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Certified Naturally Grown as an alternative to Organic?

J Kunkel

Joined: Apr 07, 2012
Posts: 9
Hello all,

I'm interested in Certified Naturally Grown as a alternative to Organic certification. From their website it looks like they follow the Organic requirements but rename the certification. The reason for my interest in this is the prohibitive cost of Organic certification for a small grower, and the idea that Certified Naturally Grown can be personally explained to my customers in either a farmers' market or in person on the farm. If I ever grew my operation large enough to provide product to resellers then I could pursue Organic certification.

Has anyone had any experience with Certified Naturally Grown? Do you think my apprehension to the cost of full Organic certification is justified for a small operation?

John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6884
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
Absolutely. In some areas, "certifiers" are not readily available, and you would need to fly one in to do the inspection. And we all know how expensive people can live when they are on the road, and on an expense account.

Explain to your customers that if you went to all of that expense, you would need to charge more for your produce, which would be the same produce as you now grow. I believe CNG is a good option for the smaller growers.

Taylor Stewart

Joined: Feb 15, 2012
Posts: 45
If you're doing face to face transactions, I don't see much advantage in certified organic. The certification favors economy of scale way too much, it's a question of certification cost per unit. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a loophole if you sell less than 5k? You can sell your produce as organic if you follow organic standards, keep records, and stay below that 5k just can't use the organic logo.

Maybe that won't fit what you need, but I wanted to throw that out there.
darius Van d'Rhys

Joined: Jul 07, 2011
Posts: 56
Location: SW Virginia Mountains, USA
Most of the vendors at my local Farmer's Market are not certified organic (due to the cost of certification), but simply state their foods are raised organically. That satisfies 99% of us who trust our known suppliers, all local farmers. In my own garden everything is organic and I wouldn't hesitate to give some away saying it was organic.

Consumers are getting wiser!
wayne stephen

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
I would rather buy conventionally grown from my Amish neighbor than " Organic " from Walmart or Krogers. If your face to face with your customers and can educate informally - do you need a certification? We just say it is organic for our CSA vegie/fruit produce. We sayPastured for our chickens and Free Range for our eggs even though I buy conventional feed from Amish man who mills the grains and grows the corn- most of it. No local official has ever asked me for proof.

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josh brill

Joined: Sep 06, 2010
Posts: 86
We are a small farm and we follow organic practices but are not certified. In our area there are several farms that are in the same position. Once we grow a little more we will most likely become certified. I think the problem with CNG is consumer education. Organic is a powerful brand because of the education of the consumer. There are plenty of problems with the regulations and people cheating but to the average person Organic means something and they are willing to pay a bit more for it.

There is also a weird thing about customers at market. Most of the time the default to thinking that the food is organic or at least treated differently then what they get at the grocery store. At our market the majority of farms are using non organic practices so the assumption is false and they don't go out of their way to tell the customer different.

It would be interesting to here from someone who has gone through the CNG process.
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Suzie Browning

Joined: Jun 10, 2010
Posts: 48
Location: Southwestern Ohio
jbreezy McCoy wrote:Most of the time the default to thinking that the food is organic or at least treated differently then what they get at the grocery store.

This is very common where I live. People automatically assume that if it is grown by someone local, it's organic. I'm very vocal about my practices and try to educate others enough that they will start to ask other growers.

There is a small farm near me that used to be certified organic and dropped it because of the cost. They have no trouble selling their product without any certification. Yup, "know your grower" makes all the difference in the world in these parts.

On the border of Zones 5 & 6 on the last 2 acres of what was once a large farm.  Flat, flat and more flat!
Josh T-Hansen

Joined: Jul 14, 2010
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
I like the CNG, and I think its growing! The general public doesn't know about it, but I think it has advantages over saying "uncertified" "organic". Who wants to be uncertified? I view CNG as a strong and specific farmer's pledge. CNG farmers do not want others ruining the CNG reputation, so in some cases and places it has more integrity than organic. Six Circles farm (link in my sig) is CNG and the logo looks really good on their value added products, which is especially nice for people who receive them as gifts.

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Pat Black

Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
My farm has been certified organic before there was even a national standard. Depending on where you live, it's not necessarily expensive to be certified. There is a federal program that reimburses 75% of your costs.

That said, there are plenty of reasons not to certify. I agree that if all you're doing is direct marketing, it's not needed. The <$5K sales exemption allows smaller growers a way to avoid certification.

But really the main reason I am seriously considering dropping my farm's certification is that it's becoming increasing difficult to comply with the changing interpretations of the regulations. Maybe if all you're doing is field cropping with rotations and cover crops for fertility you won't have much problem there. But if you use any external inputs in your organic system plan, you will someday get a letter from your certifier that product X is no longer allowable and you have to discontinue use immediately. It doesn't matter if stopping the use of the product destroys your crop, you have to stop with no advance notice. Then, if you decide you're just going to sell the crop as "conventional" you would not be able to ccertify that land for another 3 years because you used a product that yesterday was organic and today is not.

Certified naturally grown is a cute farmer pledge but carries no real enforcement mechanism and is largely people agreeing to something they could hardly understand, therefore not very meaningful. The farmer has to take a pledge that they are following all the NOP regulations. As I said above, the regs are in a constant state of reinterpretation and modification. The chief inspectors at certifying agencies are all at it fulltime, keeping abreast of all the changes. No peer farmer review program would ever be able to be fully knowledgeable of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regs to be able to certify another farm.

Here's an example. Let's say a farm uses chilean nitrate to supply nitrogen in a field. Is that organic or not? Under Certified Naturally Grown, the peer farmer who's reviewing your farm has to research the correct ways in which chilean nitrate may be used in crop production. Well the federal register will give you one place to look, but you would have to keep up on NOP bulletins for the complete information. The current NOP interpretation is that chilean nitrate can only 20% of the total nitrogen required to produce the crop. So if you have a field of mixed vegetables, the grower has to identify the crop in the field that uses the least amount of nitrogen to mature. Everything else in the field can only receive the same rate as the crop needing the least. It's obvious that a peer review would never in practice catch such a violation of the NOP standards. And even if it were caught, what's the enforcement? If you cheat under CNG, who's going to sue you to stop using the label? If you cheat under NOP, USDA yanks your certification and you can be fined. They have enforcement people.

My bottom line criticism is that CNG claims its farmers are following NOP rules, but none of the farmers are really fully knowledgeable enough to know for certain. Without a written organic systems plan that can get reviewed by the experts, it's not able to meet NOP rules. Record keeping and expert verifiation the fundamental basis of organic certification. Anything else is believing what a farmer tells you.

With CNG being pretty low in meaning, why not make up your seal and just use that instead? Then you don't even need another farmer to come over and see what you're doing. Call it Certified Natural By J Kunkel.

If you want a "close enough" certification for marketing purposes, CNG fits the bill. But don't think you'd have a smooth transition to NOP certification after you get a CNG stamp of approval.

subject: Certified Naturally Grown as an alternative to Organic?