotated through the terraces all year round, with Casey and the crew turning the loose soil by hand and adding in more of the rich black compost.  Using the rototiller would be pointless, not to mention obnoxious.  The irony is that I was doing the weeding around this neighbor’s water tank at the approximate time he was complaining about the noise.  Ach tung, Chucko.  Best get your facts straight.

Another reason the farm crew does not use a rototiller is because they are still reclaiming the soil from the rocks.  Like our Irish forefathers, who had to clear Ireland of rocks, we have to do the same here.  This means that one crew member is always using the pitch fork, sifting and shifting the soil to relocate the dwindling rock population.  Rototillers and rocks don’t mix well.

In any case, Casey mentioned to me recently, when I was expressing satisfaction with my role, that it was a timeworn custom on the early-American farm, that the elder would assume this maintenance position, because it affords flexibility.  I can work when it best suits me, and more importantly, stop when I need to pause.  

I function best in the mornings, the earlier the better, and similarly, begin to deflate as the day moves on.  Casey, Lito, Torey and Courtney will move into the back yard arena at four in the afternoon, to begin a litany of tasks that will occupy all four of them for three hours, and not think a thing about it.  

When I reflect back on all the years I taught and how much of the work day was still ahead of me, even after school, I shudder.  These days, at four in the afternoon, the most likely reason I would venture outside is to make sure that the barbecue was prepped and ready to go when Annie gives me the signal.  

It’s my role in life and I like it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Happyday Farms-Loaded to the Gills

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms
Loaded to the Gills

I observe much of what goes on at Happyday Farms but I am no longer in the organized work force, at least as far as the mechanics of the farms itself are concerned.  A veritable gold mine of available opportunities exist for a guy like me, who has exited crew status, and gone solo.

I enjoy working on a crew, but I can no longer hold up my end of the deal, so I bailed.  By that, I mean I can no longer measure up to the standards that I set for myself about fifty years ago.  More likely, I can still maintain the pace, but the price I pay, particularly during the days that follow the labor, is too steep.

On the other hand, I can still do some pretty substantial damage when I am allowed to go about the chores on my own terms.  Being sixty-one years old has its advantages.  Take weed-eating for instance, please.  It is some of the most taxing work I have ever engaged in because of the nature of the beast.  

Extending the device out in front of me creates tension on my back, which in turn begins to ache.  It doesn’t take long to begin hurting, and from there on out I make constant adjustments to ease matters in any way I can.  I hold the contraption with my left hand and operate the trigger with my right.  After a few minutes, I reverse arms.

When working on a slope, while facing the upside of the site, I will extend my hand half-way down the shaft of the weed-eater, so as to lesson the weight, and operate the machine from a different angle: anything to shift the focus of the pain to another spot.

The bottom line is that I never work more than ninety minutes at one time on the weed-eater.  When it runs out of gas, I put it down and either quit for the day, or move on to any one of a number of tasks that accompany the clearing of the weeds.

When Casey and Lito rented the excavator and carved the terraces into my backyard, what we call the West Forty, they had to contend with a lot of existing elements.  There were at least a dozen raised, redwood beds, complete with the gopher-proof wiring; there was also a fair amount of decorative manzanita, much of it forming the beds into which soil was put, and vegetables grown.

All of the detritus from the former yard had been shifted and sorted according to whether it was reusable or not.  If it could be recycled, it all got stored in an out-of-the-way nook of the yard. If it was dump material, it just got moved out of the way, and ignored.  Now I am working to get it all centrally located out in front of my house, so as to get Casey’s utility trailer front and center and loaded to the gills.

Mind you, I will not be the one towing that baby to town.  I have rarely been called upon in my life to tow something behind me, and have determined at my advanced age, that I am not going to start now.  I leave that up to the younger set.

How much weed-eating is there?  Let’s just call it job security.  The biggest problem Lito says they have are the quail.  They travel in bands and can go through a row of tender, young sprouts like Sherman though Georgia.  One way to discourage them is to eliminate the tall grass which they use so effectively to hide their whereabouts.  

So I am on a mission to minimize the ease with which the quail can gain access to the garden.  Anything I do is that much less that Lito or Casey has to do, so they’re not worried about the pace.  Neither am I.  Those days are gone forever-over a long time ago.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happyday Farms-On the Waterfront

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.
Happyday Farms-
On The Waterfront

As I wrote about in “Blue Rock Ridge” (, water is the key to survival anywhere, but especially when you are trying to homestead a twenty-acre parcel of land, up on a mountain-top.  What I was unable to provide for readers at the time I wrote that piece, was the eventual solution to the problem of water.

It came down simply to the fact that if we dug it, the rain would fill it.  Having had a pond put in about seven years ago, that certainly was adequate enough to get Happyday Farms off the ground, we were determined to build a more substantial water-storage “facility,” call it a pond, a reservoir or a lake.   Above all, call it the answer to our dreams, obtained through industry and hard work.

The first thing you must realize is that when I say we, I am inevitably talking about Casey, because I am in no position to have a back-yard swimming pool put in, let alone a lake.  But Casey being the industrious lad that he is, has been planning this development for quite some time, so he had been setting aside revenue little by little, and with some financial help from this family member here, and a hill loan from this neighbor on the mountain there, he had the lake put in last summer.

Beginning at the end of June and going pretty much six days a week for about the next six weeks, we heard the squealing, grinding, scraping, dragging cacophony of the heavy-equipment-on-tracks, doing the work.  When asked why the reservoir needed to be so large (we estimate the volume to be two-and-a-half million gallons), Casey responded that he and Amber like to function on the ten-year plan.  

Ten years ago in 2004, Casey and I and various helpers, built his original house, and he began to plant veggies and tomatoes on his site.
Ten years from now, I would expect that instead of farming two acres as he is now, Casey, Lito, Amber and Company will have expanded ten-fold.  After all, they have forty acres with which to work, including the twenty acre parcel which houses the pond.  That’s why building the existing pond makes sense.

What does not make sense is the logistical hoops that Mendocino County throws up in front of us to make the whole process so laborious, not to mention acrimonious.  Water is obviously a touchy subject in the midst of a drought.  There is also a great deal of emphasis being placed on illegal grow-sites and the water sources that supply these endeavors. These elements combine to make it seem as though we are up to no good, here at Happyday Farms.

We see the construction of the reservoir as a community-contributing endeavor.  Not only does it supply water for community agriculture, it also provides safety for the ridge-top community during times of wildfire-danger, which means in some seasons, from April through November. 

There is no river, stream, creek, brook, or watercourse which flows into the pond.  We are not taking the water from someone else.  During this past winter, the reservoir was still only about one-fourth of the way filled, mid-way through February.  Then along came the Pineapple Express, bringing heavy rainfall for a couple of weeks, and the lake filled up.

Once again, we seized the initiative, had a pond put in, and now the county determines that an engineering report is required, permits must be sought, hoops must be jumped though, and bureaucracy endured.  Oh, and they will want big bucks, too.

All well and good, as long as the process goes forward.  It would seem that we are all on the same side, but it’s hard to say.  I mean, I know the county is not concerned with past transgressions against the land by the timber industry.  Here on the ridge, the trees were taken twice, at least, once back in the thirties, and once a bit more recently.

The desertification of the terrain has been in progress for generations now, and small farmers like Casey are trying to restore the environment to the way it used to be before the land was logged.  To accomplish this, more water storage units like our pond are needed.

Not everyone has the perseverance to be able to construct such a watershed, so those that do should be rewarded, not penalized. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Happyday Farms or The West Forty

This is the third in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.
Happyday Farms
The West Forty

As I wrote about in Blue Rock Ridge (,  Annie and I moved up here for good in May of 1982.  We have always put a garden in, even when it consisted only of a half-dozen tomato plants and maybe some summer squash and cucumbers.  Back when there was almost no water for household use, we still managed to eke out a few fresh goodies for the dinner salad.

From the beginning we opted for raised redwood boxes, because I had obtained several units of redwood, sold very cheap, because a good percentage of it was unusable for building as a result of all the knots. The knots made the wood structurally questionable.  It worked just dandy for garden boxes, though, and I went through the hassle of stapling some sort of aviary wire to the inside of the redwood boxes and covered it with dirt to prevent gophers from getting into the boxes.

Whereas I planted anything and everything into the boxes, I planted tomato plants in thirty gallon bags, above the ground, and hand-watered them so that I could weed and monitor them at the same time.  I placed a six or seven foot tall ring of either foundation wire, or simply range fence, around each plant so that each could grow tall and would not sprawl out on the ground, allowing the tomatoes to come into contact with the soil.

Having begun canning vast unlimited amounts of tomatoes back in San Jose, at War Admiral Avenue while attending San Jose State, I liked my tomatoes and I always grew between thirty and fifty.  I grew mostly Ace because they are so uniform and easy to can.  But I also like any kind of cherry tomatoes, so we always planted several of those.

I put up cold-pack tomatoes, hot-pack tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, sauce without salt, super thick pizza sauce, and the ultimate, catsup.  My goal is always to have enough to make it through to the next August, but I rarely succeed.

Somewhere along the line, Annie began acquiring Heirloom tomatoes and so we always had eight or ten of those, primarily for salads.  Then there were Heirloom eggplant and we were off and running.  I think because the eggplant we encountered as kids were past their prime and Mama just didn’t know what to do with them, I never cared for it.

Well, Annie did and she made me a convert.  Now when eggplant comes in, we eat nothing for weeks, in every conceivable dish, and love every minute of it.  I could say the same thing about summer squash, because it is so prolific.  The thing about summer squash is that we never let it get beyond petite, or just plain small.  Not only is it infinitely more tender, it is also more flavorful and we never end up with the prototypical submarines.  

When the boys moseyed on down the line, I cut back considerably on what I planted and even stopped the past couple of years because I was never sure if there would be water throughout the summer.  No way was I going to plant a garden and then end up having to pull it for lack of water.  As Happyday Farms expanded, it obviously need more water, and we were getting most of our produce from Casey anyway, so why double plant?

Now with water no longer an issue, Casey went ahead and rented an excavator last February and sculpted the sloping, southward-facing back yard, into terraces, or steps, just as he had done three hundred feet up the driveway at the original site of Happyday Farms.  We removed on pear tree which not only lay in the path of one of the terraces, but shaded too much of the immediate area.

The pear tree in question has only yielded fruit a half-dozen times over the years because it blooms in March, traditionally the harshest month on the ridge.  Obviously, the person who sold us the tree, sometime back in the mid-eighties, was misinformed at to the appropriate elevation, for this particular variety of pear.

So now our back yard is on its second crop already and it’s only May.  Great success, say I.  And what about that water issue, of which I just spoke?  Sounds like next post’s topic.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Happyday Farms or Shangri-La, if You Please

This is the second in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

Happyday Farms
Shangri-La, if You Please

Happyday Farms represents the closest thing to Shangri-La that I can conceive of.  There is no place on earth that I would rather make my home than on this twenty-acre parcel of land, located on a ridge in northernmost Mendocino County.  With a generally mild climate, and more than a six-month, hot-weather crop [gaping] window of opportunity, the farm rocks.

There are three physical “regions” that comprise Happyday Farms: there is the original tract of sloping, southward-facing land that extends directly below Casey and Amber’s house, approximately the length and width of a football field; there is a portion of the farm directly north of the root cellar and wood-storage area, about one hundred by forty feet; and there is the West Forty, behind my house, roughly one hundred feet by one hundred feet.  

Beginning with the original-and biggest-part of the farm, there are steps etched into the sloping hillside, that run more-or-less north-south; these are three or feet wide, sometimes wider, and run side-to-side on that football field, much the same way that the stripes marking the ten-yard lines would run.

A path exists, pretty much centered from top to bottom, bisecting the stepped rows.  Steps for safe walking have been carved from the top to the bottom, and have beed reinforced with a slab of two-by-six wood in conjunction with two lengths of re-bar, driven into the ground to hold the slabs of wood in place.  There is also a path that runs alongside the steps to allow for a wheel-barrow to be maneuvered down as one takes the steps.  Mostly though, the barrows are maneuvered from side to side.

There is a tremendous amount of wheel-barrow use, because if they aren’t hauling rocks out of the compound for deposit on the north side of the driveway, they are hauling compost or straw into the complex.  Casey used to buy compost from the local nursery and have ten yards trucked up to the farm.  Then he got hooked up with the big boys and now deals with a company with a rig that brings forty yards at a time.  That way when the neighbors need compost, they can come to the farm and save a trip to town.

I see this as the precursor to the stand that we have been talking about for a few years now, to be located up on Bell Springs Road.  Of course, what we will sell in the stand is the produce that comes out of the farm, but the ultimate goal is to open up a multi-purposed mercantile, tailored for the ridge-top.  

At first we will only be open maybe three days a week with set hours and then go from there.  Personally, I would be more than happy to sit up there and peck away at my keyboard if it was slow, and I’m pretty good at retail if it was busy.  In any case, Happyday Farms fills a niche up here in the north-county, and Casey is doing a superior job of filling a community need.

The second region of the farm is the North-forty and is the only flat part of the farm.  There are two greenhouses in this area, and rows that are about sixty feet long.  There are alternately either hooped rows for the frost-cloth to be pulled over, or posts with netting on them, as there is now, for climbing vines to reach for the sky.  There are sweet peas thriving there now.

Behind my house is the most recent addition to the farm, and one that I find most rejuvenating.  However, it will have to wait until after I take a nap, speaking of rejuvenating.  Stick around.  There’s more to Shangri-La that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happyday Farms

This is the first in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) program located up here in Northern Mendocino County, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.

HappyDay Farms

Happyday Farms.  Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t more a state of mind than an actual entity.   Then I look out my back window onto a set of terraces, recently sculpted from the soil with the tools of the trade, and formed into bountiful rows of burgeoning produce, and there is no doubt.  What was once a homestead thirty-some years ago, has evolved into a flourishing agribusiness, featuring organically-grown produce all year-round, being snapped up by the residents of Northern Mendocino County.

The Community Sponsored Agriculture program (CSA) is the material manifestation of Happyday Farms, but there is more to the canvas than fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and flowers.  There is a spirit that abounds which permeates the air and infuses the residents with energy and optimism.  There is so much vibrancy and effervescence everywhere one turns, it’s impossible to remain downhearted for any extended period of time.

After he built the original chunk of his home, back in 2004, Casey began planting the typical kinds of back-yard-garden veggies into beds which had been pre-laid with some form of gopher-proof wire or lattice, over which the soil was spread.  As he began to expand his area of interest by excavating the steps, he realized that after a few years he would have to go through and replace all of the lattice due to the inevitable breakdown of the material underground.  He therefore stopped inlaying the lattice and began to adopt more practical means of pest control, beginning with the acquisition of four farm cats to protect the vulnerable young greens from mice and other rodents.

When he and Amber, who had spent several years in the community working on another organic farm, partnered up, Happyday Farms began to take shape.  Here and there along the way, Casey hired a a guy who operated an excavator to shape the long terraces that allowed him to grow fresh produce where the terrain is anything but flat.  Now he rents the excavator and does the work himself.   

The southwestern-facing slope is ideal for growing a great variety of vegetables, and our proximity to the ocean and our elevation of 3,300 feet, keep the climate more temperate in the fall than the nearby valleys.  In the lower elevations, the cold drops and the growing season for tomatoes and other frost-inhibited plants is the end of September.  Up on the mountain, we never get a frost before November and I have taken tomatoes off the vine in December a half-dozen times at least.

We get plenty of dry heat in the summer so the hot-weather crops thrive and we use greenhouses in the winter to keep fresh lettuce and cooking greens available all year-round.  Kale is constantly in demand especially in our household.  Over the past few years, I have dramatically altered my diet so that the majority of what I eat comes from either Happyday Farms or the local hippie store.

What we also get plenty of around here is harmony and humor to go with the hard work and long hours.  I say “we” in the general sense of the word.  I leave the farm work to the younger set, while I do those tasks that are more age-appropriate for a gray-beard.  I did move and stack those three cords of oak/madrone and I have been carving steps into the newly-terraced back yard, or west-40, to make it easier to move compost and nutrients around the site.  I have also begun the spring weed-eating process, but most of the time I am more likely to be found cleaning up after meals, sweeping and mopping the floors of the inevitable mud, or otherwise keeping things flowing on the domestic front.

I am also to be found taking photos of the farm itself and all that goes on there.  What does go on there?  Next post.  Don’t want to kill the job.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Road Trip to San Jose-Saturday

                                                                   Road Trip To San Jose-Saturday
          Arriving at Municipal Stadium a week ago last Saturday, forty-five minutes before game time, Annie and I continued our epic road trip, finally reaching the apex of the journey with the San Jose Giants versus Bakersfield Blaze game.  We had rendezvoused with Melissa out front, finally meeting one of two individuals instrumental in keeping me on board, while I figured out the technology associated with posting my articles on Around the Foghorn.

Melissa had been the one who originally organized for the staff writers to meet together for the baseball game, and had rented a special party deck, which was then cordoned off for the sixteen members of our group.  We had our very own waitperson, who introduced herself as Vanessa, so we didn’t even have to fetch our barbecued meal or our glasses of wine.

Upon meeting Melissa, we had also been introduced to Alex, her husband who also wrote for ATF.  Alex knew the ropes so we accompanied him to the spot and basked in the late afternoon, April sunlight, 66 degrees on the stadium thermometer when we first arrived.  it would get chillier later on as it got dark and the breeze picked up, but for the most part, it was ideal.  Alex entertained us until game time as some of the others began to arrive.

Our party deck was directly adjacent to the area behind third base.  We were very much in range of heat-seeking foul balls.  Indeed, though I paid pretty close attention, I did get surprised by a screamer that bounced once on the track and hurtled past, directly to my left.  Instinctively I reached out my left-or throwing-arm in an effort to deflect it past the person who was standing directly in its path.  I did succeed in making contact with the ball, or at least my ring and pinkie fingers made contact.  My gallant effort had no discernible effect on the trajectory of the ball.  

Now, ten days after the fact, the numbness in my fingers has diminished, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I regain full use of both.  As far as the person to my left is concerned, she was paying attention, and did nothing more than lean deftly back and allow the ball to make its way to empty area behind the deck, unimpeded by any effort on her part.  Smart gal!

Annie and I met Dee, the second editor at ATF, who like Melissa, had taken pieces of my writing, formatted them, inserted pictures, and posted them on ATF, so that I could contribute before I had been able to complete the tech component.  I have always thought it was very generous of both of them, in terms of time.  Ultimately, the goal was to get me through the tech process and it worked to perfection.

We also met Chris, one of our ATF writers, who had come from Toronto for a week of SF Giants baseball, and who had just come down the peninsula from the Giants/Tribe game earlier in the day.  With the Giants having taken the second of the three-game series, our group was especially jovial. 

Now we enjoyed a fun ballgame as backdrop, while we chatted about all things ATF-related, and lots of things that were not.  We exchanged baseball philosophy, took some pics, and talked a little treason.  There were two beverages included in the price of the tickets, and Annie and I chose to imbibe in the proffered zinfandel.  Figuring that we had walked to the stadium and were returning to our room in the same manner, we would splurge.

Though it had occurred to me in the weeks preceding the event, that I might have picked their brains for a little tech assistance, I had also realized that I would never be able to function in that capacity, while in that environment.  When I had traveled to Redding to get Jack to tutor me, everything had been perfect, with no distractions and no unreasonable expectations.

So we kept it totally social and had an unequivocally enjoyable time, cementing relationships that up until this evening, had been like the publication itself-cyber space only.  Attaching personalities to the already-familiar faces, in the arena that we all enjoyed, was as easy as it was to share our enjoyment of the Orange and Black.

I would like to report that the San Jose Giants were successful that evening, but unfortunately, though it was a close game, Bakersfield scored one in the eighth and one in ninth to tie it, and then three in the top of the tenth to eventually win, 6-3.  

It just goes to show you can’t win ‘em all, but it does give us a good reason to get together again for a similar party.  After all, winning isn’t everything; good company is.  When you put them together you get nothing but great success.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Road Trip to San Jose-Friday

Road Trip to San Jose-Friday

I’m back.  I have decided to relegate most of the San Francisco Giants writing to Around the Foghorn and not my blog.  If I write an opinion piece, or a personal reflection, then I will go ahead and post it here, but otherwise, I am wrestling my blog away from the Orange and Black and returning it to its earlier function, which was a place to post the random thoughts of a recovering hermit.

Annie and I went down to San Jose a weekend ago last, to take in a San Jose Giants game, and to meet many of the staff writers at Around the Foghorn.  This was an event that had been on the calendar since the fourth week in February, when I was first writing for ATF.  There was a time, not so very long ago, when a trip of this nature would have produced a fair amount of anxiety.  It’s not that I wouldn’t-or couldn’t-enjoy it, I would.

It’s just that I would derive no enjoyment in the anticipation.  I would fixate on “What-if?” components and wind up just hoping I could get through the event, and move on.  And the more complex the scenario, the less I would look forward to it.  Not so with this trip down to San Jose.  I had arranged, weeks in advance, to rendezvous with an SJSU buddy of mine who had also worked with me at United Auto Stores.

This all took place back in the late seventies/early eighties, just prior to our moving up on the mountain.  Even though Kevin had visited us up here, back in the eighties, we had lost touch with one another.  When I entered his name and San Jose on Face/Book, up he came, and the rest is the result of modern technology.

I had told Kevin that Annie and I were coming down to see the SJ Giants game, and suggested that we get together for dinner, or something.  I mean, I couldn’t just invite myself to his house, could I?  Fortunately, I didn’t have to because he graciously invited me and Annie to not only have dinner, but to stay overnight, right at his spot.

Kevin had brought his wife, Emilia, up to the mountain, sometime around 1983, so we were already acquainted, and it was just like old times.  We sat around in the late afternoon on Friday, indulging in a little red wine and catching up.  Kevin, an avid fisherman, barbecued some of his recent catch, while Emilia prepared some rice, and accompanying salads, salsas, and chips.  

After a leisurely dinner, Kevin and I retired to the sitting room to watch the opener of the series with the Cleveland Indians, a victory of supreme enjoyment.  Annie and Emilia went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood while Kevin and I talked and watched baseball.  We had shared an interest in learning Spanish while at San Jose State University, wishing to better communicate with the customers at United Auto Stores, so we had taken four consecutive, five-day-a-week classes together.  We had some SJSU high times to rehash.

Saturday morning saw us continuing our dialogue, while introducing 30-year-old John into the mix.  The older of the two offspring, he had come home during the night, and surfaced at a reasonable time the next morning.  He was highly entertaining and we learned a little about him, including the fact that he works with autistic kids.  That kind of set him apart right there.

With regret, we headed out around eleven or so, and made our way into San Jose, where we found our motel, about fifteen minutes’ walk from the stadium, and checked in.  I was in charge of this detail and relished the role, after years of just assuming Annie would take care of it.  These days, Annie is content to allow me to deal with the minutia of travel, while she reads People Magazine.

We had a couple of hours to chill before heading over to the stadium which was part of the plan.  It was a good plan worked to perfection, as Melissa, one of the ATF editors, was waiting out front of San Jose Municipal Stadium, to greet us.  She had even brought us our official Around the Foghorn tee-shirts.