Veteran Finds Therapy On The Farm

After three tours in Iraq, Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley decided he wanted a career outside the military. He now owns Archie's Acres, a hydroponics basil farm near Escondido, Calif.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Now, we'll turn to a soldier who moved in the opposite direction. He left the battlefield to become a farmer. Sergeant Colin Archipley has completed three tours in Iraq. He left active duty with the Marines in 2006 and started farming on three acres near Escondido, California.

First, he raised avocados because that's what was already growing on the land. But now, he cultivates hydroponic basil. Archipley grew up in town, but after his service, farming just felt right.

Sergeant COLIN ARCHIPLEY (United States Marines; Owner, Archie's Acres): I didn't want to come out of the military and, you know, do something with customer service where I had to deal with people and had to put a smile on my face. That just didn't fit my personality. I mean, I like working hands-on, outdoors, and it was just a good fit for me.

SMITH: So, describe to me your greenhouse. That's where you're standing right now. What would we see if we could look in on you?

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Well, it's pretty warm in here, and any time the sun hits the plastic, it heats up in here. So, it's warm. Our main crop is basil. I mean, we just bang out basil in this greenhouse. And we have basil from seedlings to, you know, plants that are 18 to 24 inches tall.

SMITH: It's funny, in a way, because I'm guessing you didn't have a lot of fresh herbs when you were serving in Iraq.

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: No, nothing fresh at all. Are you kidding me? You know, a lot of guys, when they're over in Iraq, and they're thinking about what they're going to have - or Afghanistan for that matter - think about the first thing they're going to have when they get home, you know, burgers, whatever. The only thing I thought about was, like, man I want some fruit, you know, or a nice lettuce. That would be good.

SMITH: When you joined the military, is this how you thought your career would go? I mean, did you think you would come out and start your own business of any sort, or did you think you would get a job?

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Actually, initially when I got out, I think I was going to be, you know, doing the same thing my wife is doing with mortgage loans.

SMITH: And your wife's a mortgage broker.

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Right. But you know, that's one of those things where it's very customer orientated, and that just didn't fit my personality.

SMITH: Now, you got out of the Marines in 2006. So you were one of the lucky ones in terms of coming into an economy where you could start your own business. I know it's tougher for military members now, and you actually employ some veterans from the local VA.

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Right.

SMITH: Is there a way in which farming's a good fit for you as an ex-military person?

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Well, yeah. Like, you know, especially for a lot of us infantry guys, we spend our time in the military outdoors in the field, working with our hands, you know, very hands-on. We exert a lot of energy, and those are the same type of things it takes in the military. And also, you need to be disciplined in farming because you're going to be working by yourself a lot, and you need to be able to left alone for hours on end, and you need to be able to know when to ask questions.

SMITH: Well, you know, I've seen the ads for the military and for the Marines, and there's this implicit promise, or at least there was, that you would be eligible for high-tech careers afterwards. You would be able to manage people in large firms, and they do teach those skills, but I guess what no one expected that they would face this kind of economy when they left the military.

So what have you been hearing from some of the other people who you served with? Are many of them starting their own businesses? Are they finding work out there?

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: You know, some of them. You know, a lot - actually, some of the guys ended up re-enlisting. They were out for a couple years. I was talking to one of my buddies who went back into the Marine Corps. He said man, the Marine Corps is way better - being in the Marine Corps is way better than not being able to feed my family. And that's some of the decisions that veterans right now are having to make with.

They have the skills to be in the military, but they can't find work out of it. So they're just saying okay, well, I guess I've got to go back in. Other guys are working for other defense agencies that I know. And I talked to a couple veterans who are also trying to start a farm, and they just can't get lending to do it, and so they're trying to exhaust all possibilities. It's tough.

SMITH: Colin Archipley's a veteran of the Iraq War, and he now owns Archie's Acres, outside of Escondido, California. That's just north of San Diego. Thank you so much.

Sgt. ARCHIPLEY: Absolutely. It's good to be here.

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