From the beginning we have been committed to growing as naturally as possible with limited inputs and a focus on sustainable methods. Folks at the market ask all the time if we are certified organic and the answer is always a mouthful because using the word “organic” is controlled by the USDA. In the short interactions I have with customers at the market it is hard to convey that yes, we use organic methods even though we are not certified.
So why not pursue organic certification? We have definitely thought about it. On a practical level, the cost of certification and the paperwork/inspection process are stumbling blocks for a farm as small and lean as ours. Though small farms certainly do pursue organic certification, in general it seems more geared toward larger farms. And on our scale, where we can know most of our customers and they can know us and our practices, the expense and hassle just don’t seem necessary or worthwhile.
Still, we wanted to be able to provide some sort of verification to our customers that we are indeed following the practices we claim. Enter Certified Naturally Grown or CNG. CNG is a grass-roots certification program geared for small farmers like us. Annual dues are a suggested donation of $200, though farmers can pay less if needed. The paperwork is more streamlined and less of a burden on our lean operation.
But here’s the part we love best – inspections are conducted by other CNG farmers in your area. This gives the opportunity to connect with other growers, to learn from one another and to create supportive networks in the community. All CNG farmers are required to inspect one other farm each year and you are not allowed to inspect the farm that inspected you. Our inspection last year was such a valuable experience because the inspector/fellow farmer walked our fields with us talking about our operation. He gave lots of helpful tips on things we could improve or tweak and I think he learned a bit from some of the things we were doing. Similarly, I had a great time doing my inspection of a neighbor farm and learned som much from seeing his set up. Rather than high pressure, make or break inspections by outside auditors, CNG views the inspection process as equal parts learning opportunity, community building and inspection/verification of your practices.
Another awesome part of the CNG program is the transparency they encourage. Anyone can log on to their website and see the profile and inspection forms of any certified farm. In fact, here’s a link to our profile. Feel free to check it out if you have any questions about our growing practices.
We are proud to be Certified Naturally Grown. CNG is in the midst of a membership drive, so if you’re a fellow farmer, check them out and consider becoming certified yourself. And if you’re a customer, look for and support the CNG farmers at your local market, including us!