Matt was destined to be a farmer. As a youth, he revered his father, with whom he shared a profound affection for their family’s 10,000-acre conventional corn farm on the eastern plains of Colorado. Like his father, Matt possessed an independent and entrepreneurial mind, a fascination with natural ecosystems, and broad manual competence in making and fixing things. The profession fit him well and, approaching graduation from Dartmouth College, he had every intention of returning to the farm.
Until his father delivered a devastating blow: “Sorry boy,” he said regretfully, “the economics won’t work for your generation.” And so began Matt’s humble, yet nevertheless intrepid journey to fix the food system and one day print on his business card: Farmer.
With little training and less experience, Matt landed his first professional gig as the Director of Operations for Niman Ranch. Remarkable considering his degree in geology, Matt devised an innovative value chain that both connected hundreds of sustainable family farmers to premium markets across the country and generated returns for shareholders. Later, as a founding executive at venture-backed Attune Foods, he played a crucial role in launching a nationally distributed functional food brand in less than a year. Most recently, he led the Sustainable Food Program for Stanford Dining, where he developed a pioneering approach to experiential food education and behavioral research on 4,000 captive users — also known as meal plan students. In recognition of his work at Stanford Dining, Matt was nominated as a finalist for the Real Food Challenge’s “Administrator or Faculty Member of the Year Award.”
Along the way, Matt earned an MBA from Stanford, where he was first introduced to the d.school by way of the course, “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.” The experience fundamentally changed his worldview, as he discovered a latent capacity for creativity and began to see life as a series of prototypes. Moreover, he found a comfortably uncomfortable environment for introverts such as himself.
In his return to the d.school as a Fellow, Matt will be prototyping designs for a food systems laboratory that will continue to build on his previous work at Stanford. A powerfully collaborative endeavor, the laboratory will “enable long-term empathic partnerships with thought leaders who are working on the big opportunities in the food system — justice and equity, appropriate technology for small, diversified farms, disruptive food distribution models, and sustainable eating behaviors,” Matt explains. “We’ll leverage these partnerships as opportunities to both teach the design process and to apply it to real-world problems, through courses, workshops, and other pedagogical instruments.”
The lab’s objective will be to provide a meaningful design-thinking experience to every undergraduate student at Stanford, using food as the medium, in a manner that advances the overall system in a sustainable direction. When he’s not shepherding that, Matt will be tending his chickens and pursuing the art of fermentation. You can follow his rumination here or here.