ESCONDIDO, Calif. - “I still don’t feel like I fit into normal society,” said Herb Zapata, a student at the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program at Archi’s Acres in Escondido, Calif.
Zapata explained found a home at VSAT, where veterans can make an easier transition to civilian life in the company of fellow veterans while learning a successful trade.
VSAT founders Colin and Karen Archipley believe their education program will give struggling veterans financial security and personal satisfaction, in addition to a familiar community of service members.
“For me and the guys I served with, we have a different outlook on life,” said Colin, a former squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “The challenges we face trying to enter the private sector are unique. Being able to stay with [the Marine] community helps ease the transition to civilian life.”
Archipley returned to California with plans to pursue a career in real estate after serving three tours to Iraq with 3/1, explained Karen. The couple found their green thumbs - and an interest in water-efficient hydroponic farming after a staggering water bill - when they purchased their Escondido farm. Shortly after, they partnered with MiraCosta Community College to establish their intensive six-week certification program to train veterans to become successful hydroponic farmers and learn the business end of farming.
“It’s one thing to learn to grow, but you have to be able to sell your product,” said Karen.
The course culminates when the students present their business proposals to agriculture industry leaders, including representatives from the USDA, the Small Business Association and other large retailers and food producers.
Colin explained that organic farming is a growing industry for which veterans are a perfect fit.
“There is a huge push to buy locally,” said Colin. “Our [hydroponic] technology offers an edge in that market, and our veterans have a strong work ethic, leadership skills and determination.”
Karen added that thus far their graduates have remained employed and off the streets - problems that plague many veterans leaving active service today.
“They’re not giving students a handout,” said Yvonne Espinosa, a board member for Archi’s Acres. “They’re giving them a skill.”
For more information about VSAT, visit www.vsatusa.com.