By Mary Catherine Gaston
Growing up in Dalton, Georgia, Mike Reynolds knew from an early age that he wanted to be a medic someday. After completing EMS training while still in high school, Mike joined the local fire department before he was actually old enough to drive an ambulance. From there, he went on to join the Army, where he served 18 years and reached the rank of Master Sergeant before being medically retired after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a deployment in Iraq. No longer able to live out his life's dream, Mike found new purpose as a farmer and mentor to other combat veterans.
Rural Roots: Mike is from a small town, and though he doesn't live far now from where he grew up, he took a trip around the world--as a US Army flight medic--to get back there. After spending 18 years in the Army, Mike and his wife Kim now own and operate Reynolds Farms near Calhoun. With the goal of helping other disabled veterans heal and find a new way of life, Mike and Kim hope to soon be able to offer on-farm training for vets like Mike. The Reynolds family are all involved in the daily operation of the farm, where they raise a variety of livestock, fruits and vegetables. Through their venture Hero Cuts, they offer non-GMO, antibiotic-free and hormone-free premium cuts of beef and pork to customers throughout north Georgia and the Atlanta metro area.
What makes him a hero? After serving as a firefighter and medic as a civilian, Mike joined the Army and spent 18 years protecting and defending the USA. During his service in Iraq Master Sergeant Mike Reynolds' ambulance was involved in an attack, and he suffered the injury that ultimately ended his military and emergency services careers. A soldier needs a mission, and Mike searched until he found a new one, helping a local farmer with his small cattle herd. Though it wasn't a paying job, it was exactly what the former soldier needed. Now through the farm he, his wife Kim, and their two children own and operate, Mike hopes to soon be able to give other disabled veterans opportunities to find new purpose after their military service has ended--through on-farm training.
A cause that is close to his heart: Giving to help others heal, the way he was helped after his injury. "After being injured in Iraq, I shuffled through a broken and chaotic healthcare system until I went to [Atlanta's] Shepherd Center. There, I received hundreds of thousands of dollars of high quality medical care free through a donor-funded program started by Bernie Marcus. So, how do you thank a billionaire for saving your life? Sending him a card or buying him a present seemed kind of minimal. That’s why I set out to form Hero Agriculture. It is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that focuses on helping veterans learn and get started in agriculture. Through this organization I wanted to do two things: Show the individuals who donate to Shepherd Center that they didn’t waste their money on me and help other people like they helped me. "
Something he wants every rural (and non-rural) Georgian to realize: You don’t need 500 acres to be a farmer. What you do need is the desire and a willingness to work. "You can start on your apartment balcony with herbs in a pot. Look at what you eat and ask yourself, 'Of this, what can I make?' It’s like making macaroni and cheese, in most cases, directions are on the package. Then, you progress to YouTube, magazines and your local county Extension agent. Ask the guy at church who is already doing it if you can come help him one Saturday. My 7-year-old son planted and cares for a 30'x72' hoop house simply because he has a willingness to be a farmer. He loves growing, picking and, ultimately, giving away vegetables to people who visit the farm."
Where he sees hope for rural communities: Georgia's small towns and rural communities hold great potential at this pivotal point in history. "I believe that following the global pandemic that we have faced, individuals who are in those niche markets of selling blueberries or quarter beef or nearly anything homegrown are going to flourish. I don’t believe that there has ever been a better time to become a small farmer. The advantages of increasing self-reliance and producing consumables for your family could become a real game-changer. Veterans like farming because it is hard. But, at the end of the day it is easy to see the results of that hard day's work."