If you ever watched the T.V. show The Simpsons, do you remember a scene where Lisa Simpson, being denied the pleasure of school due to a teacher’s strike, freaks out in her need to be graded and evaluated? (It’s season 6, episode 21 in case you wanted to watch it). As a child I was often compared to Lisa Simpson in my academic nerdiness, so is it any surprise that I ended up working in a position where I must pass an annual inspection? I don’t think so.
Many people can get pretty uneasy about the thought of an inspection. Not because they have anything to hide, but because having an outside person coming to your farm or facility to go through and examine your entire operation can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience, particularly when your livelihood depends on the certification you are seeking. But I like to think of the experience as an opportunity to learn and a way to get validated for all the hard work we put into our operation throughout the year.
Inspectors are aware that people can be generally on edge on inspection day, and good inspectors can often break through this tension by being personable and at ease themselves. People like to talk about the work they do and are often proud to share how their operation runs. If an inspector goes into the inspection being genuinely interested in the operation and to learn how the operators meet the challenges they face and create opportunities for their business, the dialogue can be much more relaxed and engaging. That being said, you don’t want the inspection to be overly laissez-faire. We pay fees to our certification body to oversee our compliance to organic standards and the certification system relies on a robust inspection process, I want our inspector to inquire about everything so I can be certain things don’t get missed.
This year our inspection went very well. We had a few minor issues which were remedied immediately, proving that our inspector was spot on in his thoroughness and that we aren’t perfect. One longer term issue requires us to increase our buffer strip on one side of a field because we clearly don’t have control over the activities of our neighbors. We were aware this would be an issue and already had plans to not harvest a further 2m of produce from this fence row. There is always something an inspector can find for you to improve upon.
But our inspection is only a two day snapshot of an organization that is running nearly 365 days a year. The real work is the every day opportunities and challenges that come with running a farm in compliance with the Canadian Organic Standard. The integrity of the organic standard depends on transparency to and oversight from our certification body. We have a really good working relationship with them and are in continual communication throughout the year as we make changes to the ways we grow and package the produce we sell. They are particularly helpful with helping us to understand how to interpret the organic regulations, and I am super grateful they are only a phone call away. In return we have to remain audit ready because at any time we could have a surprise inspection.
I suppose this means we got an “A” this year for our organic inspection. Even though I enjoy the inspection process and feel confident in our program, I can say that my relief at the end of day 2 was as satisfying as Lisa’s after Marge graded her in that episode of The Simpsons. Up next is our CanadaGAP inspection mid-September, wish us luck!