The Development of Certification Programs & the Formation

Following the trend developing in the organic industry, the Similkameen Valley organic growers followed suit in 1986 when 10 founding members initiated the formation of the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA). SOOPA was formed to develop a certification process and draft standards for our local organic farm community and to give some definition to a way of farming.

Certification had developed in the United States with the formation of the organization called the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), which was founded in 1975. The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) was founded at about the same time and they were followed by the formation of many other certification organizations. These organizations were in the process of defining the term "organic" by drafting standards that would guarantee quality assurance to their customers.

SOOPA encouraged, and still encourages, a high level of participation from its members and the task of drafting comprehensive grower guidelines was undertaken. As a result of these guidelines its membership grew. Originally SOOPA had a 5-year transition period, a very limited material list of allowed substances and a rigid whole farm policy. The system of third party verification was developed within the industry, which led to the formation of the "Independent Organic Inspector Association", the organization that oversees and trains our verification officers. Over time some of the policies that were drafted when the group first formed have been changed. These changes reflect an attempt to bring all standards for organic production into worldwide unity. In 1995 SOOPA changed from a 5-year transition period to a 3-year transition period.

SOOPA was the first certifying organization in British Columbia. SOOPA has farmers in its program producing everything from fruit and grapes, to ground crops, livestock, greenhouse crops and processed products.

SOOPA and other BC certification groups created the Organic Alliance, the provincial association of organic groups functioning up to 1993. The Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC) was founded in 1993 by the provincial government with the help of SOOPA and other BC certification groups using the Food Choice and Disclosure Act.

SOOPA has served as a model and inspired other organizations in the area. Today the Similkameen Valley has the highest concentration of organic growers per capita in Canada and it is growing every year.