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Lots of folks have been struggling to find organic onion transplants, but thanks to a tenacious CNG farmer, we have a new organic source to refer you to: Sunbelt Transplants. Check ’em out!

It’s come to our attention that lots of CNG growers are purchasing onion transplants from Dixondale or Johnny’s Seeds (which sources their onion starts directly from Dixondale). These transplants are conventional. As onions are annuals, only organic/CNG transplants may be used. If you are using Dixondale or other onion starts that are not clearly organic, please contact CNG. You’ll need to label your onions as “not CNG” and make a plan with the certification specialist.

For more details, please see our How to Source Planting Stock Like a Pro blog and our Seeds & Seedlings page. And, of course, reach out to the certification specialist anytime: We are here to help!

Farmers choose to foray into value-added production for many reasons—waste reduction, product diversification, season extension, or just a plain old passion for pickles. Whatever the motivation, this type of processing opens up a whole new can of worms, and farmers must consider all kinds of additional factors from FDA and CNG compliance to label design and recipes. Producing value-added goods is not for everyone, but we’ll try to guide you through the ins and outs so the barriers to entry feel less intimidating.

Value-added producers add monetary value to a raw agricultural commodity through some form of processing. So honey is a raw commodity, while lavender-infused honey would be a value-added version. Same goes for peppers vs. salsa, wheat vs. bread, cabbage vs. kraut, milk vs. cheese, etc. The term is extremely broad and some government entities even consider organic production itself to be “value-added.”

For our purposes, we’ll consider value-added goods as those that require the producer to cut, dry, cook, can, culture, smoke, or otherwise process their raw product.

Food Safety

Compliance with FDA, Cottage Food, and other food safety regulations is often the biggest barrier to entry for folks with big value-added dreams. Regulations vary widely state to state, but for most smaller operations, a good place to start is your state’s Cottage Food laws. These laws allow small-scale producers to process low-risk foods in their home kitchens and sell them, with a bare minimum of regulatory oversight. This is why your great aunt can sell her homemade blueberry jelly at the farmers market. Most states’ Cottage Food laws only apply to producers with gross annual value-added product sales under a certain amount. These laws allow only certain types of products, usually non-potentially hazardous foods like jam, jellies, baked goods, and dried herbs. Higher risk foods are those that require specific processing times and temperatures to be considered food safe, like those containing meats, raw dairy products, and many cooked vegetables.

For farmers who are looking to produce larger amounts of products or process higher risk foods, commercial kitchen space will be necessary. Some farms build their own commercial kitchens onsite, while others rent space in community kitchens and restaurants. Local agricultural extension agents can be a great resource for more in-depth info about your state’s Cottage Food laws and what commercial kitchen options are available in your area.

Remember to contact your farm insurance agent and let them know that you’re getting into value-added production. Often additional coverage needs to be added onto standard product liability policies.

Packaging and Marketing

Often the main allure of value-added production is the prospect of extra income, especially during times when other farm production is low. Having shelf-stable products can be a great way to supplement farm stand and CSA options and add diversity to your farmers market and online offerings. With most market channels, packaging your product attractively and inline with regulations is key. Design and print professional, clear, enticing labels on appropriately-sized, affordable packaging. Think about compostable and recyclable packaging options. Depending on this size of your operation, consult your state Cottage Food laws or FDA regulations regarding required label information, including ingredients, farm name, date, etc. Traceability and UPCs could be important labeling considerations as well.

Don’t skimp on good-looking packaging. The product can’t speak for itself until folks try it and it’s very likely that your prices will have to be much higher than grocery store prices.

Samples at market can be an invaluable marketing tool, just make sure you’re following your market’s food safety guidelines.

CNG Labeling

CNG certifies raw agricultural products and minimally processed products like honey and maple. We’ve set the following policies to address questions about labeling from members who create value-added products from their CNG crops. 

  • The CNG label may only be used on products where the majority of inputs by volume are CNG certified ingredients. Common examples are sauerkraut, pickles, and jams. 
  • If the majority of ingredients are not CNG, then the CNG logo may not be placed on the packaging, but the member has the option to indicate which of the product’s ingredients is Certified Naturally Grown. For example, a tomato sauce where only the basil is CNG, but not the tomatoes, may not use the logo but the ingredient list may indicate Certified Naturally Grown basil, or use an asterisk to indicate which ingredients are CNG certified.

Some value-added products require major ingredients that aren’t available in CNG certified form, like oils and alcohol, in which case there’s more flexibility with using the CNG label. 

  • Tinctures: May use the CNG label if the majority of plant ingredients are CNG, and the alcohol is certified organic. 
  • Salves and Infused Oils: May use the CNG label if the plant ingredients are CNG, and the oils are certified organic. Honey and beeswax should also be from a CNG apiary. 
  • If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes organic, and sometimes CNG, then the specific situation should be discussed with CNG. If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes CNG and sometimes conventional, then it may not be indicated that the ingredient is sometimes CNG.

The take home point is, as with all things CNG, transparency is the key!

Ask yourself…

Adding processing and product-making to your never-ending farm list is no small matter. Some farmers and educators counsel value-added hopefuls to consider their farm and their processing enterprise as two separate businesses. Just like starting a farm business, consider carefully and start small. Test your recipes and production process on a small-scale first. Talk to other farmers and producers who have tried value-added production. Research, research, research — talk to agricultural extension agents and food safety educators and make sure you know the compliance hoops before you try to jump through them.

Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there raw products on my farm that are currently wasted?
  • Do I like spending time processing?
  • What will I have to charge for my product to make a profit? (Make sure you include your TIME)!
  • Do I need a shelf-stable product to sell when farm times are lean or during the off-season?
  • When will I need to process and do I have enough room in the farm schedule? Will I need to hire additional help?
  • Is there a demand for my product? Is anyone locally already selling it? How will you differentiate yourself?
  • What is my tolerance for FDA compliance and inspections?
  • Will my product be considered “high risk”?
  • Will my product need to be made in a commercial kitchen or do Cottage Food laws apply?
  • How much money will I need to get my value-added business started? Do I need to source off-farm funding?
  • Am I interested in selling my products online? What about shipping costs and logistics?

Is Value-Added Right for Me?

Value-added production can be an awesome option for lots of farms and there are a plethora of reasons to jump right in.

Alternatively, too many enterprises can be the doom of a small farm, so don’t worry if becoming a processor is not for you. Consider meeting your goals in other ways; whether you dial in your production plan to ensure you don’t produce too much or you extend your growing season in order to extend your market season.

Partnerships with other farmers and local processors can be a great way to participate in value-added production without doing your own processing. Whatever you decide, make sure you have the time, interest, and resources to implement it, without adding too much strain on your business, family or yourself!



Farmer’s Legal Guide to Value-Added Products, Farm Commons

Add Value Not Legal Liability video, Farm Commons

State By State Review of Cottage Food Laws, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund


Beyond Fresh: A Food Processing Guide for Farmers, ATTRA — A useful workbook that guides farmers through value-added enterprise planning. Includes cost calculators and sample spreadsheets.

Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview, ATTRA — Farm business resources for food and non-food products.

What is Value-Added Agriculture?, AMRS — Scroll down for an extensive list of state and regional research centers devoted to the development of value-added business and processing resources.

Value-Added Producer Grants, USDA Rural Development — The main grant funding source for value-added producers.

Processing & Packaging

National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia — Food-safe recipes for canning, freezing, fermenting, drying, curing, and pickling.

Uline — A great place to start for your packaging needs.

The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz — Recipes and methodology for kraut, kimchi, yogurt, and more.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, Jeff Carpenter — For those interested in drying and processing medicinal herbs and flowers.

Local Resources

  • Agricultural Extension Agents
  • Small Business Development Center Consultants
  • FDA and Food Safety Inspectors

Farmer Contacts

We recently held an online farmer meet-up for folks interested in value-added production, hosted by two experienced CNG farmers. These two have graciously offered to field questions regarding their products and processing logistics.

  • James Radnich, Cultivate Farms, Oregon — Produces a wide variety of topnotch products including salsa, hot sauce, infused vinegar, and soaps. Contact here
  • Michael Torbett, Terra Vita Farm, North Carolina — A tried and true sauerkraut specialist! Contact here

Just Ask!

Have a value-added resource suggestion or a question for CNG? We’d love to hear from you!

We’ll be right back!

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Cover cropping is one of those farm practices that comes second nature to some farmers and, to others, feels like a nice idea, but never seems to get done. As both an art and a science, there is a lot to cover cropping, from the timing of both planting and termination, to selecting the right species and seeding rate for your context.

This post is meant to be a quick-start guide to cover cropping for folks who are struggling to implement this incredible stewardship and fertility practice on their own farms. (Hopefully there will be some hot tips for more experienced folks too)! The best advice we have is “give it a go!”  Maximum biomass production takes some experience and finesse, but most folks can at least get decent soil coverage with some basic cover cropping knowledge. So let’s get started!

Species Selection

Which crops you choose to plant depends on what your goals are (i.e. what issues you’re hoping to address), along with your climate and time frame. The most common cover cropping goals are:

  • nitrogen fixation
  • increase soil organic matter
  • soil coverage and stabilization
  • beneficial insect and pollinator habitat
  • honeybee forage
  • weed suppression
  • compaction mediation
  • supplemental grazing

Then find crops that match your goals. We love using the Farm Seed Comparison Chart from Johnny’s Seeds to identify which species fit the bill. It’s also key to consider each species life cycle (i.e. are they annuals, biennials, or perennials), how long you’re hoping your cover crop will be in the ground, and when you can plant.

This can feel like an overwhelming decision-making prospect, but you can start simple. Pick one goal and a few crops that match your goal. Then determine which crop works best for your climate, planting timing, budget, etc. Here are some examples:

  • Goal: beneficial insect and pollinator habitat
  • Time frame: May – September
  • Zone: 6a
  • Other considerations: Budget is low, grower is inexperienced with cover cropping.
  • Potential species: medium red clover, buckwheat, phacelia
    • While all of these crops provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators, medium red clover is a perennial and phacelia seed is very expensive, especially for a monoculture planting. Buckwheat is a heat-tolerant, fast growing crop that will establish well in early summer and be easily terminated in September.
  • Goal: increase soil organic matter
  • Time frame: August – June
  • Zone: 6a
  • Other considerations: Farm has salty, high pH soils. Hoping to seed a carrot crop in July following cover crop termination. Has limited seed options in their area. New to cover cropping.
  • Potential species: rye, winter wheat, triticale, sorghum, oats
    • Sorghum and oats are both out as they would winter kill in this climate. Rye is a great, very common option, though mature rye can be tricky to kill. Winter wheat and triticale are both great options, but triticale is more tolerant of high pH, salty soils.

Cover Crop Mixes

The examples above demonstrated monoculture options, but mixing cover crop species can be an exciting, profitable endeavor. Purchasing a pre-made mix can be a great way to go because then you don’t have to worry about calculating the proper mix rate. Or, if you’re like me and like to just go for it and experiment, take your main cover crop monoculture seed and seeding rate, throw in some handfuls of other seed and see what happens!

Common cover crop mixes include:

  • rye/vetch—A truly classic mix; lots of biomass, weed suppression, and soil coverage from the rye, with nitrogen fixation from the vetch. Both are super cold tolerant, so a great option for fall planting. Add in a tillage radish for quick establishment and compaction mitigation and you’ve got a stellar fall mix!
  • oats/field peas—A great choice for a spring mix, the oats provide structure, and biomass, while the peas fix nitrogen. Both breakdown relatively quickly and are cold tolerant enough to be seeded in early spring. Hairy vetch is commonly added to this mix to add additional nitrogen fixation and a longer growth period, since vetch will tolerate high summer temperatures better than field peas.
  • cowpeas/buckwheat/sunn hemp—All of these crops love the heat, making this mix great for summer. Plant in early summer as a precursor to a fall crop. The cowpeas and sunn hemp fix nitrogen, while the buckwheat provides fast-growing soil coverage and attracts beneficials. This mix grows fast and suppresses those summer weeds well. Throw in some sunflower for extra biomass and insect habitat.

If you want to get a little more science-y about it and design your own mixes check out this video from Penn State: Cover Crop Mixtures: Calculating Seeding Rates. 

Remember that any crop you’re growing as an input, not as a cash crop, is essentially cover crop. Have a bunch of old radish and sunflower seeds lying around after you dropped microgreens production? Too many bags of oats since you scaled back the animal side of your operation? Add them to your cover crop mix!

Seeding Rates

The waters can get very muddied when you start talking about seeding rates, especially when you’re working with mixes, alternative seeding methods, or bed vs. acre scale considerations.  The big take home point here is over-seed and don’t worry too much. (The caveat of course is, if you are managing a large operation, seeding rate is going to have a huge effect on your bottom line. Hopefully you have access to a drill and can precision seed at the recommended rates).

For the rest of us, a good rule of thumb, especially if you want lots of biomass and are on a smaller scale, is to double the recommended broadcast seeding rate. Some folks even triple it to ensure a nice dense stand. This will also help to combat establishment challenges due to less-than-ideal seeding method, insufficient irrigation, or poor seed-to-soil contact.

There are all kinds of resources on cover crop seeding rates and, once you figure out your system, you can fine-tune for your own conditions and technology. Managing Cover Crops Profitably is a great resource for finding the seeding rates of most cover crop species. Pay attention to the broadcast vs. drill seeding rate. The broadcast rate will be much higher and, in most cases, the one you should use unless you have a seed drill. Many cover crop seed suppliers will have rates posted and can provide consultation as well.

Seeding Methods

Lots of options here, so don’t be intimidated! Most cover crops like to grow and can be seeded in a variety of ways. Just like when direct seeding carrots, seed-to-soil contact and planting depth are important. The smaller the seed the shallower you need to plant and the more important seed-to-soil contact and frequent establishment irrigation will be. Larger seed is generally easier and more forgiving to establish, but don’t go too deep or too shallow.

Bed/field preparation is pretty flexible as well. Cover crops are meant to produce crop residue and biomass, so no need to go crazy creating the perfect fluffy, residue-free bed. I often just mow the previous crop and seed right into it.

These are a few of the most common cover crop seeding methods.


Broadcasting is often most accessible method of cover crop seeding, depending on your scale. Farmers broadcast seed from airplanes, tractor-mounted drop and cone spreaders, walk-behind lawn spreaders, bag seeders, and by hand. All of these methods work fine, but you’ll have the best results if you incorporate the seed following the broadcast either by raking or a shallow till/disc/harrow. Super tiny seed like clover may get buried too deep with incorporation though, so be careful. Sometimes just pressing the seed into the soil with your feet, an upside down rake, or a roller implement is enough for those tiny seeds.

Push Seeder

This is a great option for small-scale growers. I don’t use my Earthway seeder for direct seeding vegetables or flower seeds anymore, but I use it all the time for cover crops! I mow the previous crop, maybe rake a little residue out of the bed, and then, using the beet or radish plate with the depth set to 1/2 inch, I run three to five rows up and down the bed, in between the previous crop rows. With this method, it’s trickier to calculate an exact seeding rate, but you can start to nail down what plate and how many rows per bed works for which crop or mix. Because the push seeder method can be done on a single or even partial bed scale, I’ve found that it’s gotten easier to squeeze smaller cover crop plantings in throughout the season.

Other push seeders like the Jang and Plant Jr. will work for cover crops as well, you’ll just have to do some experimenting to find the best plates.

Seed Drill

Seeding with a drill will allow you the most precision and can offer you the best, most predicable results. It’s a great choice for larger growers and folks with access to equipment. The most common issues with drill seeding is planting too deep or improper drill calibration. Triple check your depth as you’re seeding, especially if your field isn’t perfectly level or has some contour changes. Calibration is key, especially if you’re trying to nail a particular seeding rate, and takes patience and precision. Certain seed mixes, especially those with a wide range of seed sizes can be especially challenging to calibrate and set the proper seeding depth. Look for a seeder with a legume box if you’re interested in seeding lots of diverse mixes.

Seed drills that can handle some residue like no-till drills or vineyard drills are nice if you prefer to do minimal field prep and minimize soil disturbance between cash and cover crops. Smaller-scale farms can check out the drills available as walk-behind tractor implements.


Bed space on small-scale and urban farms is often a big barrier to cover cropping since these operations are often using every available bed. Undersowing, sowing a cover crop underneath a cash crop while the cash crop is still in production, is a great option in these situations. Similar to intercropping, where two cash crops are grown in the same bed (i.e. basil under your trellised cucumbers), undersowing allows the farmer to get a head start on cover cropping a bed without losing production. A classic undersowing practice is sowing white dutch clover under broccoli, kale, or other taller brassicas.


If you take anything away from this article, let it be this—please inoculate your legume seed! Everyone loves legumes like vetches, peas, beans, and clovers because they fix nitrogen, turning atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available ammonia. But legumes cannot do this on their own—symbiotic relationships with Rhizobia bacteria are necessary for nitrogen fixation. It’s true that many species of Rhizobia exist is our farm soils, but these partnerships can only form between particular species. In short, the bacteria needs to match with the legume, hence why farmers should inoculate their legume seeds with the proper inoculant. It takes a bit more time, but is so worth it. Once you’ve calculated your inoculant amount, just a simple matter of adjusting the recommended ratio to your seed amount, dampen your seed slightly, distribute the inoculant throughout the seed and plant right away.

Most cover crop seed suppliers sell inoculant or provide pre-inoculated seed. Exceed is the most common inoculant company and provides some OMRI-listed products.

Seed Sourcing

Like vegetable, flower, herb, and pasture seed, cover crop seed falls under the CNG Seed Policy and should be organic whenever possible. Farmers should check with at least three sources before purchasing conventional seed. Keep an eye out for GMO seed (especially if you’re growing alfalfa or rapeseed) and make sure that all seed treatments and inoculants are OMRI-listed or confirmed to contain no synthetic or GM ingredients.

Cover crop seed is heavy and you’ll need a lot of it, so finding a supplier in your state or region will save you some freight cost. Keep in mind that shipping cost is not a justifiable reason for purchasing conventional seed if organic is available from another supplier. Some folks have good luck purchasing cover crop seed from their local farm supply store or direct from regional farmers and feed suppliers. You can save your own too!

Some stellar suppliers are: Albert Lea Seed, Fedco Seeds, Green Cover Seed, Johnny’s Seeds, and Pawnee Butte Seed. For even more suppliers, check out this comprehensive Seed Suppliers List from the Southern Cover Crop Council.

Resources & References

There is a wealth of knowledge out there on cover cropping that we encourage everyone to explore. These are the resources we’ve found to be the most helpful:

Managing Cover Crops Profitably, SARE —  The OG cover crop handbook.

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm, Daniel Mays — Amazing section on cover cropping in small-scale, no till production systems.

Cover Crop Mixtures: Calculating Seeding Rates, Penn State Extension YouTube — A great video that instructs how to calculate seeding rates when adding in additional cover crop species.

Smart Mix, Green Cover Seed — A super fun and informative online tool, allowing you to calculate custom cover crop blends for your goals and context.

Cover Cropping for Soil Health—Low and No Till Strategies, No Till Growers — So many hot tips on low/no till cover crop management from everyone’s favorite farmer podcasters.

Cover Cropping for Pollinators & Beneficial Insects, SARE — A great resource for all you beekeepers and pollinator stewards out there.

How to Design a Cover Crop Mix for Fall Planting, Green Cover Seed — Planting late? Read on to see what crops you can still get away with.

Compost is a key input for many CNG farms, helping farmers improve their soil structure, fertility, tilth, organic matter levels, microbiology, and overall health. The benefits are many, but so are the challenges. From understanding CNG’s in-depth compost standards to the myriad issues farmers face when sourcing or making their own compost, farmers have their work cut out for them. Let’s see if we can clear up the standards confusion and highlight some best practices, so that we can ensure that we’re all responsibly able to utilize the organic matter around us to support our soils.

We’ll start with the basics—so what is the difference between compost and manure? Compost is organic material that has been biologically broken down (decayed) into a relatively homogenous, stable soil amendment. It’s essentially the process of creating soil humus. Manure is, well, poop—digested organic material that has not yet decayed or broken down. Aged manure is not compost, it is simply manure that has sat in a pile for a while, off-gassed some ammonia, and begun to partially break down. Compost is not defined by how long material sits, it is based on environmental conditions that the adept composter carefully manages, including: moisture, oxygen, carbon to nitrogen ratio, and temperature.

Farmers have some choices when it comes to applying compost or manure and there are several important considerations for each. Farmers can:

  • source compliant compost from a reputable source,
  • set up their own compost system,
  • or forget about compost and just apply manure.

Whether purchasing finished compost or composting on the farm, folks should pay close attention to the CNG compost rules.


CNG’s compost standards are based on National Organic Program (NOP), EPA, and FDA guidelines for food safety. If a farmer wants to apply farm-produced compost that includes manure, they’ll need to monitor the initial C:N ratio, take temperature readings, and turn the pile often to ensure that their compost is properly finished. If they can’t meet the compost requirements, the compost must be considered raw manure and applied using the 90/120 “manure rule” or applied only to non-produce crops (hay, landscape, pasture, cover crop, etc.).

CNG Compost standard for manure-based compost

205.203. Soil fertility and crop nutrient management practice standard
(i) established an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1; and
(ii) maintained a temperature of between 131 F and 170 F for 3 days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system
(iii) maintained a temperature of between 131F and 170F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times.

Lots of CNG farmers definitely struggle to meet these requirements or have alternative compost systems that don’t quite fit into the standards. This is understandable, but for food safety and consumer transparency reasons, CNG (and the NOP) require compliance with these standards. Also, in order to comply with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule farmers need to adhere to the same standards.

Many folks choose to apply their homemade compost using the 90/120 rule or only apply it to their landscape, hay fields, etc. since they struggle to meet the standards. Then they purchase a compliant, finished compost for their produce compost needs.

The other option for on-farm composters is to keep any animal materials out of their compost, so no chicken bedding, bones, manure, etc. (Eggshells are ok). Plant-based compost does not pose a significant food safety risk and is not regulated by the standards.

Farmers sourcing compost need to ensure that the compost they’re buying is properly composted (i.e. following the compost standard) and doesn’t contain prohibited additives or ingredients. Just a phone call or email to your compost supplier should do the trick.


When applying manure use the 90/120 “manure rule.” Apply (i.e. spread on the field, not left sitting in a pile) manure at least 120 days before harvest for crops on the soil surface (greens, un-trellised tomatoes, strawberries, etc.) and at least 90 days before harvest for crops not in contact with the soil (trellised tomatoes, corn, apples, etc.). When in doubt, go with 120 days. 

Applying manure in the fall is often the easiest way to adhere to the 90/120 rule, but can cause some issues if managed improperly. All farmers should have strategies in place to prevent nutrient runoff, but take special care if you live in an area with significant winter precipitation, have a sloping property, or farm near waterways. A great way to combat winter runoff and leaching is to apply your manure (or compost) and then plant a fall cover crop right into it. The cover crop will stabilize the soil and take up any available nutrients vulnerable to runoff and save them for you. Let’s keep our hard-earned nutrients in the soil and out of our waterways!


  • Does my compost have to contain only manure from organic/naturally grown animals or food scraps from all-organic crops?
    • We get this question a lot! In short, No. Compost is compost, providing it does not contain added synthetic fertilizers or other additives. You should, of course, pay attention to what goes into your compost pile, but you don’t need to ensure that every single egg shell, carrot peel or cow pat was from an organic source. Make use of the organic matter you have and let the power of composting do the rest! Just make sure you’re composting properly and pay special attention to hay, straw, and manure that could contain persistent herbicides like clopyralids. These do not break down well, even in the composting process, and can cause serious issues for veggie growers.
  • Are biosolids or humanure allowed?
    • No. Human waste, treated or not, is prohibited to be used in any way on a CNG farm. Municipal compost does sometimes contain biosolids, so be sure to ask your municipality specifically.
  • Is mushroom compost allowed? What about worm compost?
    • Absolutely! Both fungi and worms are incredible digesters/composters and do a way better job creating awesome compost than your average backyard pile. These types of compost are so high quality that they’re often used in potting mix and soil blocks.
  • Does my purchased compost need to be OMRI-listed?
    • No. OMRI-listed compost is awesome, but not widely available in farm-scale amounts, especially in rural areas. Look for suppliers who are paying attention to C:N ratios, turning schedules, temperatures and don’t add any weird stuff like chemical fertilizers. Landscape companies, dairies, chicken houses, and municipalities can all be good places to look for compost. Ask your farmer and gardener friends about their favorite compost sources and try it out before you buy a bunch.
  • Can you use too much compost?
    • Yes, but it depends. Over-applying compost, especially manure-based compost, can cause phosphorus and sodium accumulation in your soils. Keep an eye on your soil tests and get frequent analyses of your compost too. Many farmers who feel that they’ve been applying too much manure-based compost over time, are switching to high carbon compost, often made from mostly wood chips, straw, leaves, and other brown matter, with little to no manure. It’s good to switch it up. Especially if you’re no-till and rely on heavy annual compost applications, change your sources up. Try some dairy compost one year and some high carbon compost the next. Or take a year off and up your cover crop game. You’ll help stave off unwanted salt accumulation and get to nerd out watching how your soil and crops react to different organic material sources.


The amount of awesome resources out there on composting is boundless, but here are a few of our faves:

Please reach out to the certification specialist with any questions or to add to our compost resource list—we’re here to help!

As CNG farmers, we all know that seed sourcing matters. Growers must purchase organic or CNG seed unless the variety they need is not available in an organic form, after checking with at least three viable organic seed suppliers. We also know that we need to grow our transplants using organic inputs.

But what about other types of planting stock? Onions? Garlic? Sweet potatoes? Flower bulbs? Perennials? Do these need to be sourced from an organic or CNG supplier too?

In short, YES!

There has been a fair amount of confusion in our community around CNG’s requirements regarding the sourcing of conventional plant material. Hopefully we can clear up some of this confusion here.

Any plant material that a CNG farmer uses that will be marketed as a CNG crop should be obtained from an organic source whenever possible. So the pansies in the front yard of a CNG livestock producer who does not sell flowers can get ’em wherever! But the onion transplants and seed potatoes of a CNG produce farmer, those should be organic.

We’ll go into detail about a few of the most commonly confused crops and then outline some options for growers struggling to find organic sources.


Onions are annual crops grown from transplants or seed. Therefore, like all annual transplants, onion plants must be purchased from an organic or verified naturally grown source.

Hot tip—if you’re not sure if a plant or seed is organic based on the company’s website (i.e. it doesn’t clearly say “organic”) the plant or seed is very likely conventional. Companies work hard to source organic plant materials and get to charge more, so they are motivated to label their products accordingly. If you’re not sure, ask!

Onion transplants are different from onion sets which are tiny, cured onion bulbs that were grown out the previous year. Very few commercial growers use onions sets as the variety selection is very limited and suppliers are few and far between. CNG does have an exception for growers planting true onion seta—they are covered under the seed standard.

Most CNG and organic farmers choose to grow their onion transplants from seed since sourcing organic plants can be difficult and pricy. Large-scale growers in some areas even direct seed their onions.

Garlic, Potatoes, and More

Garlic and seed potatoes are considered seed and therefore covered under the CNG seed standard. (Remember how we were saying earlier that everyone knows the seed standard)? Well, here’s a recap.

  1. No GMOs ever.
  2. No chemically-treated seeds.
  3. Seed (and other crops covered under the seed standard) must be CNG, organic, or confirmed naturally grown whenever they are commercially available. So if you check with at least three major seed sources and still can’t find the variety you need, you can use conventionally grown seed.

These rules apply to regular seeds, plus these crops when they are grown as annuals: seed potatoes, sweet potato slips, day-neutral strawberry slips, ginger, turmeric, garlic and flower bulbs.

Garlic and seed potatoes should be pretty straightforward to find naturally grown, depending on your scale. If you are using conventional garlic seed or seed potatoes, you probably can find an organic source, even if you have to pay extra for shipping.

Sorry, cost is not a justification for using conventional plant material. We want to be supported as producers of CNG crops, so it’s important for us to support organic seed growers too! These folks are breeding and selecting their seed crops in organic conditions, which can make a big difference in the resiliency, yield, uniformity, and even flavor of your crops.

Happily, you can save your own seed, garlic, seed potatoes, etc., saving money and selecting for the traits you want on your farm.

Dahlias tubers are getting easier to find organically as well, so look around! For more details on flower bulb sourcing and other tips, flower farmers should check out our Considerations for Flower Growers page.


Sourcing naturally grown plants for perennial crops (including flowers, herbs, fruit trees, berries, etc.) can be very challenging and even impossible in some cases. Therefore CNG and the NOP (National Organic Program) allow growers to source conventional perennial plants if a naturally grown source cannot be found. Growers using conventional perennial plants should document the other suppliers they checked with, just like in a seed search.

The caveat is that the conventional perennial plants cannot be represented or sold as a CNG crop until a year from the planting date. So the CNG farmer needs to grow the plants out and manage them according to CNG guidelines for at least a year before selling them as CNG.

For a great story about a CNG farmer who turned her plant-sourcing snafu into an awesome learning experience for both fellow farmers and customers, check out Kat the Farmer’s blog, “An Herb Debacle.”


What can I do if I can’t find (or don’t want to pay for) organic/CNG planting stock?

Ideally, all the products produced on your farm should be included in your CNG certification, but this is not always possible. The most common way to deal with this issue is to exclude the crop or product from certification. This is a relatively common practice especially for:

  • flower growers who are sourcing lots of perennial transplants that may start producing within the first year;
  • livestock producers who certify their broilers, but not their hogs due to livestock sourcing issues;
  • produce growers who need to use treated seed for their sweet corn;
  • or larger scale, multi-enterprise operations (e.g. a vineyard with lavender fields, sheep, and cut flowers).

The key here is clear labeling. Any crops excluded from certification must be labeled as “not CNG” when marketed. Some growers just have a chalkboard at market that they write any products that are not CNG. For example: “This week, all the flowers in your bouquet are CNG, except the foxgloves.” Folks online marketing or selling wholesale can communicate this on their websites or through marketing emails. The important thing is that farms are being transparent with their customers, and labeling is the ticket!


The crew at CNG realizes that these are tricky, sticky issues and that it can be confusing to navigate the standards and discover appropriate plant material sources. We are here to help! Please reach out to the certification specialist by email or use the contact form below.

Though this is by no means a complete list, we’ve included a couple of the most common suppliers of organic planting stock for some of the trickier crops. For a list of seed suppliers, visit our Seed Suppliers page.

Here are a few sources we like:

Ginger & turmeric: Biker Dude Puna Organics, Kolokai Organic Farm

Seed potatoes: Wood Prairie Family Farm, Mythic Farm, Grand Teton Organics, Nature’s Circle Farm, Sprout Mountain Farms

Onions and other annual transplants: Banner Greenhouse,  Windcrest Organics, Sunbelt Transplants

Strawberries: Peaceful Valley, Innovative Organic Nursery

Garlic: Your favorite organic seed company, contact a CNG garlic farmer, Keene Organic Garlic

We are working on creating a more complete list of suppliers to add to our website, so please send your favorite sources our way!

Contact Us

We are so excited to announce the launch of the newly-rebuilt Certified Naturally Grown website.

Certified Naturally Grown farmers can create and personalize their farm profile on the website. Because this is a completely new platform, all farmers will need to reset their passwords in order to access their accounts. Instructions are available below in both text and video format.

If you still need help after completing the instructions, please use our tech support contact form.



Reset Your Password

    1. Navigate to the CNG site login page.
    2. Click lost password below the login form and enter the email you originally used to create your CNG account.
    3. Complete the lost password steps: an email will be sent to you with a password reset link in it. (If you don’t see the email, make sure to check your spam folder). Click that link to reset your password on the site.
    4. Once you’ve reset your password, login again with your new password.

Personalize your farm profile 

    1. Now that you’re logged in, you’ll see “Dashboard” in the top menu. This will take you to to your awesome new CNG dashboard interface!
    2. From here you’ll be able to edit your profile, submit a declaration, pay dues, and eventually view your applications. For today’s purposes: on the far right with the orange location pin icon, locate your farm name linked in the bottom of the text under “Farm or Apiary Profile” and click the link.
    3. Click the orange Edit button on the top of the profile.
    4. In the “Farm Information” section, write to your heart’s content, focusing especially on Description*. When you’re finished, click Next.
    5. Upload any desired photos, paying attention to the maximum file size. Make sure to click “save changes.”
    6. That’s it! Be sure to share your profile with customers and link to it from your farm’s website and social media. This is where they can come to validate your certification and how locals can find you from our searchable map!


All CNG members can receive three free market signs when they complete the annual certification requirements. You can choose from any of these designs and show your CNG pride! Use the contact form below or email to request your signs.

(The sign names on the request form are listed in the order they appear above, from left to right).

Date — March 2, 2023

Time — 6:00 – 7:30 pm

Location — Connects Workspace, 1301 Arapahoe St. Golden, CO

Dinner and Networking — 6:00 – 6:15 pm

Presentation by CNG and Q&A — 6:30 – 7:00 pm

Learn about our production standards, peer review inspection, marketing benefits, and the myriad resources we offer farmers in our community.

CNG Application Workshop — 7:00 – 7:30 pm

Ready to apply? Bring your laptop and get direct application support from CNG and GoFarm staff.

Please RSVP here and email if you have any questions. Hope to see you there!

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