The Coast News Group
Noel Stehly, a third generation farmer from Stehly Farms talks with Lick the Plate columnist and radio host David Boylan. Photo by David Boylan
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Lick the Plate: Stehly Farms — Feeding San Diego County for 50 years

I’ve had enough chefs and foodies tell me over the years that they like to source their produce locally whenever possible, so it was about time to find a farm that actually grows on a scale to provide many of the markets we shop at with fresh, organic produce.

Stehly Farms in Valley Center does just that.

I had a conversation with third generation farmer Noel Stehly recently to learn more about the farm.

Farming goes back a few generations in your family where did all get started and how was the farm different then than today?

We are third generation California farmers. My grandfather started in Anaheim and eventually sold to my dad who then moved the farm to Valley Center. Today we are certified organic which is something my dad never was but probably knew more about that most farmers alive today. Organic was just what he did everyday. He didn’t need a certificate.

You grew up working the farm, what were some of your responsibilities when you first started working?

When I was little we had all kinds of jobs. We had to grade and pack eggs before school.  After school we had to pull weeds in dads garden, his garden was always huge, not your normal back yard plot. We worked in the nursery weeding, watering and grafting trees that now fill the mountains around our farm, although most are now dead thanks to our water situation. It wasn’t always work but there was always plenty of it to be done.

You went to college at USD and got a degree in International Relations then went back to the farm, what influenced that?

I always wanted to work on the farm for as long as I can remember. Its different now as the boss, salesman, problem solver, I don’t have time to get down in the dirt like I used to but I still find time to help where I can.

When did Stehly Farms make the decision to go organic?

My brother and I took the farm organic in 2002.

What was that process like?

Going organic was not difficult. It is just a matter of keeping records and proving what you are doing or not doing.

You grow a lot of crops year round, what do you grow and what is Stehly known for?

Sometimes it’s easier to say what I don’t grow than what I do. The list includes: Avocados, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, asparagus, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, corn, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, dragon fruit, passion fruit, pumpkins, squash, pigs, chickens and eggs. I am sure there are more but I can’t think of them now.

You also supply many San Diego stores, restaurants and distributors. Where can people find your produce?

Jimbo’s, Seaside Market, Cream of the Crop, Dailey Harvest, and all San Diego Whole Foods.

Folks can also come out to the farm and buy direct. When does that happen?

There are a couple of ways you can buy fresh produce at the farm. You can come out to the farm on Friday afternoons and shop the farmer’s market cooler or you can also come to one of our festivals. We are open to the public three days a year. Strawberry Festival, Blackberry Festival and Pumpkin Patch. Other than that it is a working farm and we can’t have the public out there every day.

You have two neighborhood grocery stores in San Diego one with a restaurant attached, any plans to do that in North County?

We want to put in another store in the north county but for now we are going to concentrate on the ones that are open. We are newbies in this business and want to expand when it’s right. We have had our sites in Carlsbad. We will see how that works out.

Parting thoughts?

One of my friends always says, “food is community and we produce a lot of good food.” We are proud of what we are doing and its fun being recognized for our hard work.  Farming in our area is dying fast but we are trying to keep it alive.

David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative an Encinitas based integrated marketing firm. He also hosts Lick the Plate Radio that airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on FM94/9, Easy 98.1, and KSON. Reach him at [email protected] or (858) 395-6905.