Over That Hurdle

Garlic_Farm2 cropToday was our farm’s initial USDA organic on-site inspection. Needless to say, we were a bit anxious when the inspector who had called a few weeks ago to set up the appointment pulled into our driveway to visit our farm. We spent a few hours yesterday trying to make sure that the necessary documents were up-t0-date and organized. And this is how it went…

We met her in the driveway as she climbs out of her car at around 10:30 am. After saying hello and asking how the 2-1/2 hour drive up here from Spring Mills was in the heavy rainstorm, we started by getting the paperwork out of the way. We headed inside to the dining room table where I had placed my trusty Mead Composition Book filled with months-worth of hand-written field notes and a thick 3-ring binder filled and over-flowing with purchase receipts and invoices, seed sourcing tags, materials labels and soil test results. The process is generally based on the filled-out questionnaire that we submitted to them in February wherein we detailed the crops that we expected to grow and the inputs we had planned for use. Of course, nothing in farming works according to plan, so we had to revise those records a couple of times since the initial application and we had sent the updates to the certification body for their files. To begin, she looks over the documents in her folder and starts to ask us questions. We quickly realize that the documents that the inspector was using to verify our operation were the ones we sent in April and not the more recent June updates.  Using some red-lining, we were able to update the forms to reflect the latest inputs so as to compare them against our records and notes. Then the process went something like this —

“Where’s the invoices and label tags for your inputs – seeds, fertilizers, and pest control sprays for what you said you were going to use.” In response, I would hand over a stack of invoices from the files that we’ve been compiling to show that for each planned input we had a verifiable record and that we were following the plan.  In theory, this is an simple process.  But, several times I found that the following statement was necessary to complete the process: “I wish I were a more organized farmer.” After a few iterations of this verification process, we went on to review our record-keeping files for sales, harvest and storage — again having to repeat the above statement but maybe stated in a slightly different way. Here is where the old adage “if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen” becomes a practical guide for future record keeping.

From there it was then on to a farm tour of the equipment, storage areas and fields. This went a little easier, mainly because less paperwork is involved to verify. The farm tour began by us showing the inspector some vintage farm equipment like our 1951 Ferguson TO-20 tractor and, the line from Green Acres popping into my head:

{Oliver Wendell Douglass old tractor has just broken down again}
Oliver Wendell Douglass: There’s something wrong with the carburetor.
Eb Dawson: Yeah, it needs a new tractor on it!

From there, as with most farms, some driving was needed to reach the farm fields to be inspected. Along the way, we chatted about the weather, the challenges of dealing with excessive rainfall, how things are growing, my cover crop plans, pest problems, marketing and more.  Here is where a field map is pulled out of the records and me pointing to show her where we’re standing in relation to the diagram on the paper, as well as which fields are growing which crops. It also involved me describing a futuristic produce building that will be soon erected onto the existing building pad. And then there was us passing by large areas of overgrown weeds and yet-to-be cultivated areas that we plan to grow something in the future. Here again an explanation: “Reactivating an old farm is a process and those golden rod are doing a good job feeding the bees and adding organic matter to the soil.” She observes, and nods.

Wooleylot Produce - Certified Organic by UDSA Inspector

Under USDA Organic Inspection

Before we knew it, it was 2:30 pm, and the inspection was over. My head is still spinning, but we’re pleased to be over that hurdle. The inspector’s report will now go back to the certification body, where a committee will review the complete file and the inspection report, before making a decision on how to issue certification. They can issue a certificate, make certification pending the resolution of certain issues or not issue certification altogether. Knowing that our initial application didn’t generate any major concerns and that the inspector didn’t identify any issues, we have good reason to be optimistic. We’ll know the decision in a few weeks!

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About wooleylot

Garlic Farmer
This entry was posted in Farm News, Field Notes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Over That Hurdle

  1. Sharon says:

    Congratulations! You’re one of the most organized people I know. I’m 100% sure you will receive your certification with flying colors!

  2. Netra says:

    Card Creek Trading Post is very pleased that you have this inspection behind you. This is major accomplishment to get through the procss of certified organic farm.

  3. Jane says:

    Thanks for sharing this news with us, Alvie. We are limping along the PATH you’ve blazed!

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