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N.H. appointee to new USDA equity commission hopes to bring a focus on accessibility

Photo by Lisbokt, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new equity commission held an inaugural meeting Monday.

Gary Matteson, an appointee to the commission’s agriculture subcommittee, is the executive vice president of young, beginning, and small farmer programs at the Farm Credit Council. He also runs a flower-growing business in Epsom, N.H.

One of the issues he’s hoping to address at the commission is accessibility.

“In New Hampshire, a beginning farmer needs to know that USDA programs are available among the other providers of programs for beginning farmers, and then be able to successfully access those programs,” he said.

Farmers of color and women farmers have said the USDA has discriminated against them and caused unnecessary financial hardship in multiple lawsuits dating back to the 1990s. A 2021 analysis of USDA data showed Black farmers continue to face bias when applying for USDA loans.

Now, the department’s new equity commission is set to undertake an analysis of how USDA’s programs and structures contribute to systemic discrimination or exacerbate disparities, and the group will also recommend courses of action.

Matteson said he hopes to bring an approach of humility and respect to his work at the fledgling commission.

The American Rescue Plan directed the USDA to create the equity commission, which will start providing recommendations to the department within 12 months.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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