Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Soilies

After a bit of Googling I found out that even if we were making porridge from 100% organic ingredients we weren’t allowed to write ‘organic’ on the label unless we had official ‘organic certification’. We were sure that we only wanted to make organic products so we decided to get Grassy certified, after all, how hard could it be?

After contacting The Soil Association, filling in 5 kilos of forms and receiving a set of guidelines the size of a telephone directory in the post we were given an official factory inspection date. It turns out that every single raisin that goes into our porridge needs about 5 forms proving where it was grown, who it was sold to, everything that has ever happened to it and which EXACT pot of porridge it goes in. Luckily I love filing systems and my inner minimalist saw this not as a chore but as a legitimate reason to buy a special trolley with ring-binders built in from Muji.

The fee to register our products was £700 and even if we sold all the porridge that we had made already we had no-where near that in the bank. When I phoned the Soil Association and explained that we had £100 and that we could borrow another £100 from mum they made a special arrangement with us so that we could pay the fee in instalments.

I was feeling the pressure to pass the inspection first time because failure would incur a second fee. Every clause and sub-clause in the organic telephone directory had to be strictly adhered to, cleaning rosters had to be signed every five minutes, every raisin had be accounted for. The preparation threw me into a frenzy of checking and re-checking and when the day came I knew I was ready.

Our inspector arrived expecting a factory or at least a trading estate. I welcomed him into the 6’ x 12’ kitchen of my bijoux [AE: titchy] apartment [AE: rabbit hutch] and prepared to show him my systems. His name was Mr Wells and his previous job had been as wine-gum tester in a sweet factory. This fact and his decision to carry out his inspection duties dressed in tweed knickerbockers and matching waistcoat made me instantly recognise him as a kindred spirit. When he explained how he frequently made trips to Austria to check that Tyrolean dairy herds weren’t eating contraband non-organic grass I knew that it was love. He inspected me for hours, quizzing me on origination and transportation legislation and concluded his questioning with the enigmatic statement, ‘everything appears to be in order’.

I wanted to say ‘DID WE PASS? HUH? DID WE DID WE DID WE DID WE DID WE?’ but restrained myself.

Two weeks later the man from Del Monte he say yes and I were over the moon. We were so proud to put the Soil Association logo on our products that Abi put a giant one on our website and made it spin round.




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