Here at Terra Firma, we take advantage of many forms of “technology” in our daily operations. Of course we rely heavily on cell phones for communication between the dozens of staff members who are coordinating what needs to get done, where, and when. We also use Slack for internal communication, as well as the less-well-known Farmigo platform that helps us manage your CSA accounts. We have an Instagram account.
There is one extremely popular technology platform we do not use though, ever, at Terra Firma. Zoom. There is just about no occasion when multiple staff members are sitting down in different places and need to video chat.
Earlier this fall, I was notified by our organic certifier, CCOF, that in the interest of Covid Safety, our annual farm inspection this year would be “fully virtual”. Organic inspections are not much like what most laypeople might imagine them to be: more like a tax audit than a restaurant health inspection. Most of the time is spent in the office, checking receipts and invoices. There is a brief visual inspection of the fields, but I assumed that the virtual inspection would skip that step and just focus on the paperwork. It would be tedious and time-consuming but manageable. I imagined spending the whole day on the phone with the inspector, along with lots of scanning and emails.
(In case you’re wondering, only “low-risk operations” were offered fully virtual inspections — with the “risk” being risk of fradulent activity. CCOF defines these as farms that grow 100% organic crops, have been certified for over 5 years, and have no outstanding violations of compliance.)
With our inspection scheduled for the first week of December, I quickly forgot about the whole thing…until last week, when I received the email titled “Protocols for fully Virtual Inspections”. Under the heading “Field Portion”, it noted that the farmer (me) would provide the inspector with a “live streaming video tour of all fields and facilities”. I imagine some tech-savvy person in CCOF’s office thought this would involve a Go-Pro camera mounted on the front of a farmer’s pickup, linked up via Bluetooth to the farmer’s phone or tablet in such a manner as to be streamed onto a Zoom call.
I immediately called the inspector and told him I didn’t own a video camera. He suggested that I could drive around and through all of our fields while pointing my cellphone out the windshield, all the while “Zooming” with him. I told him that the once or twice I had been on a Zoom call on my home computer, the pathetic rural internet had caused the call to crash for everyone on it. And in our fields, Verizon routinely drops simple cell phone calls. The idea that there might be a strong enough data connection for me to do a mobile Zoom tour lasting well over an hour was simply absurd.
After a long silence, he said, “Well, we could just do an in-person inspection”. He needed to get approval from his supervisor, and I had to agree to wear a mask the entire time. But in the end he agreed to a “hybrid” version where we would send him much of the paperwork he was needed to see, electronically, prior to the inspection. This would cut the amount of time needed for the in-person inspection. It was a win/win as far as I was concerned.
Covid 19 will almost certainly be remembered foremost for the tragic loss of life, jobs, and businesses that it caused around the world. But it will also end up demarcating a line between the Pre-Covid and Post-Covid eras. I hope in the P.C. era, organic inspections will be easier, more convenient, and more efficient. But I don’t think they will involve Zoom Farm Tours any time soon.