University Electives Plant Seed for Alum’s Unconventional Career Path

Matt Hand ’06 discovers professional bliss in community supported agriculture

Matt Hand ’06 found his passion at William Paterson, but it was not what he expected.

In the communication major’s junior year, when the opportunity to take elective courses presented itself, Hand enrolled in field biology, nutrition, and environmental science “because I was interested in food and where our industrial food production was taking us,” he explains. Hand’s grandfather, an immigrant from a rural village in Cyprus, planted a large backyard garden at the family’s suburban New Jersey home “and I had really good memories of that,” he adds.

MattHand300Today, Hand is a certified organic farmer. He runs Hand Picked Farm, a three-year-old family farm in Flemington that grows sustainable produce. The farm operates under a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, wherein Hand sells shares of his prospective harvest to dozens of local families. They pay a flat rate at the start of the agricultural season – providing Hand with the upfront capital for that season’s necessities – and in exchange, they receive a portion of his all-organic produce worth more than their investment.

Along with sharing Hand’s reward, they also share the risk, he explains, citing the potential for crop-devastating drought or locust. Luckily, so far, Hand Picked Farm has realized more reward.

Following graduation, Hand found he felt more productive in the fields than he did in a more traditional career. He volunteered on a local farm and then completed a full-time apprenticeship to better learn the business. Hand eventually purchased a four-acre parcel with a house upon it, and set his mind to turning the attached land into a working farm. He puts his communication degree to use to market his business, producing promotional videos, blogs, email newsletters, online crowdsourcing pages and his website,

“My communications background has really helped me market the farm. Most of the new farmers I meet don’t know anything about marketing or being visual or telling their story,” Hand explained to students during the University’s 2016 Green A-Fair. “It adds a polish and it makes me look more legit when I totally wasn’t and was just starting.”

Making a living as a new, fulltime farmer in New Jersey is hard, but Hand says he has no plans of giving up farm life. He and his wife, Jessica Cameron ’05, a veterinary technician, and their two children are happy reaping the benefits of a more rural environment. 

Working from home lets Hand spend more time with his children. He gets them ready for school in the morning and they help him pick produce in the afternoon while they run around the farm freely.

“To me, that is where I find sustainability,” Hand says. “It’s a quality of life thing.”

His advice to current undergraduate students?

Embrace all of the “small opportunities,” like volunteering and joining new clubs. “Everything you do, so long as you have a positive mindset, will turn into a dividend later,” he says.