SULLIVAN, Ill. — The short journey from military duty to farming has been a natural transition for Caynan Sherwood.
“We take pride in what we do and pride in our country. That’s what I like about agriculture,” he said. “We go from serving our country to serving our community.”
That is what inspired him to get involved in the Farmer Veteran Coalition. He is working to make Illinois the 12th state with a chapter in the California-based national association.
“My biggest goal is to do a fellowship program that provides up to $5,000 to service members,” he said. “We want to help service members get into farming, especially starting out.
“We especially are looking at CSAs. If you don’t have somebody already doing row crops, it’s hard to get into that field. But niche crops can work. We’re trying to figure out how to incorporate service members to get these people back on the farms. We can help farmers become more profitable. And if you’re profitable, you can become more charitable to your community. ”
To that end, Sherwood has gotten involved with the national group. He has met with the deputy secretary of the USDA and other federal officials in Washington to discuss the coalition’s goals.
Sherwood didn’t grow up on a farm, but is no stranger to the outdoors. His father owns a landscaping business, and other relatives are involved in ag industries. He studied horticulture in college before joining the Army National Guard.
His six years of service included four years of active duty, with two deployments to Afghanistan. He served as a gunner on an 1151 armored vehicle, and later on an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle.
He was based at Kandahar for a while. While much of his overseas duty consisted of helping close down bases, danger was never far away. His unit was hit with mortar rounds, IEDs and small-arms fire.
“We had some fun,” Sherwood said, using a soldier’s euphemism for combat. “There were a lot of close calls. Most guys in our group were lucky. We saw others who weren’t so lucky. We saw vehicles blown up by IEDs. It makes you appreciate what you have.”
Sherwood’s wife, Abbey, also served in the Guard.
“We started dating three days before I deployed back to Afghanistan,” he said. “We figured if we could make it through the hardest times, the rest would be fine.”
They are now a family of three, including their 3-year-old daughter, Kassidy. Sherwood, who grew up in nearby Casey, Illinois, decided to take up an offer to farm with his father-in-law, Steve Buxton. They grow certified organic corn, soybeans and wheat on 300 acres in Moultrie County in central Illinois.
The operation has been successful. Buxton and Sherwood utilize cover crops for weed suppression and some nitrogen fixing. They fertilize with beef and poultry manure. The crops include blue, white and yellow corn.
They have been able to improve their marketing ability in the lucrative organic grains industry by expanding storage capacity on the farm — currently putting up eight small grain bins to supplement the ones already in place.
Organic production is fraught with risk, but Sherwood and Buxton so far have enjoyed success.
Sherwood’s overseas tours gave him an appreciation for what many Americans take for granted.
“It gave me a lot of respect for what we have here in our country,” he said. “A lot of people take for granted what we have. Over there, kids had nothing. That’s who I felt for. Out in middle of nowhere, you’d see kids carrying sticks. Here, a kid gets upset because he doesn’t have an iPad, or the latest video game.”