Empowering Veterans While Growing Family Farms
One of Colin Archipley’s favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, who saw, “America as a quilt—and each square of the quilt is a small family farm, each producing a living and a home.” Colin and his wife, Karen, have been working to make this quote a reality for returning veterans at Archi’s Acres, their small family farm in Valley Center.
Colin has served three tours of duty in Iraq and is a decorated combat Marine. He understands the struggles of returning veterans to reintegrate into society, and his own reintegration has been greatly assisted by the work Karen has put into co-developing the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program (VSAT).
Five years ago, the Archipleys purchased a small, 2.67-acre avocado ranch in the picturesque Valley Center area of San Diego County, with a view of the rolling hills. The property had been neglected and the avocado trees needed tending. After Colin left for his third tour in Iraq, Karen moved in and began irrigating the farm.
The couple was stunned when they received their first water bill, which was more than $800. With no hope of producing an income for several years, they knew they could not sustain a farm where the water bill exceeded more than half the monthly mortgage. Even though he was on the other side of the world, Colin began to research and develop a plan for finding the necessary water onsite to maintain the farm.
Meanwhile, Karen joined the “long arm of Colin” research efforts for setting up a well and prepared for his return, so they could delve into methods of water conservation and investigate alternative crop programs, such as a small greenhouse to produce basil, lettuce, kale, chard and other leafy green crops. Working together, the two created a model system of soil-less hydroponic, organic farming that can be duplicated in any location, even an inner city parking lot or abandoned building.
When Colin returned from combat for the last time, Karen realized that she needed to somehow help him continue to serve his country while being in the presence of fellow veterans. Her solution was to suggest the concept of the VSAT program, and together, she and Colin formulated the idea of training returning veterans how to create their own farms.
Now offering the program in partnership with Mira Costa College, the Archipleys are able to train up to 30 individuals at a time during a six-week, Full Impact Ag Business Introduction. Colin teaches the course and Karen assists with marketing and recruiting. She also oversees a one-year follow-up program to assist graduates in developing their farms through valuable connections or finding employment with existing farmers across the country.
The Archipleys have partnered with Whole Foods Market, which has stepped up to offer its Local Producer Loan Program through the company’s Buy Local initiative, via Whole Planet Loans. In September 2011, the VSAT program will be eligible for G.I. Bill education funding. Previous funds have come from scholarship donations from other nonprofits and private donations.
Today, Archi’s Acres is a sustainable, hydroponic, organic farm, with two greenhouses and three open-air growing areas; it produces continuous crops of basil, lettuce, chard, kale and heirloom tomatoes in a state-of-the-art, soil-less facility. Selling to Whole Foods, Jimbo’s Naturally and directly at local farmers’ markets in Hillcrest and Rancho Santa Fe, Karen’s smiling face is a testament to the success of her plan,
“Our goal is to augment and accelerate the organic agricultural revolution across America, in partnership with our military veterans,” says Karen. “Our philosophy is to call up and redirect our veteran’s attributes of leadership, tenaciousness and adaptability, as well as the willingness to take on severe challenges, to achieve the highest standards in plant production.”
VSAT has become a reality, with three classes graduating this year so far, and more to come. The program is open to any veteran looking to be part of something greater than themself, and who is willing to meet the challenges of self-employment, entrepreneurship and agricultural management. It may also be a lifesaving answer for returning veterans that want to reintegrate; they can become part of a bigger unit outside the military—the community of VSAT graduates.
“The most common cause of death among returning veterans is suicide,” advise the Archipleys, who believe such tragedies can be avoided through sense of purpose and challenge. VSAT provides the opportunity to tap into a new identity and career via the leadership qualities already instilled by military service. The program also provides the professional support that veterans need to create a career and the tools to find the funding sources to develop farms while serving the greater good.
Colin continues to be a Marine, serving in the war on terror, and Karen, as a military spouse, has joined him by providing returning warriors with an opportunity to be heroes at home, as well as in far-off lands. Natural Awakenings San Diego is proud to honor these hometown heroes for the work they have already accomplished and the work they will do in the future, healing lives and creating an American quilt of sustainable family farms.