Few of us will ever really understand what it’s like to serve our country as only military personnel can. Even in peacetime, the rigorous demands our nation’s armed forces endure in training and service are unlike any other job or responsibility. For this level of sacrifice and service, we claim to honor our veterans with a national holiday each November, but the reality is homelessness, unemployment, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), drug addiction and depression plague our nation’s defenders and truest patriots far more frequently than we acknowledge. Ex-Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife hope to change that… with organic farming.
According to Archipley, we spend $1 million on every soldier deployed overseas, and there are few programs—if any—to support the reintegration process for returning soldiers transitioning back into civilian life, which can often be the most difficult battle they’ll ever face. In a 2011 TEDx talk, Archipley describes his own challenges in returning from combat, and in separating from fellow soldiers, who became as close to him as family. The bonds forged during service can be incredibly strong, and along with the challenges leaving the service brings, there are also issues for many soldiers in leaving behind fellow service men and women and the friendships that sustained them through deployment tours.
When Archipley was considering re-enlisting after his third tour of Iraq, he and his wife Karen had just purchased an avocado farm in North County San Diego that would produce much more than just delicious food. It has become a tool for returning soldiers and a force in the sustainable agriculture movement. Archi’s Acres is a hydroponic farm producing a number of sustainable, organic crops like basil, and more importantly, happy and employed veterans.
For veterans used to a life of MREs (meals ready to eat) and limited fresh food options while deployed in harsh conditions or at sea, growing real food can be a totally new experience and one they’re happy to embrace. And it’s not just their own palate and diet that makes them excited about growing organic. Archipley says the awareness soldiers have about the lack of food around the world and the issues it causes makes them invested in understanding just how important providing Americans with access to healthy, fresh food is.
Ex-marine corporal, Baza Novic, 33, is a master gardener intern in Los Angeles, and says that farming and gardening has been one of the most effective tools in his reintegration. “Working with plants is an intensive discipline that keeps me outside, active and connected to the planet, which is exactly what someone transitioning from such a high-intensity position in the military can benefit from.” Archipley created the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program for just this reason. The 6-week course in organics, hydroponics and sustainable agriculture is now offered at Mira Costa Community College and California State University San Marcos. Veterans enrolled in the VSAT program also learn about resources for farm loans and financing, and Archi’s Acres is working to build more of their signature 1-acre greenhouses that can yield $1 million per year. Within the next ten years they plan to have 50-100 more sustainable agriculture hydroponic farms up and running around the country that are operated entirely by veterans.
Not only is Archi’s Acres working to provide jobs and opportunities for returning veterans, but also they’re deeply invested in supporting healthy communities. As 2011 saw the definition of the term “food deserts“—areas where access to fresh and healthy food is considered limited—Archi’s Acres seeks to bring hydroponic farming and fresh food to these areas, healing not only our nation’s veterans through organic farming, but also putting an end to the battles being fought on our plates every day, where millions of Americans struggle to provide healthy food for their families.