Meet Our Team
Get to know the team behind Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. and nonbrowning Arctic® apples
Neal Carter – President & Founder
Neal and Louisa Carter are the innovators behind Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF) and nonbrowning Arctic® apples. As apple and cherry orchardists who have lived in the Okanagan Valley for over twenty years, they know their fruit. They also know that apple consumption has been flat-to-declining for decades, and wanted to offer the industry and consumers something that can help reverse this trend, which is why they founded OSF in 1996.
Neal is a bioresource engineer with over thirty years of experience working around the world – largely on efforts to enhance food security in the third world. It was through this firsthand experience that Neal was convinced that biotechnology can help farmers meet ever-expanding global food demand.
The Carter’s take a hands-on approach in their orchard and are actively involved in field operations through the year. Their love for the outdoors extends beyond their long hours in the orchard; their downtime is spent enjoying hiking, mountain biking and back-country skiing.
For more on Neal, see our blog post covering his and Louisa’s backgrounds and reasons for founding OSF.
Jennifer Armen – Vice President
Jenn, a 30-year veteran in the specialty crops arena, has spent her career in the post-harvest crop protection and vegetable seed industries. Trained as a botanist, mycologist and plant pathologist, she has relied on her technical training to support her business and marketing functions in the industry. Since 2010, Jenn has worked with OSF in variety of activities and now oversees business development and marketing activities for the company.
A lover of the outdoors, Jenn spends as much time as possible partaking in outdoor sports. Indoors, she enjoys celebrating our abundance of great produce by getting creative in the kitchen and sharing these talents by welcoming friends to her table.
John Armstrong – Director, Research & Regulatory Affairs
John considers himself a true resident of Canada having lived and/or worked in London, Beaconsfield, Edmonton, Westmount, Whitehorse, Mill Bay, Vancouver, Estevan, Jasper, Winnipeg and Lethbridge. His genuine home is Penticton, British Columbia where he represents the third generation of Armstrongs actively contributing to this community. John’s many adrenaline-pumping passions include sky diving, equestrian, white-water kayaking, mountaineering, scuba diving, mountain biking, wilderness trekking, canoeing, and most recently, the craft of motorcycling (dirt/dual/road). He enjoys cooking with his son, playing cards with his wife and hiking the local mountain trails with his dog.
John obtained his BSc (Microbiology) from the University of British Columbia and PhD at the University of Manitoba. He joined OSF in 1999, helping to successfully prove the science behind Arctic® apples soon after in 2002. In his current role as Director, Research, Development & Regulatory Affairs, John oversees various research projects, research partnerships, intellectual property and regulatory affairs.
Don Westcott – Director of Operations
Don was born and raised in Osoyoos, BC, a small town at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley. Shortly after completing post-secondary programs in Marketing and Management at BCIT, he began his career in the Tree-Fruit industry. Over the past 24 years, Don’s passion has grown along with his expertise, gained through positions in grower services, production logistics and planning, and marketing management.
Don joined the team at Okanagan Specialty Fruits in 2017, in the role of Director of Operations where he is excited to play an integral role in the successful development and delivery of innovative and nutritious fruits to market.
In Don’s down-time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, three children, and their two Newfies (pictured, left), especially at the family ski cabin. Don takes advantage of the rich year-round outdoor playground the Okanagan offers, regularly pursuing activities such as skiing, golfing, camping, hunting, and fishing.
Andrew Hofer – Director of Finance and Accounting
Andrew grew up in a small farming community in the Similkameen Valley before heading to the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver to acquire a diploma in Electronics Engineering. But the call of finance was strong, and it drew him to complete a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting at the University of Northern BC and eventually to his designation with the Chartered Accounting School of Business. After working throughout the province, Andrew returned to BC’s tree fruit homeland and joined OSF in 2018 as Director of Finance and Accounting.
Outside the office, Andrew spends as much time as possible with his daughters (two and five). He likes rock climbing and dirt bikes, and recently acquired a small sailboat, but his focus now is on his girls and whatever adventures they decide. As happens with little ones, those interests change frequently. Andrew’s favorite apple: Fuji, for its crispness.
Jean-Francois (JF) Gamelin – Director of Sales
Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, JF did his share of traveling through the U.S. and Europe before settling on Toronto, Ontario. His studies reflect this international flavor, and he ultimately achieved a Masters in Project Management from Université du Québec en Outaouais. Most recently JF has worked with Del Monte Fresh Produce, Dole Canada, and the Dole Fresh Fruit Company. He joined the OSF team in 2018 as Director of Sales.
Outside of the office, JF is living proof that produce never sleeps. He’s married, has two young daughters with whom he watches hockey, and he loves to cook. As a former professional NCAA Division hockey player, JF also finds as much time on the ice as he can. And did we mention he’s a part-time musician? He plays classical violin, piano, and guitar. JF’s favorite apple: Granny Smith, because he and his kids love that tart crunch with peanut butter.
Rebecca Catlett – Director of Marketing & Communications
Rebecca spent her childhood in and around Boise, Idaho. A student exchange program took her to Australia for a year and ignited a love of travel, but Rebecca remains a ‘homegrown Idahoan’. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Management of Business and Information Systems from George Fox University and has an extensive background in agriculture. Working on communications and marketing strategies with global teams has given Rebecca insight into multiple aspects of the supply chain from seed to table. She joined OSF in 2019 as Director of Marketing & Communications.
Outside of the office, Rebecca spends time with her family and works with a local horse rescue group. She once helped coordinate the rescue of a horse from a mountain in the winter by helicopter. It was a happy ending for all involved and the horse is now doing well at its forever home. Rebecca’s favorite apple: Arctic® Goldens, and not just because she works here. Really.
Joel Yeager – Facility Operations Manager
Joel grew up in Central Valley, California. He lived near Boise Idaho for 30 years before moving to the Yakima Valley in Washington. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Financial Accounting from the University of Phoenix, Joel took to the supply chain management side of the food manufacturing industry. This means he works from farm to fork in getting great quality fruits and vegetables to our grocers and tables. Joel joined the OSF team in 2018 as Facility Operations Manager.
Joel is a self described cowboy. Outside the office he likes to farm, golf, and hike and explore trails on his ATV. He and his wife are avid motorhome adventurers, taking trips as often as they can. And somehow he manages to sneak in a few hours volunteering as a member of the Board of Directors for Junior Achievements. Joel’s favorite apple: Fuji, with a ‘moderate amount of watercore’ (spoken like a true apple geek).
Jeremy Johnson – Laboratory Manager
Jeremy grew up in a small farming town in Saskatchewan, later moving to Saskatoon to obtain a BSc in Biology from the University of Saskatchewan, followed by a Biotechnology diploma at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology. Outside of the lab, Jeremy’s two wonderful kids, Kadence and Darius, keep him busy with school events, sports and other activities. He’s involved, along with his wife Crystal, as a volunteer martial arts instructor, holding a 4th degree black belt in Wado Kai Karate. Jeremy also enjoys playing board games with friends, plugging away at a video game, or curling up on the couch with a good book.
After a number of different positions in the science and biotechnology field, Jeremy came to work for OSF in July 2010. Jeremy holds the position of Laboratory Manager, and his current area of focus is the development of new Arctic® apple varieties, such as Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp.
Aruna Wickramarathna – Scientist
Aruna grew up and completed his undergraduate studies on the tropical island of Sri Lanka. When he moved to Edmonton, AB to complete his post-graduate studies, during one exceptionally chilly winter, he experienced quite the environmental shock: a 28 OC difference in temperature, and his first ever sighting of, and experience with snow!
After obtaining his Ph.D., Aruna worked in both academia and industry before joining Okanagan Specialty Fruits in autumn of 2015. As a Scientist at OSF, he explores the potential use of novel genome editing techniques in developing tree fruit crops with superior traits.
When Aruna isn’t working in the Lab, his two young kids keep him busy with their fast evolving extra-curricular activities. Somehow, he also manages to find time to follow cricket and debunk “celebrity science” with contemporary information and data.
Elzbieta Mietkiewska – Scientist
Elzbieta (Ela) Mietkiewska grew up on a farm in Poland. After receiving her Ph.D., she left her home country for a position in Israel. She also worked in The Netherlands before eventually relocating to Canada.
Ela joined OSF’s Scientific and Research & Development team in the spring of 2017, as a Scientist. In her position, based at our Lab in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Ela focuses on the application of recombinase mediated techniques in developing fruit trees with improved properties.
In her spare time, Ela enjoys the physical pursuits of hiking, camping, cycling and downhill skiing.
Jordan Hannah – Senior Laboratory Technician
Jordan grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, playing as much hockey and football as possible in his free time. He is a self-described Jack of all trades and loves spending time outdoors with his family hiking, camping or his absolute favorite: fishing.
Jordan has worked in biotechnology since 2003 and loves anything to do with science and innovation. As Laboratory Technician, he is tasked with transformation of novel traits into plant tissue among other duties and loves seeing the science team’s hard work come to life.
Mathieu Dubeau – Research Technician
Mathieu, growing up in a military family, lived all across Canada as a child before settling outside Montreal, Quebec. Always academically driven, he completed the International Baccalaureate high school program and has also devoted significant time volunteering in his community, including his involvement in the Scouts Canada movement. Now a cell and molecular biology graduate from the University of Concordia, his favourite hobby is keeping himself in shape through rock climbing, both indoors and outdoors.
As a research technician for OSF, Mathieu is in the lab working on creating the future products as well as ensuring that existing ones, like Arctic® apples, meet a set of strict criteria.
Michael Taylor – Laboratory Technician
Michael Taylor was born and raised in the Canadian prairies in a small town just outside Saskatoon. He attended the University of Saskatchewan where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry. Michael joined Okanagan Specialty Fruits in 2017 as a Technician and brings valuable experience to our team after recently working with a local fruit breeding research program.
Michael’s interest in plants first developed after spending years gardening with his parents. His love of being able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables right out of the garden has led to his current favorite hobby which is cooking. When Michael’s not busy in the garden or over the stove (hopefully creating some new Arctic® apple recipes at some point), he enjoys hiking, playing guitar, video games, woodworking, long road trips and camping. He also absolutely loves dogs.
Banyar Aung – Laboratory Technician
Originally from a small village in Mon State, Myanmar, Banyar completed his B.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences and moved to Thailand to work as a research assistant. Eventually, Banyar came to Canada for his graduate studies and holds a Masters in Molecular Biology from the University of Western Ontario. He now lives in Saskatoon, and joined OSF in 2018 as a Laboratory Technician.
Outside of the lab, Banyar spends as much time outdoors as possible. He particularly enjoys walking and cycling in the snow. Six years ago that was a new thing for him, snow: after living in balmy Thailand and Myanmar and 95F temperatures, it was a bit of a shock moving to a much cooler sub-zero Canadian prairie winter. Banyar’s favorite apple variety: Fuji.
Erin Hill – Laboratory Technician
Erin spent her childhood in smaller towns around Saskatchewan, some with a population as small as 300 people. She graduated from the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology with a Diploma in Biotechnology and worked in the field since 2005. Erin has lived as far north as La Ronge and Fort McMurray, but is now based out of Saskatoon. She joined the OSF team in 2018 as a lab technician with a focus on plant transformation and regeneration.
Outside of the office, Erin and her husband spend time with their puppy Kona and satisfy their appetites for food and travel as often as they can. Not one to stay still, Erin can often be found in an aerial arts studio, swinging around in silks or on a hoop. Her favorite apple: Macintosh, for its touch of sweetness.
Krystyna Czechowicz – Laboratory Technician
Krystyna was born in Krakow, Poland, and immigrated to Canada more than thirty years ago. She has a Master’s degree in chemistry from Krakow, and since moving here has worked for a variety of organizations in Saskatoon. Most of Krystyna’s experience has been in biotech with a few years analyzing soil samples for farmers, but she found her specialty in working with plants. She joined the OSF team in 2018 as a laboratory technician with a focus on tree fruits.
Outside of the office, Krystyna spends as much time as possible with her grandchildren. She also loves to read and likes to knit. Her favorite apple: one that’s crispy and juicy.
Li Xi – Laboratory Technician
Li was born in the Jilin Province of China, moving to Nanjing City to study plant biology and complete a Master’s degree. Her curiosity for continued specialization brought Li to Canada, where she lived in Vancouver and Calgary before settling on Saskatoon. Li joined OSF the summer of 2018 as a laboratory technician to work on plant biotechnology with a focus on transformation and regeneration of tree fruits.
Outside of the office Li spends her time traveling and hiking with her husband and their two children. She also enjoys a good detective story and knows a thing or two about real estate and immigration programs. Li’s favorite apple: Honey Crisp, for its juicy sweetness and longevity.
Jeanette De-Coninck-Hertzler – Sales Manager
Jeanette grew up on a 400-acre family farm near Maricopa, Arizona. At an early age, Jeanette was always eager to help out on the farm. Eventually, her family moved to Blythe, California where her father continued farming. Jeanette spent her summers cutting hay and learning about entomology. Jeanette’s interest grew in agriculture while in high school and she became active in FFA. She went on to obtain a BS degree with a major in Agriculture Business Management at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Jeanette has over 30 years of sales experience within the produce industry. She lives in Wyoming with her husband who is a 3rd generation farmer on an original homestead from 1929 that was passed down from his grandfather to the family. When Jeanette isn’t busy selling Arctic® apples, she helps out on the farm, which further sustains her passion for agriculture. An avid reader, cook, world traveler, and animal lover, Jeanette’s favorite activity is spending time with her two dogs, 10 cats, and one goat, all of which are rescues.
Joel Brooks – Product & Special Projects Manager
Joel Brooks, an avid hockey fan, grew up in Summerland, British Columbia where he was a hard-working student and busy athlete. Joel was always active in the community, earning a service award for volunteer work and spending his summers working on apple and cherry orchards, including the Carter’s. He obtained a BA at the University of British Columbia – Vancouver and is currently an MBA candidate at Simon Fraser University, after previously earning a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from SFU.
In Joel’s current role as Product & Special Projects Manager, he is tasked with managing Okanagan Specialty FruitsTM’ Arctic® apples product line. He is also responsible for leading various special projects OSF takes on. Joel’s mission is to ensure that OSF continues to stay true to its core characteristics, and through amazing products like Arctic® apples, positively influences the way people think about and experience produce.
Jessica Brady – Manager, Industry Relations & Education
A love of animals led Jessica to pursue a BSc and MSc, and ultimately a career, in agriculture. Based out of Manitoba, Jessica lives on a grain and cattle farm with her partner, Stewart, and their dog, Norm. When she’s not reffing rugby or playing soccer, Jessica enjoys knitting, reading, and hiking with Norm. She’s also been known to develop an Arctic® apple recipe every now and then!
Jessica joined OSF in early 2016 and moved into the position of Stakeholder Outreach & Education in 2017, shortly after completing her first year with the company. In early 2018, Jessica took on her current role of Manager, Industry Relations & Education, which brings her face-to-face and online with those interested in Arctic® apples, to ensure that accurate and helpful information is shared.
Denise Everett – Communications Manager
Denise Everett studied Broadcast Journalism at Mount Royal University in her hometown of Calgary, Alberta. With over 15 years of experience, Denise’s versatile career has allowed her to gain valuable experience in a number of capacities including as a reporter, anchor, producer, creative writer, editor, marketing manager, entrepreneur, and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) 911 operational communications center. One of her proudest professional accomplishments was being presented with the IAFF International Media Award for an editorial she wrote on the link between firefighting and certain cancers – a topic close to her heart.
Denise currently lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley with her children where she enjoys spending time with them, golfing, being on the water, country music, and cheering on the Calgary Flames to their next Stanley Cup victory.
Denise joined OSF in 2017. She values working for a company that promotes living a healthy and active lifestyle.
Jenavive Holmes – Administrative Specialist
Jenavive began her career as a freelance graphic designer, focusing on corporate identity and logo design upon completing post-secondary programs in Graphic Arts, Web Design and Corporate Communications. Over the past 12+ years, she has held roles of increasing responsibility in the areas of corporate communications, brand development, privacy compliance, human resources and administrative management.
Jenavive joined OSF in 2017, bringing her diverse skill set to the role of Administrative Specialist.
Originally from Vancouver, BC, Jenavive relocated to Kelowna, BC in 2009, where she treasures the warm summers, white winters, and stunning landscape of the Okanagan Valley. Jenavive is an avid cyclist, and when she’s not busy doting on her two adorable – albeit extremely spoiled – rescue cats, she’s usually trying her hand at a new DIY pursuit.
Joel Carter – Field Operations
Joel Carter, as you may have guessed, is indeed the son of OSF founders Neal and Louisa Carter. As such, farming has always been the most important part of his life, as he’s been riding on tractors at the Carter family orchard since before he was two years old. Though he was just nine years old when OSF was founded in 1996, his ties to the company go way back. Joel was on the end of a shovel when the first Arctic® apples trees were planted over a decade ago, and he and his brother Paul even came up with the Arctic® apple name and logo!
After attending University of British Columbia – Vancouver and gaining much world experience through his travels to dozens of countries across the globe, Joel became a member of the OSF team in 2014. He has a number of diverse responsibilities, especially those pertaining to field operations, regulatory procedures, and working with our nursery and commercial partners.
Jeannette LeBlanc – Communications Specialist
Jeannette moved to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley in 2007. She has an undergraduate degree from Simon Fraser University in Integrated Studies, a program affording enough balance between business and the humanities to hold the interest of an unrelentingly curious writer. After roles in corporate administration to managing communications for a private race track, Jeannette spent most of the last decade working with the BC wine industry before joining OSF in 2018.
Outside the office, Jeannette continues to capture the stories of people working in sustainable community food systems – a quest that leads her almost everywhere imaginable. And she spends as much time as possible on that race track, just to keep things interesting.