by Caynan Sherwood, Illinois Farmer Veteran
After leaving the military in the fall of 2016 I still wanted to be able to work with the veteran community even though I had no real idea on how to achieve that moving back to Illinois from Washington state. Once back in Illinois, I started to feel distanced from my service and my time spent in the army even though I still had close friends in the area that I was in contact with from my time serving in the Illinois National Guard before going active. With my wife Abbey and daughter Kassidy, we decided to move back to Abbey’s hometown of Sullivan, Illinois. Once we moved back, she jumped right back in to working at the family store, Buxton’s Garden Farm, while I was still trying to find something that felt right for me. While active I used my military TA to earn my bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health Administration and was not having much luck in the job search.
After a few months of job searching, I received a call from Rural King and was hired as a transportation manager. This job was a great opportunity and an educational experience in the field of logistics. Even though Rural King was a great company to work for, I found working behind a desk was not really meant for me. So, after several talks with my father-in-law, I decided to give the field of agriculture a try. With no real background in ag, it was a different but rewarding transition. Being outside, working with the dirt, learning about cover crops, studying organic crops, and coming home smelling like chicken manure seemed like a good fit!
In February of 2018, I was able to attend the MOSES conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While walking around between sessions and collecting all the free goodies I could, I saw a sign with the words Farmer Veteran Coalition. So, I began a conversation with Michael O’Gorman who is the founder of FVC. After about an hour-long conversation with Mr. O’Gorman about what FVC was trying to do, I thought “this is what I’ve been looking for” — something that I have a passion for and something that gives me the ability to help fellow service members. He asked me what can FVC do for you and my response was what can I do to help FVC.
Shortly after the conference, Michael reached out to me and asked if I and my wife Abbey, who spent 6 years in the Army National Guard, would like to fly out to D.C with other members and chapters of FVC to reveal the new logo and meet with the USDA. While out in D.C we were able to have a meeting with the Deputy of AG, and the House and Senate. Now, this was an amazing opportunity to see what FVC had done and where it was leading. I asked Michael how could Illinois become a chapter? This is when Michael put me in contact with Raghela Scavuzzo at Illinois Farm Bureau who was already working with an advisory committee and a program called Illinois Farmer Veteran Alliance.
After many conversations, we were all able to meet and put together the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois. Since the vote to start forming the Illinois Chapter I was able to attend other conferences for FVC, such as the Farmer to Farmer Conference in Nebraska. My brother Colin Neal, who works for Kusterman’s Crop Insurance in Casey, went up to the Great Lakes Naval Academy and talked to transitioning military members about all the different opportunities agriculture can provide. We also worked with the Illinois Department of Ag on the new Homegrown by Heroes logo that service members can use to label their products. After the completion of all the legal matters and filing for our non-profit license, FVC of Illinois was ready to become a Chapter. On December 7, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois, at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting, we launched the state chapter!
The feeling to be part of such a strong and generous organization is something that makes me feel very proud. To hear the stories of service members and the struggles that they have faced is incredible. We have members that the FVC and its sponsors were able to help get into agriculture all over the United State. These members include double amputees, soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injury’s, PTSD, and the list goes on. These individuals are not looking for a handout, just a hand up to them get started and help them decide what direction and opportunities may fit them best. FVC has many programs that help service members, whether you are just starting out or have been farming for years. For me, having the opportunity to help those who have served, fought, and still fighting for all of us is great. I can’t really think of something better than to go from serving your country to serving your community.
Please reach out to us on Facebook @ Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois, web address @illinoisfarmerveterans.org, our national office @farmvetco.org or email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. GO ARMY BEAT NAVY!!
The Starting of the Illinois Chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition
Illinois! The Land of Lincoln, the Prairie State, home of the BIG10, the top 10 for agriculture production, and now the 10th state chapter to become part of Farmer Veteran Coalition.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization assisting veterans and currently serving members of the armed forces to embark on careers in agriculture. With a nationwide network of more than 13,000 veterans—and growing—we’re helping America’s bravest men and women serve our country a second time, by feeding it. Joining FVC is completely free and is open to both veterans and non-veterans. Military veterans who verify their service during the application process may apply to become a ‘Veteran Member,’ while non-veterans, and other supporters, may apply to become an ‘Associate Member.’ As a Veteran Member of FVC, you are eligible for our programs and services and you gain access to exclusive discounts from farm equipment suppliers and agricultural service providers. Additionally, Veteran Members are placed on our priority email list and are presented with various opportunities as they become available.
In 2016, a Farmer Veterans Alliance working group was established, consisting of representatives ranging from Ag Safety programs, current Farmer Veterans, Commodities representatives, and organizations with an interest in veterans or farming. In November 2019 Illinois became a formal state chapter of the National Farmer Veteran Coalition. With our own Board of Directors and Advisory Board (see below).
Our Board of Directors
Caynan Sherwood, Illinois Farmer Veteran
Amy Hess, Illinois Farmer Veteran & Adonai Community Support Services
Raghela Scavuzzo: Secretary, Illinois Farm Bureau
Beth Bolger: Treasurer, Farm Credit IL
Kelly Gagnon: Communication, AgrAbility of Illinois
Karen Zelko, Compeer Financial
Steve Beasley, AgrAbility of Illinois
Brad Dearing, Dearing Country Farms
Veronica Porter, Veterans Victory Farm
Ellen Ewing, Growing Healthy Veterans
Donna Lehrer, Big Rock Organics
Jess Ray, Illinois State University
Mary Kirby, USDA FSA
Nicole Moore, Illinois Department of Agriculture
John Stewart, Illinois Department of Employment Security
Shelbi Blank, Angelic Organics
Jim Williams, AgrAbility of Illinois
We are committed to providing resources to support the passion of our veterans so that they may earn for themselves a meaningful, financially sustainable place in the agricultural community.
Even though FVC of Illinois is its own state chapter there are programs already established at the national level that will be mirrored in the state. These programs include the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, Homegrown by Heroes, Internships/Apprenticeships, along with other resources such as technical assistance, financing, training and education, and information about upcoming events and chapter meetings. Information about all these programs and more can be found on our Facebook page Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois, web address https://www.illinoisfarmerveterans.org/, or at our national Facebook Farmer Veteran Coalition and web address https://farmvetco.org/. Having the opportunity to be a part of the Farmer Veteran Coalition has been very rewarding. From networking, working with other agencies, and the best part is seeing other veterans succeed. It’s a great feeling to go from serving your country to now serving your community, with a long list of support coming from all over the agriculture industry.