Gary Matteson is a farmer with a passion for helping beginning farmers from all backgrounds and walks of life. During his 30-year farming career, he built a successful operation raising greenhouse wholesale cut flowers and beef cattle for local sales in Epsom, New Hampshire.
Matteson now works for the Farm Credit Council in Washington, D.C, as Senior Vice President Beginning Farmer Programs and Outreach. He joined the Equity Commission’s 15-member Agriculture Subcommittee in February 2022 and will serve a two-year appointment. Like Matteson, each of the subcommittee and commission members bring a unique perspective and specialized experience as they work together to develop recommendations to ensure all people have equitable access to USDA programs and services.
His farm credit career started as a Farm Credit customer, borrowing funds for his own operation. He served on his local Farm Credit board and then on the national board. For the last 15 years he’s worked for the Farm Credit Council, primarily to support young, beginning, small farmers.
Over the years, Matteson has learned that one of the biggest obstacles or barriers for many beginning farmers is not having clear expectations. And one of his biggest rewards is guiding new farmers through the conversations to help them better understand their options and how to successfully apply for credit.
“I’m the help desk for a lot of people and I enjoy doing that. I am a rural entrepreneur myself, and I like thinking of folks that I talk to as rural entrepreneurs. The thing I want to do is help them create wealth for themselves,” he said.
Through conversation, he works with each individual to reach a common understanding of their unique needs and goals, while treating them with respect and dignity. “I’m not here to tell you want to do. I’m here to help you figure it out,” he said. “You want to be in agriculture? I want to welcome you into agriculture. How can I help you find the right information and the right people?”
While Matteson brings a wealth of credit knowledge and a farm operator perspective to the Equity Commission discussions, he said his primary goal is to help foster a change in USDA culture.
“One of the things that has been talked about repeatedly in the Equity Commission meetings is changing the culture at USDA,” he said. “In my mind, what I’m addressing is the culture of human interaction.”
He sees improving customer relations skills as an essential step. Matteson’s hope is that USDA customers would routinely recommend the Department’s programs and services to others because they were treated equitably and with respect.
“That’s the focus. That’s the culture change. That is what I want to help USDA accomplish”, he said.