Matthew Holmes put Canada’s organic sector on the map

Although it feels as if I’ve known Matthew Holmes my entire life, I’m sure we first met at an ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) conference. I knew his wonderful wife Beth McMahon, ACORN’s Executive Director, who introduced us. Very soon after that, Matt became ACORN’s interim ED while Beth was on maternity leave.

I was working for OTA, which had been founded as a North American organization but wasn't very active north of the U.S. border. After working in the United States when the Organic Rule launched, I knew Canada needed its own OTA to represent Canadian farmers and manufacturers as we worked towards federal regulation of the organic claim. After two years of my networking all over the country and camping in Ottawa to establish relationships with the agriculture/food bureaucracy, OTA’s Board decided there was enough momentum to hire an Executive Director and support organic sector growth in Canada. One thing I knew for sure: I’m a people-person and policy-wonk, but not an association leader, and so OTA began looking for a Canadian leader.

Matt was the perfect choice for the position—ready to hit the ground running with full understanding of the organic sector.

With Matt in Sackville, NB, and me dividing time between Ottawa and a tiny BC island, we managed to appear to be everywhere in Canada where something organic was happening. With just the two of us on board, we had a lot of country to cover. Matt had just the right bright diplomatic polish, and we built solid relationships with government. Matt taught me how to be a better team planner and player, as I’d spent too many years working alone. He’s a brilliant strategist, and just an all-round good guy, sincerely warm with everyone.

There were many actual happy hours at the close of hectic conference days; these often went into the wee hours, talking and planning. We have eaten in every imaginable kind of restaurant in every major and most small Canadian city. Eventually, Matt was almost never at home, being in great demand at IFOAM meetings and international conferences. He spent many, many hours talking with OTA, and the outcome was the Canada operations becoming an affiliate, and we became COTA. He began building a COTA team, with brave staffer Julia Bustos opening a starter office in Ottawa shortly before Matt took the generous step of moving his family there. Today, COTA has a fully staffed office, with a wonderful team in Ottawa and Vancouver.

Matt created a professional organization to represent Canada’s amazing organic sector. He has put us on the map and earned the respect of governments, traders, manufacturers and farmers. I learned a great deal from him, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’m also grateful for the terrific bursts of laughter we shared, as well as the compassion.

I wish my friend every success in his new adventure, with lots more time with his beautiful family, and inspiration to write and explore more of the various arts he so appreciates. //