College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduate James M. Matson has worked the world over, helping farmers and agribusinesses find solutions to their most pressing challenges. Often, Matson has found, the answer can lie close to home, in innovative local arrangements that give farmers more marketing and processing power.
Matson, who graduated from N.C. State University in 1989 with degrees in agricultural business management, economics and Spanish, has spent the past two decades working as a business adviser to farmers and agricultural organizations. He’s helped more than 250 businesses in 19 countries on four continents with everything from feasibility studies and business plans to grant applications and marketing surveys.
Today, Matson owns the Aiken, S.C.-based firm Matson Consulting (www.matsonconsult.com) and among his clients is his alma mater: Since 2004, he’s worked with N.C. State’s MarketReady, the Kannapolis-based Cooperative Extension program that works to help agricultural businesses be more successful and profitable through the development of partnerships, educational programs and information resources.
With MarketReady, Matson has consulted on a number of projects. For example, he helped develop a market study and pricing strategy for the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative, a group that involves some 1,240 growers, workers and consumers in Moore and surrounding counties. He also worked with a berry company in the mountains to plan an expansion and studied organic soybean marketing options for a processing group in the eastern part of the state.
In addition to his consulting work, Matson is also co-founder of a family-owned Internet-based promotional products company with clients in all 50 states. The business’ main commercial websites are www.runandwin.com and www.yourlogoworks.com.
While that business has been successful, Matson says his heart is with agriculture. He’s worked with some of the world’s most impoverished producers as well as with large-scale producers. He also consults with organizations that work with farmers – organizations like Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Matson’s interest in agriculture is rooted in his childhood, growing up on a farm in Rockingham County and participating in 4-H. Through 4-H, he raised chickens, rabbits and goats and grew some produce. Once a state agricultural record book champion, Matson says that his first exposure to economics and business principles came when he was 12 years old, through a 4-H program called Economics in Action.
Though it’s been a good 25 years since he’s been a 4-H’er, Matson says he still relies on what he learned through the youth development organization.
Matson is a prolific public speaker, and he’s written dozens of publications on topics such as agricultural productivity and cooperatives. One of his latest areas of focus is food hubs.
Food hubs are centrally located facilities that make it easy for farmers to store, process, distribute and market locally or regionally produced food in volumes large enough to attract restaurants and grocery stores as customers, Matson explained. An example is Pilot Mountain Pride, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Perspectives, which markets produce in the Winston-Salem area.
Matson has helped write the book, so to speak, on food hubs. With a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Matson, Martha Sullins of Colorado State University and Chris Cook of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability Development wrote Food Hubs: Local Food Marketing Solution? He’s also written about the topic for the national Rural Cooperatives magazine.
The food hub idea and the local food movement it’s part of isn’t new, Matson points out. “Fifty years ago, you knew where your food came from because you bought your eggs from the egg lady, and your milk got dropped off by a dairy,” he says. “Our grandparents would say, ‘What’s so new about that?’”
What’s new, Matson responds, is the Internet. As consumers’ interest in buying locally produced food has surged, so has their ability to connect with local growers online. And the Internet has proven to be a great place for farmers to tell their stories – something they are, in general, particularly good at.
While new-fangled technology can build farmers’ connections to consumers, Matson says that producers can’t forget tried-and-true marketing essentials.
“You still have to live by the mantra of quality and consistency,” he says. “You have to have quality and consistency to get in the door. That’s the entry ticket. And once you do it, the passion you have and the ability to provide people with the things they want – great products that people want – will help you keep those customers.”
– Dee Shore