OrganicLea’s Hawkwood Nursery had its first organic inspection a couple of weeks ago. Subject to a little bit of extra paperwork, we are pleased to announce that, as of this time next year, Hawkwood produce will be classed as “in conversion to organic”, and the following year can be labelled as Organic. Our actual techniques will change very little – as our name suggests, we have always promoted and practiced organic gardening. We are WFA affiliated, sell within 6 miles of our site and our gates are open for people to come and have a look at how we attempt to produce food by working with nature. So why go to the bother and expense of getting regularly inspected by the Soil Association?
Well, for one thing, organic certification is an independent guarantee to the customer, and as we are beginning to feed people who may not have a long-term relationship with us, for example people who happen to grab a bite at Table 7 restaurant in Chingford, this may be important. Secondly, our partners in East Anglia, Hughes Organics, is certified organic, and it is good for us to be on a “level playing field” with them, and fully understand the trials and triumphs of having to pass annual inspection and scrutiny.
Third, and relatedly, we become producer members of the Soil Association, who remain an important national voice for sanity in the food system. Important but not imperfect: small growers and community retailers like us, who ultimately are our only hope of really tackling the social-environmental crises facing us, are the pioneers and backbone of the organic movement, but have not always been well served by the leadership in their desire to court big players such as supermarkets and large landowners. OrganicLea are now, amongst other things, fully paid up members of a network of organic producers, on whom any hope for a “future-proof” food system rests heavily. This is what we have to remind ourselves when we next have to send off for permission to use dried seaweed!
The previous day, OrganicLea members Clare and Brian took on the role of inspectors – of Mrs. Begum’s allotment plot in Leyton. Mrs. B is one of our decentralised Cropshare growers who markets her surplus produce through our box scheme and stall, growing in accordance with Wholesome Food Association principles.
Then there are the really valuable “inspections” by volunteers and visitors returning after an absence from Hawkwood. Working day by day, you notice the seasons steadily ringing the changes, but not the “time lapse” perspective of sporadic encounters. When others are moved to remark how on how good the Entrance Field is looking, or how the cucumbers have grown, it’s a Wages Day.
Of course, self-inspection is paramount but easily overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily industry. I try to walk the site and commune with the flora and fauna once a week. This week I can report that the peppers and celery are well on their way. It feels like we’ve passed most inspections with the flying colours of high summer.