It was a busy one in the garden last week. Our annual Soil Association organic inspection on Thursday; a new French intern, Wilfried, arriving on Saturday; and hosting a Soil Association Future Growers seminar at the weekend. (More about that later). All the while trying to plant out as much as possible ahead of the rain!

We’ve been growing organically here at Coleshill Organics for over 25 years, so the inspection is usually quite a relaxed, friendly affair

Paul Farmer, our Soil Association inspector for this audit, arrived bright and early on Thursday morning. Generally speaking, we are inspected once a year as part of our Soil Association certification, although you may receive the occasional spot check. We’ve been growing organically here at Coleshill Organics for over 25 years, so the inspection is usually quite a relaxed, friendly affair, starting with coffee and a general chat about business.

On the Audit Trail…

People often assume the organic inspection is all about testing our produce or the soil to see if we are using any prohibited fertilisers or pesticides. While that can—and indeed does—happen, the main part of the inspection is an office-based audit trail, involving a detailed inspection of our records.

Soil Association inspector, Paul Farmer (left), walks the garden with our grower, Matt

Soil Association inspector, Paul Farmer (left), walks the organic garden with our grower, Matt

The inspector chooses at random a particular bought-in veg that we ordered from the organic wholesaler to go into your veg boxes on a particular week. (This time, he chose cucumbers.) He then looks at my invoices to check that I bought in and sold the same amount. That all worked out. He will also check for any derogations that I have applied for and been granted. Under the organic rules, any deviation from the strict organic standards must usually be requested in advance or your certification could be at risk. A derogation might be needed if, for example, organic seed is not available for a particular veg variety you want to grow, in which case, we have to get permission to buy non-organic seed. All of that was in order, too.

The robustness of the organic inspection process gives me—and my customers—an assurance that we really can trust products displaying the Soil Association organic symbol

Paul then went outside and walked the garden with Matt. They talked about our crop rotations (are we giving enough time between particular crops to minimise the risk of disease?), our fertility building practices (are we pushing the land too much or using restricted fertilisers?) and crop yields. The inspector’s then do a similar audit trail for a crop grown out in the fields. This is always a little more difficult, as the number of lettuce seeds sown doesn’t always match up with the number of lettuces harvested. But Paul was happy.

A Big Relief

Although we’ve been inspected at least 25 times, and I take it as a given, I must admit that it’s always a slightly nervous affair… and a relief to pass! The robustness of the organic inspection process gives me—and my customers—an assurance that we really can trust products displaying the Soil Association organic symbol.

Sonia