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Certified Organic: The Inspection

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Rooftop Farm Report: Demeter Is In The Details

When I was coming up as a young nerd, tests in school were greeted with a weird mixture of anxiety and thrill. Now, lo these many years later, the feeling of being assessed can still cause a reflexive tinge of worry. Today an inspector on behalf of the Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) came by to make sure we were following procedure, which would determine our certification.

On this blog, I've already talked about about organic certification and as I mentioned, the ethic of organic growing was very familiar to me but this was my first year being responsible for certification. The paperwork we filled out earlier in the year was very detail oriented and as the day approached, I became nervous that maybe I wasn't doing enough. Were my log entries detailed enough? What if I had improperly recorded a fertilizer application? Was my crop rotation plan reasonable?

The folks at work teased me.

"What are you worried about?" asked Anna, one of the hostesses. "That you have to hide all the DDT bottles before the inspector shows up?"

Even my boss, Helen, told me to calm down. In fact, she said that the previous inspections hadn't just gone smoothly, they'd been fun and interesting. Of course, I knew they were right -- we were following all the rules -- but test anxiety is hard to overcome, especially when the bragging rights of the farm are at stake.

Mary I. Wilson, Accredited Organic Inspector, showed up this morning at ten minutes to 9:00 AM. We hit the books, going through all the paperwork we'd submitted earlier in the year looking for discrepancies and invoices for all the seeds and inputs (an input is anything other than a seed or plant that goes into the soil: fertilizers, amendments, pest control, etc.). Mary had to see the seed packets for anything we planted and checked them to see if they were organic or treated. She went through our log books to see how we'd been addressing pests. At one point, she even tallied up how many pea plants we'd grown and compared it to our harvests to make sure we weren't making up our planting or harvest records. (For the record, Mary's formula estimated that our number of pea plants should have produced 20 lbs of peas and our recorded harvest was 24.25 lbs.)

I know, I know. It sounds about as interesting as an IRS audit. But actually Helen was right, it was fun. Before becoming an inspector, Mary had run an organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin and was filled with good farming stories. As she sorted through our field plan, Mary chatted about good farming practices and she was a wealth of good information.

And of course, once the paper work was done, we went up to the roof. Being up there with a farm inspector made me see the space with new eyes. Mary was used to inspecting large acreage farms and here she was strolling through our 0.015 acre, up on a roof in Chicago as garbage trucks rattled down the alley. It's a small and loud farm. But now, in the hot and humid Chicago summer, it looked glorious. The beans, still heavy with pods, shoot high into the air; the peppers and one bed of tomatoes (read about our afflicted Earthboxes) are verdant and dense; arugula and radishes are popping up; and pollinators flirted with the herb blossoms.

In the end, Mary said that we were doing an great job and offered no concerns. I guess we passed with flying colors and all the colors were green.

This week we're harvesting tomatoes, peppers, greens and beans. Come by to see how the chefs are incorporating them into the menu. And if you make it by during our Farmer's Market on Friday afternoon from 4-8pm, I'll show you around the farm. All 0.015 acres of it.