Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) was born of a commitment to healthy food, healthy soils, and the belief they could create something uniquely valuable to family-scale farmers and the communities they feed. CNG offers peer-review certification to farmers and beekeepers producing food for their local communities by working in harmony with nature, without using synthetic chemicals or GMOs. Their standards are based on the highest ideals of the organic movement. CNG’s approach is based on transparency, direct relationships and a firm belief in our ability to create something valuable together. More than 750 farmers and beekeepers are Certified Naturally Grown. They are located in 48 states and four Canadian provinces.
Participatory Guarantee Systems are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
Certified Naturally Grown is a “Participatory Guarantee System”. PGS have existed for decades, but in recent years they have gained recognition for the valuable role they play in the organic movement by including small-scale farmers in organic guarantee systems.
PGS provide an important alternative to third-party certification programs. In addition to being more affordable, and less reliant on paperwork, PGS are distinguished by their approach. Inspections are carried out by peer-reviewers, typically other farmers in the area. The PGS model is based on transparency, trust, and direct relationships. PGS foster local networks that strengthen the farming community through mutual support and educational opportunities.
IFOAM (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) actively supports the development of PGS with educational materials, the publication of an international PGS directory, and its PGS committee. An estimated fifty thousand farmers in more than 50 countries participate in this type of peer-review certification program. In some countries PGS has gained official government recognition and has entered into organic regulations.
CNG is a private non-profit organization that’s not affiliated with the USDA’s National Organic Program. CNG’s certification approach is based on the participatory guarantee system (PGS) model that relies on peer reviews in which inspections are typically carried out by other farmers. The PGS model promotes farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing about best practices and fosters local networks that strengthen the farming community. This model uses an approach that minimizes paperwork and keeps certification dues affordable.
Another difference is that Certified Naturally Grown’s certification process is transparent and open to the public. Every CNG producer has a profile on the website. On it you will find the information they submitted in their application, as well as scanned images of their inspection reports and signed declaration.
Certified Naturally Grown provides a much-needed complement to the National Organic program. While the NOP is an important program that primarily serves medium and large-scale agricultural operations, CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities. These farmers often find the NOP’s heavier paperwork requirements are not a good fit for their small-scale operations. CNG enables them to get credit for their practices while offering accountability to their customers. Some CNG farmers become certified organic after a few years with CNG, and we think that’s just super.
We chose to be CNG for a number of reasons. First is that CNG Farms and operations tend to be smaller and independent like our Farm. While we do foresee and are planning for growth in the years ahead, we want to remain a family-owned, community based operation that is focused more on sustainable farming practices than profits.
Second, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of quality assurance. As stated above, the “PGS model is based on transparency, trust, and direct relationships. PGS foster local networks that strengthen the farming community through mutual support and educational opportunities.” We all share the belief that to have integrity as a system, it begins with an honest and heart-felt working relationship between ourselves, our land and our communities and we never want to jeopardize that foundation.
Third, costs and paperwork. Having worked at an Organic certification agency, I saw first hand the enormous volumes of paperwork that needed to be completed for each client, large or small. And while the annual cost for Organic certification is somewhat defrayed by the existing Cost Share programs, that also requires additional paperwork and doesn’t fully cover all related costs. CNG seems to have found that perfect blend of required documentation and fees, allowing oversight and monitoring to the organic standards, while still reducing much unneeded paperwork and higher overhead costs of NOP certification.
Will we consider becoming Certified Organic? Yes, however it will never be in lieu of CNG it will only be in addition to. CNG will always be our preferred certification methodology.