Former Insurance Claims Supervisor’s Move to Country Spurs Foray into Sustainable Farming
May 29, 2012 | Hana Lurie
Phil Noble of Hemet, CA-based Sage Mountain Farm never imagined himself living the life of a farmer. Before moving 30 miles outside of the city, Phil was a supervisor for a claims department at an insurance company. His initial foray into agriculture was a small, simple garden. Today, along with his wife Juany, he sustainably farms over 150 acres of land on which he grows certified organic fruits and vegetables and raises grass-fed cattle.
I recently spoke with Phil to learn more about why he decided to become a farmer, what types of sustainable practices he employs, the challenges that he faces and more.
Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?
Phil Noble: We left the city behind in 2000 to move out to the country, just to enjoy a bit of the country. We put in this garden and it grew. We did the farmer’s market and we sold out…and then we did another one. We bought the land across, and behind us, then next door to us; and it kind of grew from there.
Q: Have you always been interested in farming?
Phil Noble: No. [And I am completely] self-taught. I was [previously] a supervisor for a claims department with an insurance company
Q: What inspired you to become a farmer?
Phil Noble: Well, I owe it to my dad. As a kid I used to work in the garden with my father all the time.
Q: What do you grow and raise on your farm?
Phil Noble: A lot of different vegetables: onions, tomatoes, strawberries, melons, watermelon, squash, carrots, potatoes, garlic, lettuce. [And] I raise grass-fed beef.
Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable practices?
Phil Noble: By default…that’s all I knew how to do is use manure in the garden and do it naturally.
Q: What sustainable practices do you employ on your farm?
Phil Noble: If you look up sustainable in the dictionary, you’ll find my farm. Because I raise grass-fed cattle, we are completely sustainable. They eat a lot of our vegetables on the farm. They graze on wheatgrass and we get to use the manure, so that’s unique in that sense. We irrigate a lot of our crops from a stream that comes down the mountain so that we don’t use any energy to pump the water – it just all flows naturally [in]. We mix a lot of our own compost and our sprays – garlic and pepper.
Q: Is the farm profitable or self-sustaining?
Phil Noble: It’s a very difficult life to be profitable. We’ve had a couple of really bad crop losses and it’s pretty scary.
Q: How does the farm make money?
Phil Noble: CSA, Farmers markets and selling to local businesses. Farmers markets aren’t really profitable – they’re just good for creating cash flow and advertising. We sell to restaurants, Whole Foods, Jumbo’s and Sprouts.
Q: What challenges does your farm face?
Phil Noble: Labor – finding help. I can’t find skilled labor. The people I hire – I end up firing 99% of them. It’s just really hard work and people don’t last.
Q: What are your future goals for the farm?
Phil Noble: To become profitable and make less mistakes, [to improve on the] timing of planting crops and not planting the wrong variety at the wrong time. My main goal is to grow less stuff – I grow too much stuff and it’s too hard to manage all of it. So I’m going to really focus in on potatoes, onions, garlic, and plant larger crops of things that grow really well on the farm. But now I know what grows well out here…you kind of have to figure it out on your own.