In 2005, Colin and Karen Archipley bought a home with an organic avocado orchard in Escondido, California. At the time, Colin was serving in the Marines and was stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton when he wasn’t deployed to Iraq.
While the couple had initially intended to grow and sell organic avocados, their first monthly water bill ($850 for 260 trees!) quickly put an end to that pursuit. Determined to find a profitable farming endeavor, Colin began reading books on small farm management and water efficiency in between missions during his third deployment in Iraq.
Colin and Karen Archipley, Co-Founders, Archi's Acres and Archi's Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
“With the long arm of Colin from Iraq, we prepped our farm in anticipation of Colin’s returning home,” says Karen. “It was baptism by fire because I was here by myself for the first seven months.”
When Colin came back to California in April 2006 after completing his third tour, he decided to leave his military career to pursue farming full-time. Within less than a year, he and Karen had incorporated their business—Archi’s Acres.
“The first thing we did was to re-establish organic certification on the property,” says Karen. “Colin built our greenhouse, and we began hydro-organic production of produce. From Colin’s research, we had learned we could use up to 90 percent less water and have three to five times the crop compared to traditional field growing. … We figured out that one small 30-by-60- foot greenhouse could almost match the $$ amount of income as an E5 Rifleman in the Marine Corps.”
“Because we live organic and buy organic, we would have never considered growing produce conventionally,” says Karen. “Following the NOP [National Organic Program] rules, we have successfully grown organic produce since 2007, utilizing the water-saving methods of hydro-organic production.”
“Colin built our greenhouse, and we began hydro-organic production of produce. From Colin’s research, we had learned we could use up to 90 percent less water and have three to five times the crop compared to traditional field growing.” –Karen Archipley
The Archipleys began their hydroponic operation growing organic leafy greens, Romaine lettuce, basil, thyme, and sage. “Out of all of them, basil made the most difference economically,” says Karen.
Archi's Acres basil greenhouse
Today, Archi’s Acres grows organic Persian cucumbers, basil, heirloom tomatoes, chard, kale, and lettuce. “We primarily grow using the NFT [nutrient film technique] irrigation system, where water enriched with a compost tea mixture provides nutrients and water to the plant,” Karen explains. “The water is captured and reused. We apply our fertility mixture typically on a weekly basis, although that can change based on crop demands.”
“Following the NOP [National Organic Program] rules, we have successfully grown organic produce since 2007, utilizing the water-saving methods of hydro-organic production.” –Karen Archipley
During the first year of their farming business, Colin started missing his military community and began to consider re-enlisting in the Marine Corps. “That is when we came up with the idea of training military personnel to farm like we were, as a way to stay connected, but also to offer transitioning combat veterans a way to utilize their skills honed in the military—but to work outside and reconnect with life through growing food,” says Karen.
So the couple created the Veteran’s Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), an organic hydroponics and agribusiness education program. Now known as Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, the course has had over 500 graduates, the majority of whom are veterans (though civilians are welcome too).
Frog in Archi’s Acres NFT hydroponic channel
“We primarily grow using the NFT [nutrient film technique] irrigation system, where water enriched with a compost tea mixture provides nutrients and water to the plant.” -Karen Archipley
“We teach sustainable organic agriculture as a career,” says Karen. “We teach from seed to market, as well as from concept of a business plan to presentation of business plan. … We have approximately 150-plus farms that have started and 100-plus businesses that are involved in the ag sector. We have had 100-plus alumni return to school to finish their degree and many that have gained employment within the ag sector, ranging from farm managers to irrigation specialists.”
Archi's Acres basil greenhouse
Since February 2022, Archi’s Institute has been partnered with the University of Minnesota Crookston and offers a 16-credit program that is available both full-time (6 weeks) and part-time (12 weeks).
The couple created the Veteran’s Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), an organic hydroponics and agribusiness education program that is now known as Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.
“Our mission is to reinvigorate the family organic farm throughout America and around the world through our transitioning military and civilians who are proud to rebuild our food production by feeding their communities,” says Karen.
Karen Archipley, Co-Founder, Archi's Acres and Archi's Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
"I greatly admire the leadership and example that Colin and Karen provide,” says Lee Frankel, executive director of the Coalition for Sustainable Organics. “Their school serves to give people the tools to overcome many of the traditional barriers for people that did not grow up with land or money to participate in growing great organic food while improving the resiliency of organic supplies, so more consumers than ever have access to affordable organics. I love to support them through my purchases of their products at the grocery store or helping their students with their business plans."
Currently, the Archipleys’ home farming operation, Archi’s Acres, employs 11 people, the majority of whom are graduates of Archi’s Institute and are veterans or family members of veterans.
“We teach from seed to market, as well as from concept of a business plan to presentation of business plan.” -Karen Archipley
Archi’s Acres and Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (formerly VSAT) have received many awards, including the Sierra Club San Diego’s Fantastic Environmental Action Taken (FEAT) Award, the Organic Trade Association’s Rising Star Award, and Martha Stewart’s American Made award.
In 2018, Archi’s Institute and some of its veteran students were the subject of a Tribeca Studios documentary called The Farm, which won the Local Film Showcase – Best Short award at the GI Film Festival San Diego.
In addition to her work at Archi’s Acres and Archi’s Institute, Karen serves on the boards of many ag-related organizations, including California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), COPAC (California Organic Products Advisory Committee), and the San Diego Farm Bureau. “We are proud to be one of the voices of beginning farmers and have worked to ensure the small grower has a seat at the table,” she says.
Anyone interested in helping veterans take Archi’s Institute’s 16-credit course can donate to Stand for the Troops at this link: https://sftt.org/archis-institute.