Intimate Interactions Using CSA Model to Know your Farmer

In San Diego, our neighborhood farmers' markets are plentiful with organic produce and sustainably raised meats. What's more, our markets span nearly every day of the week.

At the end of March I visited Phil Noble of Sage Mountain Farm and Beef to discuss his meat CSA and how the community can help small farmers like himself thrive by buying directly from them.

Farmers' markets provide an essential space for earth-conscious meat consumers and small farmers to come together in supporting sustainable agriculture.

Without markets, or the model of community-supported agriculture (CSA), many of our most cherished small farms would go out of business. CSA programs support farmers in raising healthy livestock throughout the year and, in turn, shareholders receive a prearranged quantity of meat per month.

The grass-fed beef that Noble sells at weekly markets in Hillcrest and Little Italy and through Sage Mountain Beef CSA is raised at partner ranches in Santa Maria or Woodlake. Historic drought across the state creates challenging conditions to raise grass-fed beef in Southern California. His green-fed beef, which means the livestock are raised on a mixed diet of certified organic, seasonal produce like beets, arugula or kale, is raised in southern Riverside County. Noble allows his customers to select the type of meat and cuts that they receive each month.

At any given time during the year, the CSA may also include cerveza beef, which Noble receives through partnerships with local breweries. This is a win-win situation in terms of sustainability as thousands of pounds of leftover brewer's mash stay out of landfills and supplement the animals' all-vegetable diet.

"The CSA model keeps our farms small and running throughout the year," Noble says. "If we cannot get support from our communities, farmers either go out of business or turn to less sustainable, even agribusiness, models to keep afloat."

Sage Mountain began as a garden in Phil and his wife, Juany's, backyard and has evolved into a full-fledged operation that now includes growing certified organic produce and raising sustainable beef and pork. Phil's experience stems from what he learned about gardening as a child.

"It really goes back to my dad," he says. "I don't know that I would have put in a big garden when I first moved out to the country if I had not experienced that growing up." He also attributes the success of his farm to the reception he and his wife have received over the years from customers at the markets.

Noble says the best ways help local farms are to purchase a CSA share, shop at your local market or frequent businesses that source from farmers. Every dime you spend locally goes a long way to keeping small farms in business.

"It's priceless. It does something to you," Noble says of his experience at the farmers' markets. "It is incredible to interact with somebody that loves what you're doing."

For more information visit Sage Mountain Beef CSA.

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