Hydro-organic Archi’s Acres Program Gives Veterans a Boost with Agriculture

archis land web

Tony Lattner, director of education at Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, discusses the process of running the program on the Archi’s Acres property. Photo by Ken Sury.

A water bill that defied expectations became the impetus for a hydro-organic farming program that today helps Farmer Veterans consider careers in agriculture.

Archi’s Acres and the Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture were created in 2008 by the husband-and-wife team of Colin and Karen Archipley. The couple bought a home with an organic avocado orchard in 2005 in Escondido, California, while Colin was stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton as a Marine.

Colin was soon deployed to Iraq for a second time, this time for the Battle of Fallujah.

“And that was pretty brutal,” she said. “When he came back, we had identified the farm. I said, ‘This is where I want to live.’ I wanted to live in Italy. He wanted to live in California. We found Italy in California.”

They believed owning an avocado farm could bring in a decent income. Karen got the farm going while Colin deployed to Iraq for a third time.

“While I was putting together the well and the irrigation system, he was out doing missions, and he would come back after 10 days and check his bank balance. And when he did that, he saw our first water bill we had.”

Karen had expected a water bill in the neighborhood of $50 a month, noting that in Los Angeles it was $40 monthly and included garbage service.

“Our first water bill was actually $850,” she said. “They tell you not to tell your husband anything that’s going to upset him (while he’s deployed). What can you do about it in Iraq? So, I didn’t tell him, but he looked at the bank statement and he’s like, ‘Did you pay the water bill for the next two years? What happened?’”

She told him that was only their first monthly water bill.

“And so it was at that point, I believe, that we became a sustainable farm,” she said. “The next thing I know, he’s ordering books on Amazon about how to keep your small farm profitable, how to manage water. And he was based in Iraq, which hydroponic growing is very common there because of their lack of water. That’s how we came to be a hydro-organic farm.”

archi boxes web

Recently packaged organic Persian cucumbers are boxed together for shipment. Photo by Diego Loredo.

USDA Certification

Archi’s Acres is a USDA-certified organic greenhouse operation, growing basil, kale, chard and other produce with a highly efficient hydroponic system.

But beyond it being their farm, the Archipleys created a program that helps Colin’s fellow Veterans explore farming as a career. Veterans can use their VA home loan to purchase a farm, and current military service members can gain training in sustainable organic agriculture while they are on active duty.

Tony Lattner is director of education for Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, a school on the Archi’s Acres property. The institute, which began in 2008, has partnered with the University of Minnesota Crookston for a fully accredited certificate program.

Lattner said the institute packs a lot of coursework into its six-week program (12 weeks for those doing the night classes option).

“We do about 240 hours of instruction in six weeks,” Lattner said. “You’re doing 16 semester credits in six weeks … a three-unit college course every seven days. We do set the bar high, but we try to work with the Veterans on getting through the course.”

Good Fits

Veterans often are well suited to the program, he said.

“About 70 percent of our Veterans are from a rural background, so they already know how to work hard and work up a sweat,” Lattner said. “This kind of sets them up to be entrepreneurs and a lot of them enjoy the agricultural field.

“Number one, it’s a way to give back once they’ve gotten out of the military. One thing that a lot of Veterans have a hard time with is purpose. Once they get out of the military, feeding their community and people around them tends to be a good focus for them. And so, Veterans tend to be a great fit as business owners and then coming where they’re from, agriculture tends to be a good fit.”

Lattner added, “the idea is we train Veterans on how to start farms. The course will cover everything from bringing a product to market to understanding your P&L (profit and loss) statements, your cash flows, how to hire employees, how to buy insurance for your farm.

archis plants web

The hydroponic system in the greenhouse efficiently uses the water to grow the plants. Photo by Diego Loredo.

“Archi’s Institute specifically focuses on hydroponic growing, and that’s due to us being in San Diego. That helps with the resources with saving water. And then also as a grower, you can grow more product in hydro versus soil.”

archi greenhouse web

A glimpse inside the largest of the Archi’s Acres greenhouses shows a variety of the plants growing there. Photo by Diego Loredo.

He said growing basil in soil results in about seven turns each year. “In hydro, we can get about 17 a year,” he added. “So from a business standpoint, it’s definitely the way to go. We are going to start our 101st cohort in June. I came through in cohort 12, and so we’re excited about that, and I think we’ll be close to 800 Veterans trained over the decade and a half.”

Business Plans

For Laura Fairchild, the institute’s enrollment coordinator and career counselor, the business plans students develop in the program have amazed her.

“It’s so impressive that in just six short weeks, these students are able to create a business,” she said. “I*’m an entrepreneur. I’ve done different projects over the years, and it can take up to two years to plan a business and to create a business plan and understand the financials behind it.

“But our students do that in six weeks and it’s really impressive. These business plans that they come up with, anywhere from farm-to-table restaurants, farmers market operations, large-scale farms, coffee shops, food companies …

“You could apply our business plan program to any entrepreneurial idea that you have. And then you present that at the end of the six weeks. Like I said, it’s quite impressive.”

archi tony web

Tony Lattner, director of education at Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, examines the basil growing. Photo by Diego Loredo.

Partnership with FVC

Karen Archipley said the partnership with Farmer Veteran Coalition has been great, adding that it was during a visit by FVC Founder Michael O’Gorman to their farm where they together came up with the Farmer Veteran Coalition name.

“Of the partners that have really been substantial for us, one of those would be the Farmer Veteran Coalition,” she said. “They have gotten grants to help students progress in their life.  (The students) come to us and they’re like, ‘How can I get through your class? I can’t afford to pay for it.’

“Farmer Veteran Coalition has come through so many times and we’re super grateful for that because it really keeps the ball rolling.”

Archi’s Acres
Phone: 760-751-4380