Eric Boyd, 29, grew up on a 16-acre family farm in San Luis Obispo, CA., so he knows that farm work is hard and the hours are long. But, through a life-changing series of events, Boyd is now farming at his family farm but in a different way–by using a commercial greenhouse that he purchased from Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses and greenhouse growing systems.
Boyd joined the army at the age of 17 as a Cavalry Scout with his brother and served two tours in Iraq. He was shot in the leg and has a Purple Heart as a result. In 2006, he returned to his hometown and started strategizing his next move. “I decided to go to school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and studied soil science. I’ve always been interested in soil management. While I was attending Cal Poly, I found out about Archi’s Acres.”
Archi’s Acres is an organization that teaches military veterans about how to start sustainable, hydroponic, greenhouse, organic farms. To reach out to these veterans and give a hand up (not a hand out), Colin and Karen Archipley created the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program, an intensive six-week agriculture entrepreneur school. By making business opportunities available to veterans through farming, and capturing the entrepreneurial spirit with rigorous training, Archi’s Acres has helped countless veterans to pursue careers in farming nationwide.
Boyd wasn’t initially excited about the prospect of becoming a career farmer after graduating from Cal Poly last year, he said. “I wanted to do something with my B.S. in Soil Science and I certainly didn’t want to work at a farm. I grew up doing that—pulling weeds and running the tractor and living that life 24/7, so I didn’t want to spend my life working that hard. I saw what Archi’s Acres was doing, so I thought why not give it a try? I got a scholarship to attend their program, so I went ahead and did it.”
It was a fruitful undertaking, to say the least and it changed his mind about farming. “At Archi’s Acres, I learned the basics of growing crops hydroponically in a greenhouse environment,” Boyd said. “But more importantly, they taught me some business skills—how to get funding, how to manage the business and how to do a business plan.”
After graduating from the program at Archi’s Acres, Boyd was highly prepared and poised to take on the world of hydroponic greenhouse farming. “With a full business plan ready to go, I was able to walk into the offices at the Farm Service Agency and get a loan at a great rate. It allowed me to put up my Agra Tech greenhouse and start my farm.”
Boyd sells his products with his family at farmer’s markets and Eric’s mother and his sister’s family is still running the family farm. But now, there is a 4,300 square-foot commercial Agra Tech greenhouse on their property and it’s called Pepper Creek Farms. “I have one quarter of an acre and that’s where I set up my greenhouse,” Boyd said. “I don’t need a lot of space and I can produce a ton of vegetables quickly. Coming from a background of conventional in-ground farming, this is the best way to go for what I’m growing. I’ve only been doing this since April, but I already love it.”
Pepper Creek Farms is currently producing leafy vegetables, primary lettuces and with an emphasis on Asian greens such as Bok Choy and Tatsoi, for example. The farm also grows living lettuces with root balls, which means they can stay fresh and last up to three weeks, if watered properly and/or kept in the refrigerator.
By growing a wide range of different leafy vegetables, Boyd was able to find the ideal crops for his operation, he explained. “I have tried 28 different varieties since I started to see what will grow well and what people want. Now I’m down to growing four types of Asian greens and I’m comfortable with that.”
Boyd is also selling his produce directly to chefs at top local restaurants, he said, benefitting from some free meals as a result. “I grow some specialty items for certain restaurants, such as watercress,” Boyd said. “The chefs will invite me in and ask me to try their dishes using my products and I really enjoy that. We sell directly to restaurants, because they value the organic, sustainable nature of what we’re growing.”
Boyd is a rookie when it comes to greenhouse growing, but he loves the challenge and wants to thank all of the people who helped him on the journey that has taken him to Pepper Creek Farms. “Adam Pound, Jim Bergantz and James Roberts from Agra Tech were great and, of course, Colin and Karen at Archi’s Acres deserve my thanks. The people from American Hydro are also amazing. I’m learning more every day about this type of farming and I can see a great future for me. My hope is to expand and get another greenhouse eventually and start growing other types of things, as well as start selling to grocery stores in my area.”
Article by Ed Attanasio