Archi’s Acres

Posted on 4 min read

After getting lost and driving for what seemed like hours, I finally turn into the driveway of Archi’s Acres

I pass under the overhang of trees and through an iron gate, wind my way up the steep driveway past the barn, and pull in next to the other cars.  I’m greeted by Karen Archipley. Her smile is warm and friendly. Her big hazel eyes sparkle in the sun.  Her husband, Colin, is on the phone and will be out in a minute, she says. We stand outside under a perfect blue sky and admire the landscape—lavender fields and small farms laid out in a patchwork. A peacock screams eerily in the distance. 

Finally, Colin comes out of the house.  Six feet tall with muscular, tattooed arms, he is a former marine sargent with three tours of Iraq behind him. He wears wrap-around sunglasses and sports a dimpled chin. Unlike his wife, he is wary at first of strangers. I comment on how beautiful his place is, how peaceful. “A farm is a great place for a vet, he says. “Unlike the urban environment of Iraq,  all the sounds here are accounted for.”

Four years ago Karen and Colin bought this farm in Valley Center California. The three acre property was billed as a “gentleman farm.” It  included a house, a barn, and a grove of avocado trees.  Karen was a milner (hat maker) by trade. She had always told Colin that she wanted to live in Italy, a great place to live and to make her designer hats. Colin gave her the closest thing to a Tuscan villa in a Valley Center farm. The sale closed just days after Colin left for his third tour of duty in Iraq.

When Colin came home from Iraq, he discovered the many challenges facing a combat veteran.  In his mind, the Veteran’s Administration did not offer the help Colin needed for his transition back into civilian life. Looking out at his newly acquired avocado trees, Colin got an idea. The trees could make them some money. Farming in general could give Colin, and maybe some of the other returning vets, something they needed as much as money; peace and quite.   Working with plants, he thought, would at least keep the  human interaction down to a manageable level. 

Colin began his internet research on farming.  He knew he didn’t have a lot of acreage. The amount of water needed for the avocado trees was prohibitive. Instead, he came up with the idea of going hydroponic.

Hydroponic farming is farming without soil. The plants are grown in inert materials such as colcanic rock or coconut husk fibers. The water used is in a closed system—it drains through the plants and is then collected in tubes, filtered, and recycled. Nutrients are supplied through the water. Put the plants in a controlled environment, like a greenhouse, which takes up very little space, add artificial light, heat, misters, ventilation, and you can grow anything. Colin grows lettuce, tomatoes, and basil. Two years ago he began selling the basil in Whole Foods under the name Archi’s Acres.

Once the farm was up and running, the next step for Colin was helping other vets.  The Archipely’s began working with the VA to get the word out about what they were doing. Soon they founded their organization, VSAT: Veterans Sustaining Agricultural Training.      The goal of VSAT is to train vets for new career opportunities in farming. It offers a paid, ninety day program, during which vets learn hands-on organic farming, including both hydroponic and soil farming techniques as well as greenhouse construction. Vets also receive training in resume writing, interview techniques. At the end of the road, VSAT hopes, is a job. 

Support Archi’s Acres.  Make your way to Whole Foods, Jimbo’s, or the farmers’ markets in Hillcrest or Little Italy, and buy Archi’s Acres hydroponically grown basil. Sold as “living” basil, it has the roots attached. If you keep it in water, it will last six to eight  weeks.  Who doesn’t love fresh basil? 

Of course, supporting Archi’s Acres is bigger than basil. Colin and Karen represent something that I admire. Colin came back from Iraq, where he served his country and didn’t get the help that he needed, but he did find a way to make his life and the lives of others productive and healthy.  He used the best of what he learned in the military—loyalty, ingenuity, leadership training and courage— to do what he needed to do to survive.  Not only is his farm helping vets but it’s the way to help the planet as well.  As Colin says, “Water is the next oil.”  It only takes thirty five gallons to water all the basil in the greenhouse. By contrast, it takes more than three-hundred gallons to water the avocado trees. California is suffering its worst drought in years.  Colin’s goal is to bring the concept of Archi’s Acres and hydroponic farming to urban settings someday.  He has even said that he’d like to return to Iraq and bring hydroponic farming to people there. 

So do your part to help the planet and honor our military by buying basil produced by Archi’s Acres.

  • beetlebabee
    June 2, 2009

    Feeding Farmers to the Fish!

    I took a drive this week from Sacramento to Los Angeles, and had an eye opening experience. Down the entire length of the 5 freeway, we saw not the green luscious fields of produce or green orchards laden with fruit, but dusty dead and dying orchards. Rows after row, acre after acre, miles after mile of them, perfectly formed, perfectly helpless….lifeless.

    By way of explanation, these signs dotted the dusty dry roadside: “Congress Created Dust Bowl. Thank You Sacramento!”

    My lawn is green. My kids have plenty of water to spray in the yard, yet California’s orchards aren’t getting a drop this year despite the best rainfall in three years and five reservoirs filled to over capacity.

    There’s no doubt that we’re in a drought, but why the sudden drop in water availability only for farmers? Are the politicians in Sacramento more concerned about the plethora of city votes than the small handful of agricultural ones? We will all be paying for Sacramento’s blunder. The Central Valley provides up to 8% of the nation’s fresh produce.

    Watching the staggering waste just made my heart ache. We had to pull over and take pictures. The contrast with past green was stark—it takes 30 years to build an orchard like this up to full production! Almonds, walnuts, citrus… Why do we have green lawns while these resources are left to die?

    Dead and Dying–California’s Central Valley Dust Bowl