Skip to content
This article was originally written by Erin France for

Where you’ll go for seeds likely will depend on what you’re looking for and how much money you can budget for your garden this year. If you’re just picking up one or two packets, shopping in a store is fine. Otherwise, you’ll likely get more interesting seeds by shopping online.

My farm products are certified naturally grown, and according to the certification, I must purchase organic seed unless I cannot find an organic option at three other businesses. Organic seeds are pricier, but cost isn’t something I can use as a reason to not purchase organic. If you’re interested in growing organic seeds, be prepared to pay a higher price.

While you’ll likely find GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in your fast food meal, you’re not likely to find them in a seed packet. Genetically engineered seeds are almost entirely geared toward commercial conventional agriculture like corn and soybeans. However, you might want to look for and avoid any “treated” seeds. Treated seeds are more available to the home gardener, and come with a chemical coating of pesticides or fungicides. It seems wasteful to me to start covering your home-grown food in any chemicals when it’s not even germinated yet.

Finding the Cheapest Seeds

One of my perennial favorite seed purveyors, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, touts a collection of seeds made for the heat and humidity of Northeast Georgia. There are plenty of options for tomatoes, okra and lettuce. The company also employs small farms—including some in Georgia—to grow and harvest seeds for them. This is a great way to buy worthwhile inexpensive seed stock (including organic) and support small farms at the same time.

I have not purchased seeds from MI Gardener, a gardening YouTuber who now also sells seeds. If you’re just looking for a wide selection at rock-bottom prices, this is the place to go. Most seed packets are just $2, making a big garden more affordable for folks with a strict budget.

Speciality Flavors

Kitazawa Seed Co. has a great collection of Asian greens, gourds and everything in between, with a focus on Japanese vegetables. The business also boasts Indian and African produce not found in many grocery stores. As someone who loves food from around the world, but doesn’t always know where to start, I’ve purchased a few of their seed bundles. This year, they have offerings such as a “Juicing Garden,” the “Ugly Vegetables Garden” and the “Indian Cuisine Garden.” These packets can be a great way to get started on a new cooking habit or bolster the one you already have.

I don’t buy from Seeds From Italy, but I know farmers who swear by them. The germination rates, especially for finicky types like tender greens, prove they’re worth the extra money. If you love Italian food or really fancy greens, this could be the right catalog for you.

Healthy Hybrids and Organic Options

High Mowing Organic Seeds has a great selection of winter veggies. The problem, at least for Georgians, is High Mowing’s location in Vermont. If the description of a tomato reads as “does well in heat and high humidity,” that could mean something different for the Vermonter writing it than the Georgian reading it. I worked on a farm in Vermont for three months and was shocked at the public service radio announcement reminding people to stay hydrated at 85 degrees. At 85 degrees, y’all. That being said, their winter vegetables can stand up to any wimpy cold weather the South gets.

Many farmers in the Athens area order from Johnny’s Seeds. This company sells many hybrid offerings that can outperform heirlooms. Hybrids come from purposeful, selective breeding to provide a specific benefit, such as disease or pest resistance or higher yields. However, seeds saved from a hybrid plant won’t run true—you won’t get the same type of crop again. I choose hybrids over heirlooms for plants I know suffer from specific and widespread disease, like my blight-ridden tomato plants. Heirloom varieties, such as Cherokee Purple, tend to die from blight before they can produce much more than one tomato. Hybrids like Mountain Magic boost a plant’s immunity from blight, and allow my garden to grow a full season’s worth of tomatoes.

Farm conference season is in full swing, and CNG growers are showing up around the country to spread the word about our certification. With nearly 600 certified farms throughout North America, and more being added each month, their efforts are making waves!

Conference outreach is an important way to meet growers in a vibrant regional context. Consider repping CNG at your local farm conference! We’ve got lots of great resources to equip you, and plenty of materials to go around.

Interested? Contact and we’ll make a plan!

Thanks to all our 2023/24 Conference Volunteers!

Fat Rabbit Farms and The Firelight Farm are representing CNG at Arkansas Grown 2024 conference! Several farmers are putting Arkansas on the map and committing to growing produce using no synthetic chemicals or GMOs and building vibrant ecosystems

My Mustard Seed presents to a captive audience at Future Harvest in College Park, MD about the health benefits of microgreens, sharing her operation and beginner steps to growing your own!

Big thanks to Shirefolk Farm (pictured) and Crickhollow Farm for a fantastic panel discussion on Raising Broiler Chickens at VABF-SFOP Summit in Roanoke, VA!

The Cedar Chest Farm representing CNG at the VABF-SFOP Summit in Roanoke, VA! There are so many excited farmers in Virginia, working towards an equitable food system– it’s great to be here!

Conference season is in full swing! We’re thankful to have Stephanie from Cobblestone Farm representing CNG out west at the  Western Colorado Soil Health Food and Farm Forum in Montrose, Co. Thank you, Stephanie!

Welcome and Introductions

Meet the CNG staff, review Forum objectives, and see who’s in the room.

CNG Today and Our Vision for the Future

Executive Director Alice Varon leads us in an encouraging address– reviewing past, present, and future goals for the organization. 10 minutes.

Transcript here

Increasing Customer Awareness and CNG Membership 

  • Strategies at the Organizational Level

    • Programs Coordinator Erin Worrall shares a review of the new initiatives and programs recently developed by CNG. 20 minutes.
    • View the slideshow
  • Increasing the Value of CNG

    • An interactive, member-sourced brainstorming session of ways we can increase the value of CNG certification. With a strategic focus on increasing customer demand and boosting member success, we gather dozens of new ideas for possible growth initiatives. 45 minutes.
  • Grassroots Engagement from You, the Members

    • Social Media Coordinator Max Chan and Member Services Coordinator Cathy Joly share important steps that every member can take to boost the visibility of their certification, and help expand their local network of CNG farmers. 25 minutes.
    • View the Slideshow

Strategy Breakouts

Members join the Breakout Room of their choosing, to further investigate options for growth and member involvement in the following areas:

  • Social Media

    • An overview of ideas and prompts about the kinds of content members can make for social media, with an emphasis on collaborating with CNG.  Vision cast with members on ways that the organization can make it easy for members to spread the word about certification on social media platforms.
  • Visibility at Markets and Grocers

    • We want to make it easy for members to leverage their certification and show it off! Since the majority of CNG farmers sell at farmers markets, we have focused our efforts market outreach and resource development, but realize there’s value to having greater visibility in grocery stores. In this breakout we summarized what CNG has done so far and discussed what else CNG could develop and how members could be involved in increasing CNG’s visibility at markets and in grocery stores.
    • 30 minutes
    • View the Slideshow
  • Increasing the Value of CNG

    • An opportunity to talk in greater depth about some of the initiatives mentioned during the whiteboard session. Conversation was wide ranging, with particular focus on what it would look like to have regional CNG brands, and the great potential for different types of peer collaborations to help boost member success.
    • 30 minutes.

Farmer-Led Breakouts

An informal time of peer connection between members, led by CNG farmer volunteers.

  • Produce

    • Led by Stanley Chepaitis of Uncle Henry’s Garden, PA. 45 minutes.
  • Flowers

    • Led by Sarah Barrett of Hickory Hill Lavender, VA. 45 minutes.
  • Apiary

    • Led by Jen Mercer of Black Dog Bees and Maple Trees, NH. 45 minutes.
  • Livestock

    • Led by Clay Brady of Foster Brady Farm, GA. 45 minutes.
  • Business Support

    • Led by Sam Otto of The Woven Farmstead, MI. 45 minutes.

We are pleased to announce that the full lineup of Winter 2024 The Business of Farming classes are now available for purchase. Each digital download consists of a Homeroom Document: an interactive PDF that will lead you to Zoom recordings, presenter slides, and several related resources for further learning.

CNG Members save 50% on all Farm School Classes. Visit the Members Only Discounts page for coupon code.

The following story was originally printed in Hobby Farms Magazine, written by Phillip Mlynar

Ellijay Mushrooms Innovates With Lion’s Manes, Shiitakes

Ellijay Mushrooms founder Howard Berk tells us how mushrooms are being used in bourbons and whiskeys along with being turned into creme brûlée toppings.

Howard Berk has deep mushroom roots. Early on, the Georgia-based Berk experimented with growing mushrooms on toilet paper and phone books, before turning his interest in mycology into the 2 Fun Guys home-growing kits.

Now, Ellijay Mushrooms has become the next stage in Berk’s journey. Situated at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Ellijay, Georgia, the venture aims to supply eye-catching shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms to chefs, stores and home cooks alike.

Taking a moment out from mushroom duties, we spoke to Berk about the appeal of mushroom powder and the demands of trying to be a mushroom genie. We also touched on the trend of using shiitake mushrooms in bourbon.

DIY Mushroom Growing Trials

“Ever since I guess when my kids were younger, I’ve always liked growing different mushrooms,” recalls Berk. “I’ve learned how to grow them on toilet paper, phone books and cardboard—kinda just learning about mycology at that time. You can grow oyster mushrooms on phone books pretty easily.”

Building From the Ground Up

A long-standing interest in gardening led to Berk helping to install a garden in his kids’ school. “That kind of started my real passion for it,” explains Berk as he looks back over his farming adventure to date.

“I helped start a farmer’s market here in Georgia 13 years ago, met my first mushroom partner there and created 2 Fun Guys,” he continues. “Those are the kits where you take the plugs and inoculate it. To make a long story short, five years ago my new business partner found me through 2 Fun Guys and we started Ellijay Mushrooms to supply restaurants, grocery stores and people like you and me.”

The Mushroom Genie

Early on, Berk says that “figuring out the timings and the scalings and logistics” was the trickiest part of launching Ellijay Mushrooms.

“I kinda had no clue what was really going on,” he admits. “So we kinda just dived in head first and learned trial by fire. How do you keep up with production and guess what your customers want to order ahead of time? It’s like being a mushroom genie, so to speak. You’re trying to predict the future!”

The Joy of Lion’s Mane

When it comes to the most distinctive mushrooms that Berk grows, he says lion’s manes always catch the eye first. “We’re just in a big phase for lion’s manes right now. Then the second one is our shiitakes because they’re so thick and meaty and look very plump. Most people just see their shiitakes at the store being flat and having no texture.”

Mushroom Bourbon!

“The recent trend is a lot of people are using our shiitakes with bourbon, whiskey or rum,” says Berk when asked about innovative ways he’s seen chefs incorporate his mushrooms into menus. “We’re seeing a big change in the last six months of using them for spirits and then pairing them with the mushrooms they’re cooking for meals. So we’re playing with bringing a shiitake spirit to the market.”

“Every chef does something different and creative,” adds Berk. “Like they might make a shiitake bacon or bring it down and dry out the shiitakes and use a powder to make a creme brûlée topping.”

Follow Ellijay Mushrooms at Instagram.

A fresh vegetable farm outside Morgantown was awarded the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award at an event in Sutton.

The Mountain Harvest Farm is located on the grounds of the Owl Creek Farm on Goshen Road and is operated by Mary Oldham and Chico Ramirez. Oldham and Ramirez rent the ground from the Yoder family and have been in operation and growing for the last 10 years.

As part of the win, Oldham and Ramirez will get a $1,000 cash prize, 200 hours, or three months of use of a John Deere tractor from Middletown Tractor Sales in Fairmont, with the option to purchase at a 10-percent discount.

“We’ve found this community is really supportive of what we’re doing,” Oldham said. “We grow all certified naturally grown vegetables, so that’s using organic practices, and the community has been very supportive.”

The natural process includes rotating crops from year to year to preserve the fertility of the soil, contour farming, no-till farming, and water conservation methods like drip irrigation. When it comes to additives to the process, they all must be natural.

“Fostering a good ecosystem here at the farm,” Oldham said. “We don’t use any synthetic pesticides, and we try to have a lot of pollinator habitat for bees and other pollenating insects that help our crops.”

The Mountain Harvest Farm regularly brings things like fruits and veggies, meats, breads, baked goods, eggs, and honey to the Morgantown Farmers Market and also participates in the Winter Market at Mylan Park on select weekends.

“We’re actually able to do it now and survive on it full-time; our business is growing and we have several employees, and that still seems like a dream,” Oldham said.

The farm now offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where people pay a pre-season fee in exchange for weekly or bi-weekly boxes of vegetables from the farm during the season. Through the website, customers can select what they want, decline what they don’t like, and have access to recipes and cooking ideas.

“We have grown up to 40 different things, and we offer recipes and suggestions of what you can do with the items to get to try new things,” Oldham said.

Oldham wants to serve more people, not just with the CSA program or at a farmers market, but to host them at the farm and share their farming practices.

“Educational tours, school groups, and things like that teach how we farm and what conservation practices we use,” Oldham said. “I think in the future we hope to expand that.”

Original Article by Lena Beck for Modern Farmer

Food labels can be difficult to understand and interpret, so we’ve created a glossary of some common ones that you’ll see at the grocery store.

Do you know what “cage-free” means? How about “free range”? “Pasture-raised”?

Some of the terms used on food labels are official certifications, enforced by the USDA or a nonprofit entity, and the presence of the certification means that the farming operation has been verified in some way for compliance. Other common terms or phrases refer to qualities that are not regulated at all. This means that companies can use these phrases on their packaging whether they conform to a consumer’s understanding of what that label means or not. To make things even more complicated, many certifications require a lot of labor, effort and expense on the producer’s behalf, meaning that small farms can be at a disadvantage when it comes to garnering these certifications, even if they meet the requirements.

As a consumer, it can help to understand what you are looking at and what it means. Below is a list of definitions for common phrases on food labels. But there are many more beyond the ones we have listed.

To help you evaluate their meaning, ask yourself these questions: If it’s a certification, who is the governing body and how do they verify compliance? If it’s not a certification, does the company clarify what it means by the term? Can I find additional information about the product separate from the words used on the label?

Certified and/or regulated

USDA Organic: You can find this certification on meats, dairy products and produce. This certification prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are also not considered organic. For meats with this label, synthetic growth hormones are not permitted, and the animals must have been fed a diet that is 100 percent organically grown. This certification requires inspection to verify that standards are being met. After certification has been granted, the operation must be inspected annually to maintain compliance.

Cage Free: This term refers to poultry that live indoors without cages and have access to food and water. The USDA does not define how big this indoor space must be. Verification of these parameters varies widely, according to the USDA. The Quality Assessment Division of the USDA will verify a cage-free operation during paid grade and certification services.

Free Range: This means that the animal spends part of its time outside, uncaged. However, there is no regulation of the amount of time that the animal may actually spend outside, nor how big the outdoor space is. The outdoor space can be fenced or netted in. Farms must provide proof to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service of free-range conditions.

Naturally Grown: This certification is an alternative to the “USDA Organic” label. The process to be certified “USDA Organic” can be cumbersome for farmers, so the “Certified Naturally Grown” label uses the same requirements but is verified by a team of CNG farmers, not the USDA. Be aware—this is different than when the word “natural” or “all-natural” appears alone on a label. See the list of items not backed by certification or regulation for more information.

Fair Trade: The Fair Trade USA certification was developed to help ensure fair working conditions for farmers and growers on some commonly imported products such as chocolate, tea, coffee, honey, bananas and more. Fair Trade USA checks for things such as fair wages, safe working conditions, lack of child labor and ability to unionize. However, there have been multiple documented instances of companies achieving this certification without meeting labor standards.

Animal Welfare Approved: This certification is not administered by a governmental body but by the nonprofit A Greener World. Farms that receive this certification raise their animals in pasture or on range and allow the animals to behave and move in a way that supports their well-being.

Certified Regenerative: A Greener World also provides a certification regarding regenerative practices—farming intended to be better for the environment. But it is also worth noting that this is not the only certification program evaluating regenerative standards, and there is some debate in the industry about what exactly being certified “regenerative” should mean.

American Humane Certified: This certification is granted by American Humane to practitioners of animal agriculture. It claims to use a scientifically informed set of criteria to evaluate whether animals are being raised in suitable and healthy living conditions—everything from enough space to access to shade. However, animal welfare advocates have called the certification an example of humane washing because it still allows for practices such as caged confinement.

Grassfed: For grazing animals such as cows, the USDA defines “grassfed” as animals that have access to grass or other pasture forage during the growing season and derive the majority of their nutrients from this source. It does not set parameters for pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics.

Non-GMO Project Certified: This certification is run by nonprofit organization the Non-GMO Project. It is granted to products that do not use genetic engineering.

Raised Without Hormones: This term is mostly for cattle, which are sometimes supplemented with growth hormones such as rBGH to make them grow bigger and faster. Operations must submit documentation to the USDA to show that they do not use hormones. The USDA does not allow hormones to be used for poultry or pork, so don’t associate this with a mark of quality on these items.

Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics: This term is used in animal agriculture to denote that the animal has not been raised with antibiotics, something that can help animals to grow bigger and faster. However, earlier in 2023, the USDA announced that it will begin an evaluation process to determine if more intensive verification is necessary.

Not backed by certification and/or regulation

All-natural: The term “natural” on egg, poultry and meat products means that they are “minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients,” per the USDA. However, many other items carry this term that do not fall under the USDA category of meat, poultry or eggs. There is no standard definition of “all-natural.” Look for further explanation on the rest of the label or company website to find out what this means to the company. Seeing this phrase on a food label does not inherently convey meaning or guarantee anything.

Eco-friendly/Climate Positive: Many labels claim that their product is environmentally friendly, but these are not quantifiable terms. Look for additional information about how the product benefits the environment or sustainability in general.

Pasture-raised: This does not require third-party verification, so it’s hard to know what it means to the producer. It is best if you can find additional information to verify that the animal does indeed spend a significant amount of time in the pasture. If you’re looking at meat from a ruminant animal, “certified grassfed” will mean more than “pasture-raised.”

Local: The USDA defines local as within the state of provenance or within 400 miles of its production point. But this is a widely interpreted term and different producers/companies may have varying definitions of what this means.

Peer review inspections are the foundation for the Certified Naturally Grown certification process. These inspections facilitate robust local farmer networks as they provide opportunities for knowledge exchange and community building, and are most often performed by CNG members. However, in communities where a smaller CNG network is available (let’s say a producer is the first certified in their area), peer review inspections are often carried out by other members of the agricultural community. Certified organic farmers, extension agents, non-certified farmers using ecological methods, and others are qualified to perform a peer review inspection.

We interviewed two non-CNG farmers who recently performed an annual inspection for a farm in their community. Read on to hear their perspective on our Peer Review model, both before the inspection and after.

Ida Vandamme [IV] is a USDA-certified organic farmer at Honeyside Farms in Parrish, FL. She inspected Peach Pit Farms in Lithia, FL in September 2023.

Jamie Nadler [JN] is a farmer and co-founder of Dancing Greens Farm in Great Barrington, MA. She follows sustainable growing practices, and the farm is not certified. Jamie inspected Elizabeth Keen of Indian Line Farm in Canton, MA in September 2023 (featured photo).

CNG: Tell us about how you found out about this opportunity — who was the farmer that asked you to inspect, what was your relationship to them prior to the inspection… that sort of thing!

[IV]: Jeff and I are both vendors at our local Farmer’s Market. We haven’t interacted much other than hello, good morning, complaining about weather/slow markets, and I occasionally purchase items from him I don’t have (he grows some very unique exotic crops, whereas I grow your generic everyday vegetables).

[JN]: I have worked at the farm that I inspected. Elizabeth at Indian Line has been a great boss and an excellent farmer. She has been so incredible to learn from and I was honored when she asked me to do her inspection.

CNG: Had you ever conducted a CNG inspection before this one? How did you feel about it? (You can be very honest!)

[IV]: I have never conducted a CNG inspection before and to be very honest, I had my doubts. I have a USDA certified organic farm and we have very serious, accredited inspectors come to our farm, spend half a day here, and it’s a nightmare of complex paperwork (for the inspector) even if you are well prepared. It costs us several hundred dollars an inspection, and that doesn’t include the annual renewal fee.

So I thought this CNG inspection might be some joke. They want me, some random farmer, to conduct an inspection? But I respect Jeff, and I want all Farmers to do well so I went along. And I was excited for the opportunity to see his farm and connect more deeply.

[JN]: I have never conducted a CNG inspection before. I was very excited about it. As a new farm, I am learning everything I can about sustainable practices and how to communicate to the public about those practices. I have a learned a lot about different certifications and worked on farms with different certifications. I was excited to see what CNG certification was like and how it is implemented. 

CNG: Tell us a little about the inspection! What did you do, how long did it last, what was it like?

[IV]: And connect we did. What ensued was several hours of wholesome farmer to farmer conversation. We talked about our agricultural practices, ecology, climate change, labor, politics, generational differences (he and I are 2 generations apart), where we get our information, and even finances.

I have much greater respect for Jeff now and am delighted to know such a program as CNG exists. I have since been following CNG on social media and reading blog posts and thoroughly enjoying seeing happy farmer related content. Farming is tough and it’s nice to see the bright side.

[JN]: The inspection was a few hours long. We walked through the farm and also sat as we worked our way through the questions. Elizabeth shared all parts of her farm, as well as giving me a history of different practices she has used in past years. Additionally, we talked about goals she has and how she hopes to achieve them. It was both a conversation as well as an inspection. 

CNG: What was one thing that you really enjoyed or impressed you about the CNG farm you inspected?

[IV]: We’re from Florida, and a lot of your average vegetable crops don’t grow as well here. Certain exotic/unfamiliar species do much better here. Jeff does a great job of educating his customer base about these different foods and how to use them. He has really created his own little niche market.

[JN]: It is impressive to me how much Elizabeth uses cover cropping as a tool on her farm. She lets a lot of her land rest every year in order to ensure fertility. Elizabeth also has a goal of planting a pollinator garden. This is a very exciting project that she has already done for the town of Egermont, MA. 

CNG: Did you feel equipped to perform a thorough inspection?

[IV]: Accredited inspectors go through rigorous training, so I felt ill-equipped comparatively. I wasn’t sure how it would go. But I did feel confident that my practical knowledge of organic regulations would help.

[JN]: Yes I felt equipped to perform the inspection. I have been fortunate to have learned a lot about different sustainable practices and was able to dig deep into the inspection instead of treating it like a checklist of questions. 

CNG: What would you say to other non-CNG farmers who might be asked to perform a peer inspection for a CNG farmer in their community?

[IV]:This is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbor-farmer and help your entire community get access to high-quality produce. CNG is basically the same as organic but allows small farms to participate. The vibe is much friendlier and personable, and honestly, there’s just as much reason to trust CNG as organic because there is plenty of talk of fraud in the organic community. So, a friendly neighbor can go a lot further than a stranger inspector backed up by the big organizations.

There’s no need to fret about qualifications; CNG provides a very straightforward inspection worksheet and you basically just have to check yes or no. There is sufficient background information incorporated in the worksheet to get anyone up to speed. And it’s still a rigorous, thorough, 15 page process. It’s a great framework for recognizing the work of small, well-intending farmers.

[JN]: I would say it is an excellent way to learn about what different farms are doing and different sustainable practices. It is always good to meet and discuss with other farmers. The inspection can help think outside the box as well. After the inspection I have been thinking a lot more about how to implement more good practices on my own farm. I want to plant more native plant species and increase the amount of cover cropping I do.

Original article in CLFN Chronicles by Carteret Local Food Network

Written by Catherine Elkins, CLFN’s Board President and Founder.

For those of us who seek well-grown foods, the adjective “organic” serves a useful purpose. The USDA is the only agency charged with certifying that a farm follows certain standards.

Farmers pay over $2,000 for an inspector’s travel and investigation of the farm, learning about record-keeping, integrated pest management, weed control, storage of materials and crops, fertilizers, waste, and sanitation. This is an annual cost and covers the entire farm. Farmers may use sprays and inputs if allowed; home gardeners may also purchase OMRI-approved products (Organic Materials Review Institute) at their local garden center.

“Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) provides affordable, accessible means of certification for farmers using ecological production methods.” CNG respects the standards set by the USDA but also respects the knowledge and care of our local CNG-qualified peer-to-peer reviewers and farmers.

In Carteret County, only one farm has met CNG standards – Ocean Natural Farm in Bogue/Newport. Here farmer Michael Murdoch practices his craft on sandy soil in the center of Carteret County. The initial inspection involved Cooperative Extension agent Shawn Banks in 2021.

Now farmer Murdoch stands ready to ‘pay it forward’. That’s how CNG works – farmers helping and reviewing other local farmers. His off-the-grid, 100% solar attitude reinforces his commitment to farming sustainably and to nurturing our environment.

We all know that organic certification means compliance with certain standards. “These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Soils and crops get the most scrutiny, but the record-keeping must be very detailed and can be very onerous.

  • Where was organic seed purchased, stored, and planted?
  • What additives were applied when and at what rate?
  • When and how was the crop harvested?
  • How was the crop stored (temperature, sanitation, label)?
  • Who purchased the crop for resale?

Not all farmers who describe their farm products as organic are certified organic. If a farm’s gross annual sales are under $5,000, they may claim they are organic, but not claim certified organic. Many farmers use the terms organically grown or no spray or spray free; no real definitions are universally accepted, so please ask them what that phrase means to them.

I personally do not deny the organic farmers their due – to satisfy the requirements of the USDA is a very difficult effort and when our farmers achieve this, more power to them! But please learn and appreciate Certified Naturally Grown; which is good for all of us!

Original Article by Nooga Today.

Editor Kristen here. Back in July, I experienced my first taste of gourmet mushrooms at a local food competition and was absolutely blown away by how delicious they were. The mushrooms used were all grown by business and life partners, Emma Riegel and Gabriel Harrison of Gowin Valley Farms.

Gowin Valley Farms is a small family farm in Rocky Face, GA (a ~30-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga) that has been in operation since 1964. The 122-acre farm was started by Emma’s late grandfather, who specialized in small vegetable and fruit production.

During the pandemic, Emma and Gabriel moved to help out on the farm, which was just temporary at first. While exploring the property, they noticed a large amount of golden chanterelle mushrooms growing along the trails of the farm. This led them to get their foraging certification and sell the mushrooms locally.

From there, the door to growing gourmet mushrooms opened. When deciding whether to pursue a change of careers and transition to permanently living on a farm, Emma said her grandfather gave her some advice: “Never let someone tell you you can’t do what you want.”

Fast forward to now, Gowin Valley Farms has a new focus on sustainable indoor + outdoor gourmet mushroom operations — and all of the mushrooms are certified naturally grown (think: no GMOs or any synthetic chemicals used).

The farm received a grant and is working in partnership with Kennesaw State University + Cornell University to conduct indoor mushroom-growing research. They received a mushroom cultivation chamber (inside a 40-ft shipping container) equipped with systems to automatically regulate the growing conditions of the mushrooms.

Now, the farm is able to grow and isolate wild cultures of over 20 gourmet mushroom species like lion’s mane, turkey tail, shiitake, oyster, and chestnut. The growing process is pretty incredible — you can learn more about that on the farm’s website.

So, where are these mushrooms going exactly? To local chefs and potentially to your plate. The farm delivers its mushrooms to local spots like St. John’s Restaurant, Cashew, and Whitebird Chattanooga.

Bonus: If you’re a local chef or restaurant owner looking to add some local mushrooms to your menu, you can reach out to Emma via email about ordering.

Want to try out some of the mushrooms for yourself? Gowin Valley Farms is set up at the Chattanooga Market on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Make sure to follow them on Instagram for other pop-ups, educational opportunities, and visits to their farm.

Additionally, you can shop their products online. Check out some of the tinctures that are produced in-house, growing kits, and other supplies.

Back To Top