'They know combat, and we've given them a new mission'
By STEVE BROWN
EVERETT, Wash. -- Bringing "swords into plowshares" down to ground level, Colin and Karen Archipley have put returning combat veterans to work producing food.
After three deployments to the Middle East, Marine Rifleman Archipley returned to Southern California determined not only to make a new life, but to give other warriors training and encouragement to build new businesses.
The two first turned a water-hungry avocado farm into a state-of-the-art, organic, hydroponic greenhouse operation. Their small farm now produces basil, kale, avocados and more for the local market.
With water costing $1,600 per acre-foot and expected to rise, the new operation uses 90 percent less water than a conventional farm, Colin Archipley said at the recent Focus on Farming conference.
The farmers' idea of sustainability went beyond conserving natural resources. Seeing so many homeless and aimless veterans, the Archipleys started a program to create meaningful jobs for them.
"One farm job leads to three jobs in the community," Colin Archipley said. Not only does this benefit the buy-local movement, the jobs cannot be outsourced, he said.
Veterans have skills worth conserving: leadership, tenacity, self-knowledge and an appetite for continual improvement, he said. Farming is a good match for those qualities, "and we like sweaty. We like working with our hands."
Karen Archipley said the two created the Veterans Sustainability Agriculture Training, or VSAT, program as "a way for Colin to continue to serve."
Since its founding in 2007, VSAT has graduated more than100 veterans trained in sustainable agriculture and other sectors of the food supply chain.
One of their graduates, Mike Hanes, had led a Force Recon team in the field, where he learned how to forage and live as a survivalist. Returning stateside, he found that "being homeless was my kind of zen."
Attracted by a sign for the Archipleys' farm, Archi's Acres, he met the couple and signed up for VSAT's "Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture," which includes 240 hours of immersion studies plus 30 hours of job readiness training.
At the graduation ceremony, an investor heard Hanes' business plan for a unique hot sauce production company and called him. "I'm now 100 percent owner of my company," Hanes said.
The sauce, called Dang!!! -- "I used three exclamation points so you know I meant it," he said -- is a raw, organic sauce made of "superfoods," including raw apple cider vinegar, pink Himalayan salt and cayenne pepper. The three flavors are maca, a high-nutrition root grown high in the Andes; spirulina, a detoxifying blue-green algae; and mesquite, a source of magnesium.
Colin Archipley said VSAT has begun to expand to locations nationwide. It has trained vets with a few years service as well as retiring sergeant majors and lieutenant colonels.
"They know combat, and we've given them a new mission," he said. "If we can make one life better, mission accomplished."