The Rise of ‘Certified Naturally Grown’

…and How it’s Shaping the Way We Eat


It All Starts with Certification…

In 2002 – twelve years after the establishment of the National Organic Program (NOP) – the new laws regulating the organic industry took effect. The program has turned out to be very effective for medium and large-sized growers who can afford the fees and have a large enough staff to handle the paperwork requirements. But, for the smaller grower the costs associated with the Program are simply too expensive. By law, the NOP is clear that only farmers certified by its program may use the Certified Organic label to signify they’ve met the required standards. So, even if you’re growing or producing food that uses strictly organic practices, but you’re not certified, you do not have the advantage of being able to promote or label your products as organic.


So… What IS Certified Naturally Grown?

Fortunately, the same year the new Organic Standards took effect, a grassroots alternative to Certified Organic was founded by farmers Kate and Ron Khosla. It became known as Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) and is easier to administer and a less expensive alternative to the USDA’s National Organic Program. CNG operates in the U.S. and Canada and is primarily used by small-scale farmers who typically sell directly in their local communities.

What Does that Mean for us?

At Mother Earth Food, we work with the CNG label as many of our food producing partners are smaller scale operations and this certification is more appropriate for their size. But don’t think that because it’s not officially labeled as certified organic, that you’re getting products that are of a lesser quality then certified organic. That’s not the case!  The only difference between certified organic and certified natural is the cost and paperwork requirements. The standards employed by both certifications are the same (as a matter of fact, the CNG Standards and growing requirements are based on the USDA National Organic Program rules) – no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, added hormones, or genetically modified organisms.

While the USDA’s organic program is reviewed by third party certifiers, CNG is peer-reviewed. To ensure that farmers are following their standards, CNG utilizes what is called a “participatory guarantee system” model in which inspections are carried out by other farmers. All CNG records are openly available online. Growers must clearly state their growing practices and sign a statement that they are abiding by all the CNG regulations (which are essentially the same as certified organic). The biggest difference in organic certification versus CNG certification (besides cost and paperwork) is that the auditors are other farmers who are allowed to offer advice as they walk the fields, talk to the grower, and evaluate the farm. USDA certifiers, on the other hand, are not allowed to offer any suggestions during an audit. To avoid any conflict of interest, you are not allowed to audit the farmer who audited you.  Additionally, every year, CNG randomly selects farms for pesticide residue testing, at no cost to the farmer.

CNG is a true alternative to the USDA’s Organic Certification Program, which typically costs thousands of dollars as opposed to the $200 to become Certified Naturally Grown. When you see the CNG label, please know that Mother Earth Food will always source food at the highest level, and we support all local efforts that encourage and enhance our smaller community farmers and food artisans as they seek to produce the safest food, both for the health and well-being of our land and for our local citizens.