Faces of the Farm: Kanoe Phillips - Field Hand Lead & Irrigation Assistant
Kanoe Phillips works as a Field Hand Lead and Irrigation Assistant for Lazarus Naturals Farm, and he's had quite an adventurous life so far. Originally from Hawaii, Kanoe has traveled around the United States after living in the Virgin Islands just before Hurricane Irma hit (where he learned some of his irrigation tactics). He made his way from Los Angeles to Bend, where he picked up a job at Lazarus about a year and a half ago and this is his second harvest season working in the fields.
We caught up with him during the October harvest where he gave us some insight into the camaraderie and work ethic that makes the hemp fields of Lazarus Farms an exciting place to work.
What brought you to Lazarus Farms?
I ended up here from happenstance. I was road tripping around the country and it took me five months to get up here from LA. I swung through Bend to see a friend who had a connection to Lazarus Naturals and I needed a little work. I showed up on a Sunday night, started work the next Monday and I’ve been here for a year-and-a-half now.
What made them want to hire you?
I usually show up with a smile on my face. When I showed up, the whole crew just vibed together. The eight or nine of us that were here at the beginning of the season last year realized that we had a good connection.
That’s something I’ve noticed at Lazarus. Teams are built and there’s a camaraderie that you don’t often see at a lot of other places.
Absolutely. The fact we have this tight-knit community is one of the best things about Lazarus. You’re happy to show up to work and see people.
And you don’t go into an office. It’s gorgeous out here.
Absolutely. If I were working in a cubicle, there would be some issues!
Would you say your role is evolving?
Things definitely change as you find your niche. I had done a lot of PVC work in the past, so I ended up being put on irrigation and put together the system for HQ last year. I’ve become more of an assistant to Devin, the current irrigation manager. Lazarus lets you move into your own place in the company. I started doing a lot of equipment operation and digging trenches, so that went hand-in-hand with irrigation.
Did you do irrigation for farming prior to this?
Small-scale systems for home gardens and small permaculture farms. Before I was here, I was in the Virgin Islands and showed up a month before Hurricane Irma hit. I hunkered down in a concrete bunker, then spent the next five months rebuilding, doing construction work and pool work. The pool work got me really good with PVC because a lot of systems had been gutted by the wind that came out from under houses.
And that translates to farming?
Just knowing how to put together PVC, different filters and pressure valves has been really beneficial. But I’ve also learned a ton since being here. Industrial farming is much different than what I was used to. I had never worked with 6-12 inch pipe before. It’s all one-inch pipe going into a pool.
How has harvest changed from this year to last year?
We’re going towards a much more mechanized system. We didn’t have swathers last year. It was transporting hemp from the field to a dry barn, where it would get hung and then broken down from there. We ended up bringing in a combine at the end of last year to get through all of our major piles of hemp once it was dried. We were doing bucking last year, where you feed sticks into a bucking machine. It’s harder to do that when you have the acreage of plants that we do now. This year, we’re going with a more streamlined and mechanized process, less moving plant material by hand from place to place. That’s why we’re field drying this year. Ideally, we’ll be able to come through with a combine once all of this is dried.
My understanding is that there aren’t a lot of tools designed for hemp specifically. Do you see an opportunity to build those here?
We’re still just growing now, but what I’ve noticed is that we’ve been trying to adapt existing machinery. Most of what’s around us in town and the surrounding areas is for hay.
How is harvest this year different from last year?
It’s different from last year, but it’s still a normal day in the life. You get here in the morning, plants start getting cut down, the swathers put them into one row. We’re just coming through and spreading them out into that one row so it has a bit more air between everything. That way, things will start to dry out and not mold. I believe we’ll be using a combine later in the season, but right now we’re just spreading.
What’s a typical day like for you on the farm?
I bounce around a lot. It depends if there are crews out in the field that need some direction, in which case I’ll jump on that. By and large, I’ve mainly been doing irrigation and trenching with the mini-excavator.
That’s probably one of the most important parts of the farm.
Definitely. There’s the potential for disaster, but also very useful!
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned here?
It’s not really a lesson, but one of the skills I’m happiest with [learning] is the ability to operate heavy machinery. That’s something I can take anywhere in the world and make a difference. I’m able to jump into a machine and start moving dirt or tear down a house. I’m really appreciative of Lazarus Naturals giving me the chance to learn.
What’s your favorite part about working at Lazarus Naturals?
The reason I’m still here is because of the people. I love the crew out here. You can always find someone to give you a daily joke or a good smile. I’ve hung out with a lot of these people outside of the farm and truly value the friendships I’ve made. Another thing I appreciate about Lazarus is the ability to transform your current job into something you’re more interested in or something you discovered you have a talent for. That’s encouraged here and that’s not always the case at a lot of other places.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work at Lazarus Naturals or in the hemp industry?
It’s not a bunch of hippies sitting around and smoking weed! It’s long and hard days, but you’re working outside and it’ll make you strong. The skill of putting something in the ground and being able to harvest something out of the ground is something that will save us in the future. It’s beautiful to be farming.