Having served three tours in Iraq, including fighting in the second Battle in Fallujah in 2004, Colin Archipley knows the horrors of combat all too well, but he’s also in tune with war’s quieter moments. That duality of violence and tenderness is at the heart of the 2004 film Gladiator, one of Archipley’s personal favorites; specifically, he appreciates director Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning film’s recurring shots of Russell Crowe, playing the resilient Roman warrior Maximus, walking through a gorgeous stretch of wheat fields, trying to reach his family. “Agriculture has always been a refuge for the war-weary,” says the Marine Sergeant. “All you want to do is go back and farm wheat fields.”
Archipley’s affinity for Gladiator is voiced in The Farm, an intimate and subtly powerful new documentary short produced by Tribeca Studios, in association with Prudential, and directed by Shawn Efran. Honoring both military veterans and the therapeutic power of land cultivation, The Farm focuses on Archi’s Acres, Inc., a USDA-certified hydro-organic farming enterprise located in the coastal mountains of Escondido, Calif., near Camp Pendleton. Founded by Colin and his wife, and one-time fashion industry entrepreneur, Karen Archipley, Archi’s Acres offers an instructional and hands-on six-week course for veterans and civilians alike, dedicated to teaching its students the ways of agriculture in hopes of providing them with new career paths.
The course’s benefits are especially important for soldiers, for whom transitioning back into non-war society and finding successful work can be mentally taxing, financially unforgiving, and, ultimately, emotionally devastating. “You have skills that you’ve honed from the military,” says Jon Chandler, one of the course’s beneficiaries who served with Colin at Fallujah. “To be able to take those [skills] and reorient them from what is essentially a destructive endeavor into a productive endeavor is therapeutic in and of itself.” Adds Karen Archipley, “The difference that farming makes is that the same trigger finger that they use to kill people, they’re now growing stuff.”
For Colin, Archi’s Acres origins derive from a place of personal heartbreak. Shortly before debuting the enterprise in 2006, around Christmastime, three of Colin’s close friends, and fellow vets, committed suicide. Colin and Karen then decided that they needed to do something for military alumni who suffer from feelings of hopelessness. “Service members are made up of just everyday people,” he says in The Farm. “They had a calling to join our military to serve our country, or just some greater good. Leaving the military, you lost your network. You can’t relate to people at home because you’ve changed so much. The economy here sucks; you can’t find a job. So what’s your purpose?”
Through Archi’s Acres, though, purpose is accessible, as well as aspirational. Once the six-week course, through which participants are given math-based assignments, have to complete lecture quizzes, experience hands-on farming, and have to complete business plans in order to graduate, is complete, they’re able to present their plans to panel of farmers, investors, bankers, and business analysts—or “Shark Tank 1.0,” as it’s called in The Farm. Past students have even walked out of the panels with upwards of $100,000 worth of funding.
In its most personal moments, The Farm hones in on course-takers who’ve been able to apply the lessons learned at Archi’s Acres and greatly improve their post-war lives. Master Sergeant Dexter Webber, for example, who hails from Houston’s lower-income projects, hopes to buy an acre of H-Town land and provide a healthy food source for the city’s residents. Shawn Shimkets, meanwhile, whose years spent doing contract aviation work have left him battling a potential auto-immune disease and with hobbled knees, is using an Archi’s-Acres-connected, plant-based diet for health reasons and wants to parlay that into his own organic container farm in the Virgin Islands.
One of the film’s most affecting quotes comes from Chandler, whose close involvement with old friend Colin’s noble and tireless efforts to help veterans has truly opened his eyes. “Archi’s Acres is a path into becoming someone else, and something else, involved in something bigger and better than the combat we may have experienced,” says Chandler. “Being able to communicate that to other veterans that I see, who are maybe in a place of hurt, and showing them that there is another option—that can be life-changing. That’s been instrumental in giving me a healthier outlook.”
Thanks to The Farm, non-serving civilians can now have a similarly improved view of the often unbearably difficult transitions faced by veterans.
Please visit Archi's Institute for more info.