Why I Do What I Do: Katherine DiMatteo, Executive Director, Organic Trade Association
When you think of organics, do bountiful gardens full of clean and healthy vegetables come to mind? Along with that wholesome image, you might want to add a picture of the woman behind the groundbreaking national organic standards, implemented in October 2002. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), a member-based organization promoting organic products and protecting the integrity of organic standards, hired Katherine DiMatteo in 1990 as its first paid staff person. In the 12 years since, she has grown OTA to a staff of 13 and a member base of more than 1,200. Her personal passion for and commitment to her work have made her a singular force in the organic movement.
Q: Since the mid-1970s, you have worked on issues related to local food co-ops, disarmament, energy policies, and organic production. How did you turn your personal passion for a sustainable world into a career?
A. It was being selective. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy if I worked to live rather than lived to work. If I lived to work, I’d be working on things that mattered.
Q: What’s a typical day for you?
A. There is no typical day. My role at OTA is to make sure the public perception of the organic movement is accurate, that government support is appropriate, and that the development of the organic industry is sustainable. I’m on the phone and on the road a lot.
Q: You and your organization were instrumental in developing the Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program. Are you happy with the new organic standards?
A. Yes, the standards are very good. However, the Organic Foods Production Act, which was the law that led to the new organic regulations, was written in 1990. Things were set up in the act that are perhaps outdated in today’s world. Other things weren’t covered at all. Compromises were made. The legislation won’t make declarations about organic production being the best system for farmers to use, which advocates wish for. But having it there allows us to use it as a launching place to do other things outside and inside government, to fill in as we go along, and to refine and improve what was originally set up.
Q: Do you eat strictly organic?
A. I purchase organic products as much as I possibly can. Why wouldn’t I? Because I have knowledge about agricultural production and its impacts on the environment and on the workers’ health and the potential health risks associated with pesticide residue, I want to support the expansion of organic production. I want to do what I tell everyone else to do. If you want to shape the future, you have to make those same choices yourself.