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iCertify

iCertify: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms

in 2021/Current Issue/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2021

Corinne Impey

Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms is a family-run seasonal mushroom farm in Kaslo, BC.

Now in their fifth year of business, and their second year being BC Certified Organic, they specialize in gourmet mushroom varieties such as shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane, among many others. They also produce spawn, grow-at-home kits, and other cultivation supplies.

As a member of the Kootenay Organic Growers Society (KOGS), Robin Mercy of Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms was able to use iCertify for the first time in 2021 to complete their annual certification online.

“Although there were some small redundancies as I moved over from the old system to iCertify, I felt that for the most part the system was intuitive and there wasn’t too much of a learning curve,” says Robin. “There was a bit of work to be done reformatting some of my information to align with new wordings and questions, but I’m hopeful that come 2022, a renewal should be much easier using this system.”

Robin Mercy. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

Robin was one of many operators from KOGS who used iCertify for the 2021 season.

“KOGS was very excited to begin transitioning part of our membership this year to the iCertify platform,” says Emma Sowiak, KOGS chair. This was in part because it meant lightening the load on their certification committee—by moving away from boxes of hefty paper files—and also because it afforded them the opportunity to refresh their current application.

“iCertify has added more scope and detail to the application process, especially for our specialty growers like Robin. For example, this gives both the operator and the certification committee a better understanding of what is involved in growing organic mushrooms!”

For Robin at Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms, a few key features in iCertify stood out.

“I think the way that it’s possible to choose which sections apply to your operation is really important. As a producer of mushrooms that are container-grown in greenhouses, there’s a lot of differences between my application and a typical soil-based crop application, and it’s nice to be able to choose up-front which parts of the application are relevant.”

Reishi mushroom. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

He also used iCertify’s newest feature, a searchable database of input products that have already been approved by each participating certifying body (CB) for use in organic production.

This new feature includes a simplified way for members to request and receive approval for products directly from within the iCertify portal. It also includes the ability for each member to track their own list of approved products and monitor the approval expiry dates.

“Most of my inputs had not been listed yet, but I think it’ll be easy and quick to get input approval in the future once the list is expanded,” says Robin. “And even though individual CBs are still responsible for approving inputs and applications, it’s nice to have some shared information.”

Beyond completing his application and looking forward to using the approved products database, Robin also says iCertify has great value for the industry as a whole.

“I think it’s important to have a standardized application process province-wide, and an online one like iCertify seems like the best choice.”

Now that his online application has been submitted, Robin is looking ahead to what the rest of 2021 has in store for Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, there’s been a big increase in inquiries about growing supplies,” says Robin. “We’re responding to that need by focusing on producing high quality kits and spawn, and creating educational media and courses outlining ways to grow mushrooms at home. We are also working to get more of our products available for online purchase. On the fresh mushroom front, we’re hoping to increase production by around 50%, and expand our Mushroom Box CSA program to Nelson, BC. It’s a lot to keep up with, but should be a very exciting year for us!”

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, under the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Featured image: A selection of certified organic mushrooms. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms

iCertify is now live for 2021 applications and renewals

in COABC Blog

iCertify, COABC’s online organic certification system, is now ready for 2021 applications and renewals. Please contact your local certification body directly to confirm if they are using iCertify.

The system has been updated with the new organic standards and also includes an exciting new feature – a searchable database of products that have already been approved for use by your certification body, such as crop amendments, cleaners and pest control substances.

This new feature includes a simplified way to request and receive approval for products directly from within the iCertify portal and the ability to track your own list of approved products and monitor the approval expiry dates.

To help you make the most of the system in 2021, the iCertify team will be hosting a variety of online training sessions this winter. Please check out the training calendar on the website here or speak to your certification body for more information.

To find the latest iCertify news, please visit: certifiedorganic.bc.ca/icertify where you will find:

  • Latest updates
  • FAQs
  • Training dates and details
  • Online training library of videos and resources

 

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, under the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Organic Certification Streamlined and Simplified with iCertify

in 2021/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2021

Corinne Impey

The start of 2021 marks year two of using iCertify, COABC’s online organic certification system. Last year, over 150 members used iCertify to apply for, or renew, their organic certification.

This year will see more members and more certification bo dies using the system for the first time, while many operators will be returning and benefiting from a simplified renewal process. Behind the scenes, the team has been busy updating the questions to reflect the new organic standards, and developing some new features. The most anticipated update? A database of approved products. Here’s everything you need to know.

iCertify Launches Database of Approved Products

New this year, iCertify will include a database of products that have been pre-approved for use in organic production. This new feature includes a simplified way to request approval for products and the ability to search a database of products already approved by your certification body.

With this new feature you:

  • Don’t have to wait for product approval if it has already been verified by your certification body.
  • Can see expiration dates and supporting documents for approved items.
  • Can search for suppliers of a particular type of product.
  • Can easily share your approved inputs list with verification officers during your inspection.

“As both a farmer and a Certification Committee member, I’m very excited for the upcoming database of approved products,” says Jay Williamson of Tendergreens Farm in the Comox Valley, and Certification Committee Chair.

“The ability to search for items in a database of pre-approved products will make it faster and easier for growers to select and source soil amendments and other inputs without having to figure out if products are acceptable for organic use or wait for Certification Committee approval,” says Jay. “It will also greatly reduce the number of product approvals needing to be reviewed by the Certification Committee, and will eliminate a lot of the repetition in the product approval process.”

Jay showing off the radish harvest. Credit: Tendergreens Farm

Product Search

From fertilizers to cleaners to pest management products and more, if there is an existing record for the product you want to use, it will appear in the database’s search results. Simply add it to your “My Products” list to see if it has been approved for use by your certification body. Your personalized list will include not only an expiry date, but the ability to renew the approval with the click of a button. During inspection, you can simply log in to your iCertify account and show your inspector your list of approved products and compliance documents, all in one place.

“Over time, as we approve more products and the database grows, it will become an incredibly useful tool not just for existing members, but also for new farmers working towards organic certification,” says Jay.

Requesting New Approvals

You can also use this feature to request new input approvals. Simply follow the steps to upload relevant supporting documents (such as product ingredients list, third party verification, labels, etc.) and request a review directly from within the iCertify system.

Be sure to check with your certification body regarding any fees for these requests, then submit and wait for a decision. You can check on the status of your request at any time, by logging in and reviewing your “My Products” tab.

If the product is approved, it will automatically be added to your “My Products” list complete with any specific instructions or restriction information. Denied products will also be listed with an explanation for denial.

While COABC certification bodies will work together to share product records and compliance documentation, each certification body will approve products for its own members.

Verification officer Megan Halstead. Credit: Megan Halstead.

“Input review questions are one of the most common questions I get asked as a verification officer,” says Megan Halstead. “What a wonderful resource this will be for operators! I feel certain that it will save time and frustration for operators, and hopefully also help make sense of the standards. Since the approved lists will be easy to generate, I think the verification process will be easier during inspections, too.”

This database of approved inputs is managed under the COABC umbrella of certification bodies. It is for and accessible by COABC members only.

Please contact your local certification body directly to confirm if they are using iCertify or the database of approved products this year.

Jay with fresh potatoes. Credit: Tendergreens Farm

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Featured image: Farmer Jay Williams beaming with excitement at Tendergreens Farm. Credit: Tendergreens Farm.

Off-Grid Organic Farm Shifts to iCertify: Solstedt Organics

in 2020/COABC Blog/Fall 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards

Corinne Impey

Tucked into the wilderness of the Fraser River Canyon, water flows from a glacial-fed creek on Ashala Daniel’s off-grid five-acre organic farm, Solstedt Organics.

Living with a palpable link to the land, Ashala applies low-energy practices and sustainable farming techniques that minimize the dependence on machinery in the garden. She has fruit trees on half of her land and grows heat-loving ground crops on the rest. 

With 2020 marking her fifth year of farming, Ashala was keen to try COABC’s new online organic certification system, iCertify, to do her annual renewal. Certified through North Okanagan Organics Association (NOOA), Ashala started the new process in January. 

“My experience with iCertify was very positive, though I am very glad I went to the training session provided to be able to ask a human the questions I had,” says Ashala.  

Ashala of Solstedt Organics. Credit: Stefano Piccone.

“iCertify seems to be more in depth than my previous certification application and I wanted to make sure I was providing all necessary information. iCertify is more complex for sure, but easy to work through all the stages. I liked that I could save the application renewal and go back and work on it in pieces.”

Some of the greatest benefits, says Ashala are less paper and more consistency in reporting overall. It’s also creating a stronger link between farmers.

“I can now talk to other farmers who are certified with different providers about the application process and we are talking about the same thing,” says Ashala. 

Because of the shift to an online system, Ashala also says there could be benefits to the industry as a whole. “I believe organic certification will be taken more seriously and it will enable farmers to be more organized in their reporting and accountability.”

And now, with her renewal application submitted, Ashala can get back to focusing on the farm season ahead. 

You can find Solstedt Organics produce at Trout Lake Farmer’s Market and in fine Vancouver restaurants from July until October.

Solstedt Organics farm crew. Credit: Esther Amezcua.

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Certification Coordinator Welcomes New Online System With Open Arms!

in 2020/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

Corinne Impey

When it comes to growing, organic certification, and supporting local operators, Cara Nunn could be considered an expert. She has also seen many changes over her 20-year career in the organic industry.

Cara is the Certification Coordinator for the North Okanagan Organics Association (NOOA) and the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA).

“My interest in growing began at a very young age as a child raised on a market garden in the Lake District of the Okanagan,” says Cara, who has a professional background in biogeography and experience working as a Managing Agrologist in the ginseng industry.

Cara started working with NOOA in 1997 and later expanded her work to include SOOPA. Now, nearly 23 years later, Cara continues to support organic growers and operators. Most recently, Cara has been helping her operators with the switch to iCertify, COABC’s newly launched online organic certification and renewal system. At the same time, she has been learning new skills and processes related to the administration of the online program.

“The system has come together better than I could have asked for,” says Cara. Having participated in the initial system development as well as many system demos, feedback gathering sessions, and testing, Cara played an active role in the project. “I really appreciate the input we had in developing the questions and format,” she says.

“The system is very robust and extremely capable,” says Cara. She acknowledges that at times, it can be a bit daunting, but “the iCertify Technical Advisor has been invaluable in getting answers and finding how to navigate the system.”

Regardless of any challenges related to learning a new system, she says the move to online certification is important. “I see the biggest benefit being an integrated location for all operator information: files, emails, communications, uploads, reports. Everything—chronological and orderly!”

“Record management has been heading this way for decades,” says Cara. “And the benefits go beyond the certification bodies.”

“The ability to provide details about our industry to government and funding bodies will provide a stronger voice for organics. It is also important for ourselves to have an integrated, clear system to verify integrity of organics to our own members and within our industry.”

Looking ahead, Cara is anticipating the launch of a new feature in iCertify: a database of approved inputs that will become available this summer. This database will be managed under the COABC umbrella of certification bodies and will be accessible to COABC members.

“To be able to offer an ongoing list of approved inputs and products throughout the community and have it accessible to our producers will keep the knowledge flowing,” says Cara. “It will also streamline the time involved in verifying products that may have already been looked at by another certification body.”

“Pooling resources and building community is a strength of the BC Certified Organic Program that I am happy to support.”


Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Feature image: Cara Nunn building her new greenhouse. Credit: Maia Nunn

First Generation Farmers Find Ease with iCertify Renewal

in Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2020/Tools & Techniques

Amy Lobb & Calum Oliver, Makoha Farm

Corinne Impey

Makoha Farm is owned and operated by Amy and Calum, who began their farming journey in 2019 on 0.6 acres of leased land on Cordova Bay Ridge in Saanich, BC.At Makoha Farm, they want their love of good food to come across in what they grow: providing tasty, healthy, and top-quality produce. They grow a diversity of vegetable crops and have quickly fallen in love with growing flowers for cut arrangements.

Currently at the start of their second year of farming, Mahoka Farm is part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, a certified organic incubator farm in Saanich, BC.

As they geared up for their 2020 organic renewal with Islands Organic Producers Association earlier this year, they were looking forward to trying iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system.

Amy with a harvest of leeks. Credit: Kristina Coleman

“iCertify was quite simple to use when it came time to do our renewal,” says Amy. “The webinar preview and in-person training sessions were helpful and informative and made the process undaunting. To be honest, I feel that even if I hadn’t done the initial training before starting my renewal I wouldn’t have had any issues.” In particular, Amy found the clear and simple layout easy to follow.

“Also, having the percentage complete bars for each section is a nice touch visually, quickly letting you know if you missed something or giving you peace of mind that you’re almost done.”

Amy looks forward to future renewals where the process will be even more streamlined now that everything lives in iCertify. “It will be interesting to see how everything goes during next year’s renewal,” says Amy. “It should save us time in the future, only needing to update information that may have changed for our operation and uploading our annual forms.”

Time saved doing administration work means more time spent focused on farming. For 2020, Makoha has launched their first flower CSA subscription, which includes a small veggie box add-on option.

“We can’t wait to share this with the community. As the season begins in this world of uncertainty, we’re also happy to be able to still provide the local community with food for their homes. No matter what happens, we will be here growing food and offering it to the public.”


Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Feature image: Amy and Calum of Makoha Farm. Credit: Amy Lobb

iCertify, COABC’s Online Organic Certification System, is now live

in COABC Blog

After much hard work and contributions from many COABC members, we are excited to announce that iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system, is now live!

Designed to support organic operators and certifiers in BC, iCertify is an innovative province-wide online tool for organic certification. This user-friendly, secure online system streamlines the organic certification process, making it easier to apply for a new certification or submit an annual renewal.

A true team effort involving operators, verification officers, certification committee members, administrators, and COABC board and team members from across the province, a big thanks is due to everyone who has contributed to this project over the last few years!

To learn more about iCertify, please visit: certifiedorganic.bc.ca/icertify

Interested in using iCertify for your renewal or certification? Please contact your local certification body directly.

Looking for support using iCertify? Check out our training library: certifiedorganic.bc.ca/icertify/helplibrary.php

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Growing into the Future of Organics

in 2020/Organic Community/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Administrative Director, Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA)

The future of organic is on everyone’s mind these days, and many conversations have circled around change. Recently, organic growers have been presented with several changes, from organic becoming a protected label to new online tools, which means we’ve all had to find time to grow (farm pun intended).

The regulation of the organic label last year has moved BC’s organic sector from a grassroots movement firmly into the realm of regulations, paper trail transparency, and auditing. Organic Certification has definitely evolved over the last 40 years. While full of positive changes, including a bigger organic sector, consumer demand for organic, and, most importantly, an ever-growing community of organic and food producers, this type of transition can be difficult for people who are conditioned to the founding philosophy of BC’s organic grassroots movement.

Although the requirement to follow these regulatory documents in detail can seem daunting and bureaucratic, we should view it as a communal commitment to do our best to identify potential areas where organic integrity may be at risk. The idea is that as an organic community, we want to continually improve our skills and products. But many changes all at once can cause ‘change fatigue,’ a sense of resignation people feel when faced with too much change, and thus result in decreased commitment.

In addition to the regulation of organic, record keeping skills have been pushed into the spotlight as the transition to digital means it is possible for every last detail to be captured and stored. Operators are being pushed to step up their game and ensure their records contain all the detail required by the regulations to ensure full transparency and accountability.

The introduction of pre-made templates for record keeping is an essential and valuable move to support producers with the demands of record keeping. These helpful, ready-to-use templates are being promoted for use by all Certifying Bodies (CBs) under the COABC umbrella.

If we can all use the same record keeping documents, it will increase consistency amongst BC’s organic producers and make the job of Certification Committees (CCs) and Verification Officers (VOs) more efficient, as they will not have to sift through various record keeping methods and formats. They will become familiar with the specific set of forms and where the information they are trying to find is located. This will also assist members if they need to transfer to a different CB, as the record trail will be the same for both CBs. Above all, record templates will help new members understand which information they are required to keep, and it means they don’t have to worry about developing their own records, while simultaneously developing their farming skills.

The online portal (iCertify) is a big change from days of handwritten documents being mailed in to CBs. Many folks have already transitioned to electronic documents over the last few years. Sending multiple files via sometimes-multiple, size-restricted emails can be time consuming and the risk is that file attachments and notes in email messages may not make it into an enterprise’s digital files. iCertify will eliminate lost files, as each document uploaded by an operator will be instantly stored securely and indefinitely on COABC’s own dedicated server, ready for retrieval by their CB administrator, CC, or VO. It means operators will also have access to all their current and previous application and renewal answers and all previously uploaded documents anytime with the click of a button. This is a future change that will initially require some training and new skills development, but in short order it is bound to make certification easier for everyone involved in the process.

With many changes in the organic sector, we must keep in our minds that our goal, as a community, is to continue to improve organics and make our processes more efficient. We cannot allow change fatigue to hold us back. Instead, we should strive to be adaptive and view future changes in organics as a continual evolution.

We want to maintain the feeling of community with our fellow organic growers, and not allow that connection to get lost in regulatory documents and feelings of scrutiny. We need to hold on to some of our past as we evolve into the future. We cannot forget that people choose to grow organically, not only as a profit seeking initiative, but because they share a belief in the values and philosophies of organic, for the health of ourselves and the world.

The beauty we must remember is that we all get to have our say in the ongoing development of the organic standards via the standards review process.

We are still a community. We are just bigger.

Stay tuned for iCertify updates!


Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA): certifying farms on Vancouver Island and Surrounding Islands since 1990.

Funding for iCertify has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

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