Inspections 2.0

These ideas were presented to CNG producers and have evolved since then, based on the input of the 160+ members who expressed interest in discussing them with other members. 

The current status of each idea, as of October 2019, is indicated below the idea headline. The Q&A below each idea were last updated at 10am Eastern on December 15, 2017, at the beginning of these discussions. 

Idea #1. Shift to point-based inspections

This idea will not be pursued, based on feedback from members (10/21/19)

The idea outlined on 12/15/17:
For each question asked on the inspection worksheets, multiple choice answers are provided, and a farm is assigned a number of points for each question, depending on which answer reflects their practices. There are some answers, however, which would result in the farmer not passing the inspection. (This is not a situation where you can make up for violations in one area by scoring high in another area.) See an example from Sri Lanka here. Upon completion of the inspection worksheets, the total number of points is tallied and the farm receives an overall score. This score would not be shared on the farm's profile, but rather is intended to help the farmer assess their improvements from one year to the next. 
The benefits of this approach would be to:
  1. Provide better guidance on best practices (and a framework around which we might develop some educational programs)
  2. Encourage and support continuous improvement
  3. Shift away from a long-answer format to a more structured inspection framework

Q&As about Shifting to a Point-Based Inspections
  • Does this mean a farm qualifies to be CNG by earning a certain number of points? No. We currently envision that the new format would go beyond our current approach of pass/fail, and help farmers assess where and how they can make improvements in their operations, and where they're doing particularly well! So long as a member is in alignment with CNG standards, they will pass the inspection, regardless if they have a low point score. The purpose of this new approach is to provide more guidance for discussions and recommendations made during inspections. 
  • Will this mean more paperwork? No. The new format would replace the current forms - not be in addition to them. In fact, it's likely that there will be less writing if we make this shift. 
  • Will CNG use the same questions that are used in the example from Sri Lanka? No. We will develop our own questions based on our current inspection worksheets. So for example, we won't be asking for financial information. (We never have, and we don't see value in starting!)
  • Will this result in some kind of ranking or comparison of farms? No. This system is designed to help farmers assess their own performance and potential for improvement. It is not designed, nor appropriate, to compare one farm's score to another. Some farms won't have the option to score high on some questions, and that's not a mark against the farm. For example, an orchardist typically won't have as much need - or capacity - for a well-developed crop rotation plan, compared to an annual vegetable grower, so we would expect them to get a low score on that particular question. 
  • Would the farm's score be part of their public profile? No. We may eventually want members to have the option to indicate their score, but this new idea needs to be further developed and discussed with members. 

Idea #2Shift to group inspections

This idea has evolved since 2017, and is being piloted in two parts:
  1. the new Technical Lead/Mentor initiative, and
  2. the Observer opportunity for beginning farmers and community stakeholders.
The idea outlined on 12/15/17: The group would consist of a Technical Leader and one or two community stakeholders. The Technical Leader is typically an experienced CNG farmer who has completed at least three inspections. The specific date and time of the inspection is established by the farmer and the technical leader. Then community stakeholders are invited to participate at that pre-determined time. 
The benefits of this approach would be to: 
  1. Expand appreciation for what it takes to be a CNG producer by creating a role for community stakeholders in the certification process
  2. Help ensure thorough inspections, and better support for newer members, by having a qualified Technical Leader
  3. Make it easier to set dates and find qualified inspectors for busy farmers, by providing more assistance with inspection arrangements
  4. Add to CNG's credibility in the marketplace, because of the increased transparency from having more witnesses to the inspection 
  5. Increase awareness and appreciation for CNG by involving more community stakeholders in the certification process.

Q&As about Shifting to Group Inspections
  • It's already a challenge to arrange an inspection date between two people - won't it be even harder with a group? No, not necessarily. 1) We would seek to identify and support a local inspection coordinator whose job is to assist with making the inspection arrangements. 2) Arranging group inspections could be easier than you might assume. In Sri Lanka, the date is set by the farmer and the Technical Leader. Then members of the community are invited to attend on that particular date, and the two (sometimes three) spots fill quickly. They often have more volunteer-stakeholders than open spots! People are eager to get out to a farm and participate in the process. 
  • So what kind of a group are we talking about? Typically the group will include the following: 
    • CNG farmer
    • Technical Leader - who conducts the inspection
    • Community Stakeholder #1 - who witnesses but does not assess or advise
    • Community Stakeholder #2 - who witnesses but does not assess or advise
  • Who are these "community stakeholders"? It depends on the local community, of course. Here are some possibilities:
    • CSA members
    • other CNG farmers (who may become Technical Leaders)
    • retired CNG farmers (who may become Technical Leaders)
    • prospective CNG farmers
    • Slow Food Chapter leaders
    • the farmers market manager
    • county extension agent (who may become a Technical Leader)
    • the produce buyer from a local independent grocer
    • members of the local Food Policy Council
    • a leader of the local gardening club
  • Looks like many of those stakeholders won't really know anything about farming. Will they complete the inspection reports? No. The Technical Leader would complete the report. The stakeholders are there as observers. They may not give advice. They will be given time to ask some questions, but they should approach the inspection as a learning opportunity. Most of discussion will be between the farmer and the Technical Leader.
  • Wouldn't the group inspection make the discussion unfocused? No. See above. And note that there typically should be no more than two - rarely three - members of the community in addition to the Technical Leader. 
  • Would it be required for all members to have group inspections in the first year? No. We'd likely pilot these ideas in one or two states. Even in the pilot states, and eventually if the idea is implemented nationwide, we expect that some farms will need to submit inspection reports completed by individuals, rather than groups. 
  • Would having a Technical Leader replace the peer-review model? Not at all! The Technical Leaders would primarily be other CNG farmers, only there would be a more developed screening process to identify them. 
  • Does the Technical Leader do all the inspections in a given area? No. The goal would be to identify as many Technical Leaders as possible in a given area. 
  • So then what about the work requirement for farmers who aren't yet Technical Leaders? Members could meet their work requirement (conducting an inspection) by joining a group inspection as a community stakeholder, even if they're not yet a Technical Leader. In fact, being a part of a certain number of group inspections would likely be a pre-requisite to becoming a technical lead. 
  • Should the Technical Leader get paid? Maybe, if they're in an area where there are few Technical Leaders, so they're called on to conduct more than one inspection per year. However, we intend to remain true to the peer-review spirit of CNG, and will be working to avoid situations where any one person is identified as THE technical lead for a given area. Eventually many or most farmers who join CNG could qualify to serve as technical leads. 
  • What would be the requirements to become a Technical Leader? There are many details yet to be determined, but one approach could look something like this: 
    • has a background in agriculture, ecology, or some related field
    • has participated in at least three CNG farm inspections
    • has been approved to serve as a Technical Leader by a panel of Technical Leader