By Marlena Chavira-Medford
After three Iraq tours as an infantry sergeant with the Marines, Collin Archipley was ready for a change of pace — but he couldn’t see himself returning to the 9-to-5 grind. His wife, Karen, saw his return home as a golden opportunity to pursue her dream of moving to Italy, but her husband was set on staying in California.
“So, we compromised and he found me Italy here,” she says of their 3-acre plot just outside Escondido. Since 2005, this is where the Archipleys have run Archi’s Acres, a hydroponic farm where local produce is grown and sold to nearby markets.
“Gardening proved to be a natural stress reliever for my husband,” Archipley said. “There is something therapeutic about being out there.”
Thinking it might have the same effect on other combat veterans, they launched the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program, which helps veterans make a living in the civilian world by teaching them the ins and outs of hydroponic gardening, including greenhouse construction. That six-week course has been such a success that it is now open to anybody who wants to learn the trade, and enrollment is handled through Mira Costa Community College.
Hydroponic gardening consumes 75 to 90 percent less water than traditional agricultural systems, something that is especially important in a region where future water resources are limited. Because of that, the Archipleys have decided to broaden their scope by expanding their concept off their farm and in to more North County communities. To make that happen, Archi’s Acres recently partnered with North County-based Kira Construction to form AgroEcology, a company that uses veteran labor to build greenhouses for hydroponic gardening.
“The thought behind this is we can have our veterans build greenhouses in communities that would like to grow their own produce for the local food bank, or farmers market,” Archipley said. “The community can pitch in and maintain the greenhouse, or they can hire a veteran from our VSAT program to maintain it for them. This is not us putting a hand out in the community saying, ‘Please give us something.’ This is us putting in something that will sustain itself. It helps the community, it helps the environment, and it helps our veterans. We want to see this concept start here in North County and then ripple out across the country.”
Ralph Cox, owner of Kira Construction, said these greenhouses do especially well in North County’s perpetually warm climate, and if space is an issue, they can even be built on a rooftop. And even a small greenhouse at 120 by 35 feet can generate about $75,000 in income for a family, he said.
“And, of course, this all feeds back into the mission of helping our veterans,” Cox said, who is also a U.S. veteran. “Veterans know what it is to live a mission-driven lifestyle, and they are the hardest working, most trustworthy employees I’ve ever had. This is the next greatest generation of America. Empowering them with a way to make a living is the best way we can honor those who have served.”
You can find Archi’s Acres produce at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market every Sunday (located at the Del Rayo Center, 16079 San Dieguito Road, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067) and at Jimbo’s Naturally grocery stores. For more information about Archi’s Acres, visit
- For more information about Kira Construction, visit