Have you ever asked at the farmers market “Is that organic?” and been told “No, but it is Certified Naturally Grown.” Wondering what in the world that means? Well, read on.
What is Certified Naturally Grown (CNG)?
CNG is a grassroots-led alternative to the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) for small-scale farmers who distribute their products through local venues like farmers markets, community supported agriculture subscriptions, restaurants, roadside stands and through grocery stores with local produce initiatives.
But, it’s also for shoppers trying to reduce their environmental impact by choosing locally-grown produce and farm products. Recent studies have shown that choosing locally-grown produce is a better choice with less environmental impact than organic produce that has been shipped around the world.
But what’s the difference between Certified Naturally Grown and the USDA National Organic Certification Program? In a word, it’s cost. The cost of becoming certified under the USDA’s program is prohibitive for many small local producers. The USDA’s program is better suited to medium and large commercial growers who can afford the fees and have a large enough staff to handle the paperwork requirements. The Certified Naturally Grown program is appropriate for farms selling directly in their local communities.
And lest you think that Certified Naturally Grown is something that consumers must “settle” for, according to the CNG website the standards they utilize are just the same, if not better than the USDA program. CNG farmers must commit to not using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms. To ensure that farmers are following their standards, CNG utilizes what is called a “participatory guarantee system” model in which inspections are typically carried out by other farmers, which promotes sharing and is more of a community approach:
The CNG Standards and growing requirements are based on the USDA National Organic Program rules. They are no less strict- in fact CNG farmers are constantly improving their soil and striving to increase the sustainability of their farming operations. The primary difference between CNG and the USDA Organic program is cost to farmers and paperwork requirements.
The next time you are at the farmers market, or you stop by a roadside stand in front of a local farm, don't ask "Are you certified organic?", instead ask if they are Certified Naturally Grown.
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