Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Certified Naturally Grown label mean?
To be granted the CNG certification, farmers don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms. CNG livestock are raised mostly on pasture and with space for freedom of movement. Feed must be grown without synthetic inputs or genetically modified seeds.

Is your program for farmers who are ‘almost organic,’ but don’t qualify for the USDA Organic Certification?
No! Our standards are based on the standards of the National Organic Program. CNG participation requires a full commitment to robust organic practices.

Do you define standards that are “more than organic”?
No.  Our standards are based on the standards of the National Organic Program. Sure, many synthetic substances allowed in organic foods aren’t allowed in the CNG program. We don’t certify processed foods. And yes, we’ve made a few improvements at the margins. Our livestock standards have always included the more rigorous access to pasture requirement that the NOP finally adopted in February 2010. Also, CNG farms don’t use rotenone, which is allowed with restrictions in the NOP. But overall we’re not defining a substantially different set of standards.

Why create a whole separate program?
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 farms selling in their local communities. These farms often find the NOP’s heavier paperwork requirements are not a good fit for their small-scale operations. CNG enables these farms to get credit for their practices while showing some accountability to their customers. Some CNG farmers become certified organic after a few years with CNG, and we think that’s just super.

So how is CNG different than Certified Organic?
CNG is based on the participatory guarantee system (PGS) model in which inspections are typically carried out by other farmers. Carrying out an inspection is an annual work requirement of the CNG program. The PGS model promotes farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing about best practices and fosters local networks that strengthen the farming community.

Another difference is that Certified Naturally Grown’s certification process is transparent and open to the public - you will find every farmer's complete certification application online, as well as scanned copies of Inspection Summaries and Declarations.

How should I decide whether to have my farm certified organic or Certified Naturally Grown?
The CNG label is most useful for producers who market directly, through CSAs, farmers markets, and local food businesses. If you’re planning to sell to large retail outlets or wholesalers, the national organic program might be a better fit. Some farmers choose both certifications (about eight percent of our members), often because they appreciate the local connotations and grassroots nature of CNG, but they also need organic certification for access to wholesale organic markets. 

Would participation in the CNG program give me permission to use the word organic to describe my farming operation and products?
No. To market your farm products as organic without breaking the law, you’ll need to be certified by an agency that is accredited by USDA's National Organic Program. Certified Naturally Grown has no formal affiliation with the NOP.

How much does it cost to be a Certified Naturally Grown farmer or beekeeper?
The minimum contribution for livestock or produce certification is $110. We recommend $125 - $200 per year. The apiary certification program is newer, so while a contribution is required, and we recommend $75 - $200 per year, we don't specify a minimum. Contributions may be made in multiple payments over time by using a credit card in our store. For beginning farmers and those facing unusual hardships (like extreme weather, physical injury, or job loss) we have established a Scholarship Fund. Find details on how to apply for a scholarship here. You may wait until after your application is accepted to make your contribution.

I'm a farmer and this all sounds pretty good to me. How do I get started?

Please review the Program Requirements and Certification Standards. If your practices seem like a good fit, then submit an online application today. You can expect to hear back from us within four weeks, often sooner.

What are the program requirements if my application is approved?

Please see the Program Requirements page.

What steps help ensure that participating farms adhere to CNG standards?
Every certified member must complete an online application. Once accepted, it’s posted on their online profile for the public to see. The annual peer-review inspections ensure the program’s integrity. The local nature of the peer-review model is a benefit too, since nearby farmer-inspectors are much more likely to know what’s happening on your farm throughout the season than a third-party inspector who visits once a year for a pre-arranged inspection. Peer-support networks that develop often help ward off challenges that might tempt someone to cheat if it gets out of hand.  Peer-inspectors who participate in CNG have a stake in protecting the program’s integrity.  As an additional safeguard, CNG periodically conducts unannounced pesticide residue testing.

How can I find CNG farms near me?
Just visit our online listing of CNG members. Click the state name to see all farms in your state, or do a search by zip code to find farms within a certain radius of where you live.