A Battle Worth Fighting

How the future of small family farms can be secured by our veterans through a win-win mentoring operation

By Dulanie Ellis


America's returning veterans can be our next generation of farmersFarming is not a romantic, idyllic life—unless you've just survived the high-velocity impact of a war fought building-by-building in cities of the Middle East. Then you might relish the chance to work outside, nurturing living plants and animals, at a job that requires all the focus and skill you can bring to it.

It's a movement whose time has come, this linkage of veteran and agricultural communities. The face of agriculture is changing and needs producers with an eye to energy conservation, pollution reduction, and climate volatility. There's a new wave of farmers and ranchers looking at a more holistic approach, supported by findings from the Rodale Institute and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food that organic methods of food production equal or (in droughts) outproduce the so-called "conventional" form of farming.

Connecting those dots became very clear to Sgt. Colin Archipley, U.S. Marine Corps, after serving three deployments in Iraq and witnessing what that country endured. "Food security and energy security are a direct link to national security," says Archipley. He came home to join his wife, Karen, in creating Archi's Acres, an organic, hydroponic herb business that garners shelf space at Whole Foods supermarkets. Using 95 percent less water than its herb competition, organic hydroponics is energy efficient and produces multiple yields. So Archipley decided to train other veterans to take this indoor growing technique to abandoned warehouses in downtown food deserts all over the country. Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training was born, and well over a hundred budding farmers and food entrepreneurs have since graduated.

Our country confronts a health crisis with unhealthy diet a major contributor to premature death, so changing what we eat and how we grow it is essential. "Think of nutrition as part of our national security and organic farmers as the first responders," says Sam Farr, U.S. representative from Monterey County, California. Veteran farmers bring affordable, healthy food to the table. America needs a million new farmers. Veterans want the job!

Battlefields to Farmfields
An estimated 40 percent of those who serve in the U.S. military are from rural America, so farming as a way of life is not unfamiliar. The documentary film Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields, produced by Dulanie Ellis and Raymond Singer, charts the transition of several veterans from active duty to active farming. Ground Operations (groundoperations.net), their social action group, exists to increase resources for veterans working to create new lives for themselves and food security for their communities.

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Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, Oct/Nov 2013