When Karen and Colin Archipley first moved to Valley Center in 2005 they weren’t exactly what you would call farmers. Originally from Northern California, Karen made hats for a living and Colin was a U.S. Marine Sergeant with a passion for bikes and off-road photography. However, when Colin and his fellow marines were facing re-enlistment as the only viable way to support their families, the Archipley’s farm, dubbed Archi’s Acres, became far more than just a family farm.
Since 2007, Archi’s Acres has been the home of the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program, an “intensive six-week agriculture entrepreneur incubator,” according to their website. The program, which is open to the public as well as veterans, has been so successful in providing veterans with a well-rounded agricultural foundation that it will be featured in an upcoming episode of “A Growing Passion,” a gardening television series on KPBS.
“We created VSAT as a way that my husband could stay connected with the people he’d served with, but also that we could help people to transition out, to have a viable income because agriculture and organic farming is a very viable career,” said Karen Archipley. “Since then we’ve just learned so much.”
With 16 students in each six-week class, Archi’s Acres already boasts around 240 graduates, many of whom have gone on to start their own farms, pursued agricultural degrees, or pioneered their own products. Aside from the practical experience the trainees develop, the program also serves as an emotional support during the often tumultuous period of acclimating to life after the military.
“They’re people who thought their world was shaken out of them and we actually help them to reinvent themselves basically,” said Archipley. “We see the miracles every day.” Most of the VSAT graduates are active duty service members, including many Wounded Warriors. During the course of the program, they come to the farm five days a week to work with their hands and be versed on a variety of subjects by guest lecturers ranging from insurance agents to trademark attorneys.
“In six weeks, we go from seed to market, and then we also go from the concept of the business plan to the presentation of the business plan, and it’s everything in between,” said Archipley. “We handle business, economics, niche marketing — all the things that go with having a successful farm.”
Archi’s Acres has recently partnered with the California State University system and their six-week program is now equivalent to 17 credits, or one year of college. The USDA also considers the program as one-year farm ownership, which means graduates can immediately apply for farm service agency loans to build their own greenhouses.
Nan Sterman, garden expert and host of “A Growing Passion,” knew about Archi’s Acres for several years and was excited to include it in the final episode of her second season, titled “Growing Dreams and Memories.”
“Actually it was one of the reasons that I did this episode was that I wanted to feature their story,” said Sterman. “Archi’s Acres, these are people who have been through really traumatic situations and are coming back and need to adjust to a civilian life and a completely different kind of life and lots of them don’t really know what to do. So this is an opportunity to get some new direction and refocus.” The half-hour episode airs Feb. 27 at 8:30 p.m. on KPBS. Also featured in the episode will be Sunshine Assisted Living, St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, and Rady Children’s Hospital, all of which use gardening to help people deal with different challenges across
Archi’s Acres’ primary product is basil, but they also grow kale, chard, bok choy, and red bell peppers. They grow using sustainable, organic, hydroponic techniques and sell their produce to Whole Foods, Jimbo’s, Frazier Farms, Windmill Farms, and the Ocean Beach Co-op, according to Archipley.
For more information on the TV series, visit www.agrowingpassion.com. Visit www.archisacres.com to learn more about the farm.