by Ashley See, CFSA Communications Coordinator | Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 – 

Matt Kneece standing in front of a lake

Here at CFSA, we’ve been wanting to give readers an opportunity to get to know our staff better. Beyond job titles and duties, what interests, passions, and hobbies do the staff of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association have?

For this post in the series, we’re introducing Matt Kneece, CFSA South Carolina Policy Coordinator. Originally from South Carolina, Matt lives in Columbia and is integral in our state advocacy. His penchant for grammar, telling entertaining stories, asking great questions, and catching our staff up to speed on regional policy issues in a succinct, lively, and engaging way is unparalleled.

Now that you’re loosely acquainted, we’ll hand it over to Matt.


 
Tell us your food story. What brought you to local food and farming?


Matt
: I have grandparents on both sides of my family who were small-scale dairy farmers many years ago, and my parents raised me to have a healthy respect for the outdoors. Most importantly though, I was fortunate enough to have a professor my junior year of college who taught us the benefits of self-sufficiency, local food, and the importance of community. This same professor practiced what he preached; he had transformed his tiny suburban lot into a food forest, complete with raised beds and backyard poultry. His living by example still inspires me to this day.

“Hearing directly from our member farms about their policy concerns or problems is always exciting because it quickly turns into solving a puzzle.”

 

You’ve been at CFSA since the spring of 2019. What are some of the duties of your position that delight you the most?


Matt
: Hearing directly from our member farms about their policy concerns or problems is always exciting because it quickly turns into solving a puzzle. Policy problems in agriculture tend to be unique, which means you have to come up with creative solutions. Even if it’s not immediately obvious, there’s always a way to address a problem.

 

When you’re not staying on top of policy in South Carolina, what does life outside of CFSA look like?


Matt
: I try to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings in South Carolina as much as I can, so I’m either hiking, camping, kayaking, or going for a trail run.

As much as it takes years off my life, I’m also a diehard follower of Gamecock sports. Multiple generations of my family (including me!) went to the University of South Carolina, so I’m ride or die.

Matt Kneece on a hike

 

As someone who engages in policy, we’re curious about what you often hear as some of the biggest obstacles as to why people don’t engage in advocacy? Can you help dispel any myths?

“Policymakers respond to human stories, and the voice of a family farmer (or those that support them) can and does change things.”


Matt
: This is certainly an understatement, but many people feel like their voice doesn’t matter or won’t get heard. Policies get made without their input, and they feel helpless. But, at least in the world of sustainable agriculture, the story of the small farm is always a compelling one.

Many farmers are admittedly busy working the fields and don’t have time for advocacy calls or constituent meetings, but it really does make a difference. Policymakers respond to human stories, and the voice of a family farmer (or those that support them) can and does change things.

 

We all have something we’re hyper nerdy for. A little birdy told us that you love obstacle course racing. Is that still true? Where does this love come from and how is it currently cropping up?


Matt
: For the last few years, I’ve been competing in obstacle course races like Spartan and Tough Mudder, and it’s definitely become an obsession. I think the appeal comes from the fact that you can’t just be a runner—you’re carrying things; you’re climbing over objects; you’re jumping; you’ve got to do it all.

Next year, I’m actually heading to Nevada to run World’s Toughest Mudder, which is a 24-hour endurance race in the desert. Should be a fun time!

Matt Kneece doing a obstacle course race

 

If you could have a farm anywhere and only grow and eat three crops (ignoring all practicality) where would it be and what would you grow?


Matt
: There are some secret spots in the foothills of upstate S.C. that I’ve had my eye on for a while now. And it’s not technically a crop, but I’d put all my energy into bees. Honey is the most delicious thing on Earth, and with bees being one of the most important creatures in the environment, I’d love to just have stacks and stacks of beehives.

“Honey is the most delicious thing on Earth, and with bees being one of the most important creatures in the environment, I’d love to just have stacks and stacks of beehives.”

 

What are you reading right now and what recipe are you obsessed with?


Matt
: I actually just finished reading Eric Freyfogle’s A Good That Transcends, it’s a great book that reviews the works of Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, and others to explore how U.S. culture itself often undermines conservation efforts.

As for a recipe, the ongoing quarantines have given me a chance to finally experiment with bread baking, and I’ve made an absurd amount of apple cinnamon bread now that I know what I’m doing.

 

Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?


Matt
: A few close friends; I doubt you’d know them. But if it needs to be a public figure, probably Wendell Berry. Not sure how I’d invite him though, the man doesn’t own a computer or cell phone (jealous doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings).

Matt Kneece tabling for CFSA

 

Lastly, what do you wish folks in the food and farming community discussed more?


Matt
: It’s been said there are two types of people: there’s quants and there’s poets. Quants are the people who focus on statistics, numbers, and studies. Quants definitely play an important role, but my heart’s with the poets. The poets are the ones who question narratives, frame stories, and examine worldviews. There’s a role for both quants and poets, but I think the time to reframe and reassert the importance of stories (both personal and large-scale) is now.

 

Whether you want to hear more about advocacy in South Carolina, have a question, or just want to say hello, Matt can be reached at [email protected].