Hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans are returning home as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and duties are turned over to local forces. But once home, soldiers face a difficult transition back to the private sector, limited job opportunities, and often serious stress and health issues following their career service to their country.
Decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran Colin Archipley, who joined the service in response to the Sept. 11 attacks and served three tours in Iraq, and his wife, Karen, started Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) at their small-scale organic farm called Archi’s Acres in Northern California. They converted a barn into a classroom for veterans trying to find a new purpose after military service, many of them suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Their farm uses bio-hydroponics with a primary crop of basil, but also grow lettuce, chard, kale, mint, tomatoes, cilantro and parsley with a goal “to augment and accelerate (exponentially) the agricultural revolution across America, in partnership with our military veterans,” according to their website.
Farming offers veterans a chance to decompress, Colin Archipley said in a recent New York Times article, but, more importantly, provides a sense of purpose. “It allows them to be physically active, be part of a unit,” he said. “It gives them a mission statement — a responsibility to the consumer eating their food.”
“The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either,” said Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer who founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, which supports sustainable-agriculture training, in the article this month in The New York Times. “There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”
Like any agricultural endeavor, the operation has its challenges. It works with the support of the Department of Veterans Affairs and local university and the veterans community to help soldiers build a better future for themselves. Graduates of the six-week training program come up with their own business plans in agriculture as something of a final exam so they are fully prepared to continue their growth.
If you have a few minutes to hear the stories of the veterans who have benefited, I urge you to watch the inspiring film on byutv about the program.