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On the Road to Organic Certification

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On the Road to Organic Certification

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Janine Gibson believes in her work. She is executive secretary of the international Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), chairperson of the Canadian committee of IOIA and second vice-president of the Canadian Organic Advisory Board, which is a national board that established organic certifications standards for Canada.

She has numerous other positions in the organic movement, including teaching courses in both organic farming and inspection at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba. This is the only college in Canada to offer a correspondence course in organic inspection. Students take the course at home and then spend a couple of days in rural Manitoba being interviewed, eating organic food and touring organic farms. If they pass, they have to serve as apprentices on a number of field trips–three for crops, three for livestock and three for processing–to determine if they qualify as certification inspectors.

I was fortunate enough to have Gibson and two apprentices move into my farm home in Davidson this past June. In effect, they temporarily transferred the apprenticeship training program from Brandon to my home for a week. It gave me the opportunity to have an inside look at organic inspection training.

Every day for that week, my guests travelled to organic farms within a 100-kilometre radius that had applied for certification by the Canadian Organic Certification Co-Operative (Box 2468, Swift Current, SK). Prior to their arrival at an organic farm, the farmer was required to fill out an eight-page questionnaire. The farmer was also required to supply a field map of his farm and the crop(s) growing in each field at the time; a copy of the first page of his/her Canadian Wheat Board permit book to check and verify acreages and crops; a map of the farmyard showing the location of storage bins; and livestock or poultry-feeding facilities and grazing locations in use.

As part of training, the apprentice interviews the farmer and reviews the questionnaire to get a clear understanding of the farm's operations. Janine Gibson makes sure the apprentice inspector covers the whole operation and then evaluates his/her techniques. Everyone inspects the storage bins to make sure they don't leak, are rodent proof and in good repair. Livestock and poultry facilities and all fields are examined.

Some certification organizations require that a chemical-sensitive crop be seeded in a border all around the farmer's property. If toxic chemical sprays drift over from a neighbor, the effects will be obvious in that border strip. Weeds in the field will also show chemical damage and if there is evidence of any chemical drift, that field may be disqualified.

The organic farmer must sign an affidavit, which is witnessed and assures the inspector and certification organization that he/she has accurately reported all information. The inspector then files a report to the certifying organization. A committee examines the report, any accompanying paperwork and recommends to a board of directors whether or not the applicant should be certified as organic. If the answer is yes, an agreement is mailed to the applicant along with a note of any conditions that need to be addressed to meet the standards. The farmer must also keep a record of all sales of certified organic products, which the certification organization may examine at any time during the year.

Janine Gibson started organic certification inspections in 1993. Since that time, she has inspected more than 850 farms in Canada and the United States. She makes it very clear that "third party" independent inspectors only make recommendations. They don't certify; only the certification organization does that.

During the week Gibson and students stayed with me, they vis two farms a day. I sat in on the disc sions every evening following their inspections. Gibson taught not only how to inspect farms, but also how organic production relates to the quality of the food we eat. Nutrition,: soil building and fertility are always uppermost in her mind.

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