Local farmer is visited by national figure
Three weeks ago, local farmer Michael Reynolds made a phone call and asked a friend to come to Georgia and help him sell his beef at an Atlanta event. The next day, President of the Farmer Veteran Coalition Gary Matteson responded to Reynolds saying he had already bought tickets to visit.
Matteson, who met Reynolds two years ago at a conference, agreed not only to help Reynolds with his booth at Vetlanta, but also wanted to tour Reynolds’ farm, go to local high schools and experience the Calhoun community where Reynolds works and lives.
Vetlanta is a club operated exclusively for veteran social and business networking and community service purposes, and every spring they host a summit committed to serving and assisting veterans through the reintegration process. Vetlanta is also partnered with Warrior Alliance, another organization that helps veterans return to society after serving.
On Monday night, Reynolds and Life Coach Beau Chatham picked up Matteson from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and began a two-day touring event, which included stops in Calhoun, Calhoun High School, Gordon Central High School and the Calhoun Home Depot.
Matteson serves as vice president for “Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach” for the Farm Credit Council and treasurer for the national Farmers Market Coalition. He also regularly works with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, former Georgia Governor.
Yet, though Matteson is a deeply respected figure in the national agriculture scene, Chatham said Reynolds had earned the right to ask Matteson to come.
“Mike has already demonstrated a great level of success as a beginning farmer,” said Chatham, who serves as a life coach specializing in brain injuries. “He has shared a lot of that success and will continue to share it with the Farmer Veteran Coalition.”
Reynolds, who owns Hero Cuts, has a goal of growing his farm to reach an 85 percent self-sustainability rate for his family. His farm consists of solar-based energy, bee hives, goats, chickens, alpacas, cows, horses, pigs, timber and a variety of fruit trees and vegetables.
On Tuesday, Reynolds and Chatham took Matteson to tour the Shepherd Center, where Chatham works. Soon after, though, they were en route to Calhoun.
Matteson stopped by not only Reynolds’ farm and Eddie Brannon’s farm (Brannon is a longtime friend and mentor of Reynolds) during his time in Georgia, but he also made visits to local high schools and met with law enforcement officers for lunch.
At Calhoun and Gordon Central, Matteson met with FFA Club members and advisors, asking students what they had been learning and future goals.
As a part of Reynolds’ outreach, he works with high school students and gives them seeds and dirt to grow seedlings in their greenhouses. Once they are big enough, Reynolds picks the plants up and transplants them to his farm.
Offering a learning experience for students, Reynolds considers this a win-win situation for both sides involved, and he said the schools’ agriculture teachers agree.
At Calhoun High, Matteson was able to talk with Reynolds’ daughter, Katie, 12, asking her about feed ratios and the business side of farming. Reynolds said on Wednesday that meeting Matteson has set a fire in Katie, encouraging her to ask questions and consider all aspects of farming.
“He’s promoting thinking,” Matteson said. “He helped my little girl understand farming and finances.”
Matteson visited the area not only to tour Calhoun and to help Reynolds present his business at the Vetlanta Summit, but to also help guide Reynolds through the process of facilitating negotiations with several powerful corporation in Metro Atlanta. Aware that Matteson had brokered several major contracts, Reynolds knew he would provide excellent guidance for helping develop his farm.
Tuesday evening, booths were set up in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Vetlanta, where veterans’ businesses and organizations were on display. Among some of those were the Shepherd Center, United Services Organizations, Warrior Alliance and Hero Cuts.
Surrounded by national organizations and established businesses, Hero Cuts was the smaller of the booths, and Reynolds said he felt out of his league.
“Everybody else has these standard (equipment),” Reynolds said. “And our banner is clipped to the front of our table, and we’re providing beef samples to customers.”
Reynolds said he was thankful to have the support of Matteson and Chatham during the Summit, where Gov. Brian Kemp delivered the keynote speech. Though it was a great opportunity to promote his business, Reynolds said it was overwhelming to work in that kind of atmosphere.
“As a paramedic and fireman, you didn’t have to sell yourself,” said Reynolds, referring to his occupation before he got injured during his service. “With Gary there, and they actually sent the marketing team from the Georgia Farm Credit to help, Gary was teaching me how to sell.”
Following Matteson’s visit and Vetlanta, Reynolds said the entire two-day experience was critical in helping him encourage “veteran-commitment” rather than “veteran-friendliness.” He said it’s easy to be friendly to veterans, but being committed to veterans and their reintegration into society is truly what is helpful.
Reynolds has experienced many organizations that primarily throw money at veterans and their problems instead of trying to fix the core issues. He said Vetlanta and the Warrior Alliance focus on helping solve problem on deeper levels.
“Veteran-committed costs you something – time, money, resources,” Reynolds said. “It’s the fact that they went all in to support veterans and did whatever they had to do.”
Chatham, who also serves as the co-chair for the medical pillar of Vetlanta, said being at the summit was great for Renyolds’ business, as the two goals of Hero Cuts are to develop social capital and to develop a network.
“Mike and I started a year ago getting exposed to Vetlanta, getting a feel for how things were done,” Chatham said. “(This year) a lot of milestones were met and Mike was able to get in front of a lot of people. It was a sense of accomplishment and great triumph.”