The fragrance of sweet basil greets former U.S. Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley as he begins his workday on a rolling hillside in San Diego County. Stepping into the greenhouse on his small farm near Valley Center, Archipley joins other military veterans already busy harvesting the fresh herbs bound for farmers markets and select natural foods stores in the area.
As the men work, there's an air of orderliness and discipline, everyone with a task to do and tools at the ready. Outside, a man hunkers among the heirloom tomatoes, handpicking the ripest for the day's deliveries as the fruit on the nearby avocado trees continues to mature.
Archi's Acres is part organic farm, part military veterans rehabilitation program. It's a model for innovative food production and a testament to the healing power of hard work, a shared purpose and wholesome food.
Archipley and his team use hydroponic technology to produce the farm's crops—primarily organic basil and a variety of lettuces, with chard and kale grown between seasons. These crops are grown without soil in a nutrient-rich "compost tea" that Archipley brews and delivers to the plants through computerized drip lines. The result is high-quality produce using very little water or land.
Settling back in the cozy office he shares with his wife, Karen, Archipley explained how a combat Marine with three tours of duty in Iraq ended up founding a farm: "When I got back from Iraq the last time, I still had four months left on my commitment to the Marines.
"I was spending time at home, among the avocado trees, and decided I wasn't going to re-enlist. The trees produced a little income and it seemed fundamental to keep that going. Then it occurred to me I could make a living out of it.
"Feeding people is larger than self and that appealed to me," said Archipley, who grew up in urban California. "At the same time, I didn't want to interact with a lot of people, in the sense of offering them customer service. I like the physical work on the farm, but didn't know a lot about growing crops."