November 04, 2016
As I sit on the plane, headed home to my frozen Iowa from sunny California I am stumped about where to even start talking about my visit to Archi’s Acres to meet Karen Archipley. A quick look at the live basil plant she sent home with me, sitting carefully protected by my feet on the airplane in a Target sack, made me think about the fact that I could have never guessed I would be transporting plants through airports. That’s life. You never know where you are going to end up or what you are going to be doing.
Karen was a hat maker from Los Angeles when she married her husband Colin Archipley. Shortly after, Colin went on three tours of duty in Iraq, in four years, for the U.S. Marine Corps. Amidst those tours the couple traded in their house in LA for a farm in Escondido, complete with a house, barn, and 200 avocado trees. Faced with getting the farm up and running and an enormous water bill in her first month there, the couple started doing some research on how they could take the farm they bought and turn it from a water waster, in a part of the country where water is precious, into a water saver. Without any preconceived notions, since neither of them had a history in agriculture, they started reading and came up with a plan for Archi’s Acres. What they have built is nothing short of a miracle not just for the couple, but for those the farm helps.
As they worked on growing their operation, they greatly reduced the number of thirsty avocado trees and used the land to construct a few greenhouses. There began the start of their operation growing kale, tomatoes, peppers and their specialty, live basil. They became the first certified hydro-organic farm in the country through USDA, raising their crop, not in soil underground but carefully tucked into PVC pipes that have a constant stream of water and nutrients trickling through them, giving the roots of each plant just what it needs. The PVC pipes use gravity so the water trickles downhill, is caught and reused over and over again. Through this process, the farm uses 10% of the water that they would in a normal operation with plants in dirt. They have figured out how to plant more plants in each greenhouse with Collin’s clever use of pipes to roll out the large sections of plants. Because of the efficiency of how the crops are grown, they are able to turn out more crops each year as well, increasing profitability.
On top of the unique and efficient farming system they have built they also have a very special program they started to train veterans how to become farmers. The farm had been so instrumental in helping Colin not only return from war but have a purpose and a job to return to so he and Karen decided they could help other veterans do the same. They created curriculum and started teaching classes in their barn. The program which is now run through Cal Poly Pomona is a six-week intensive course where students learn in a classroom setting, conduct labs and create their own business plan. With the goal of giving a hand up, not a handout, they have created a program that is helping veterans find their way back.
I spent the entire day at Archi’s Acres, following and talking to Karen, observing the class of veterans, three of which were young women. I tried a kumquat when her FarmHer neighbor (who is 80 years young and as lively as any 20 year old) stopped by to share a box of citrus that she grows. I met an amazing FarmHer and her husband and saw how they are giving back, not only as farmers but as people who care about their community of veterans. I watched the sun set and pondered Karen and Colin’s amazing journey that they never expected to have. Life dropped them in a little slice of heaven in the hills above San Diego growing amazing food and helping find their way back. Archie’s Acres has built its own unique version of the culture of agriculture, one that I am honored to have experienced for a day!
Cheers until the next time I get the chance to get my boots a little dirty!
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