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Is Certified Naturally Grown an alternative to USDA Organic?

We love the USDA Organic seal, but it can be a hassle for small-scale farmers. An alternative, Certified Naturally Grown, may be the answer.

In the wake of a study released last week citing that organic produce is not “healthier” than conventional produce, natural consumers and industry leaders have established that organic is, nevertheless, the best option to protect yourself against GMOs and pesticides, among other unexpected benefits.

I wrote a response to the study, highlighting reasons why we choose organic.

Not surprisingly, I adore the USDA Organic program. Regardless of its advantages to farmers and the environment, the seal also provides a quick and tangible way shoppers can choose products that are responsibly sourced.

The rigorous certification process involving government inspectors, paperwork to track chemicals, and best farming practices is necessary in order to retain the integrity of organic, and also to empower consumers on what types of foods they choose to eat.

But organic has some logistical drawbacks.

Some argue that because GMO testing is not required under the seal, GE seeds could potentially finagle their way into organic farms or products. Others lament that the combined cost and hassle farmers undergo in order to obtain the certification is not worth the premium they can attain on their goods. (Click here for an in-depth examination of how difficult organic farming actually is.)

Enter a more attainable seal: Certified Naturally Grown

Recently, I became privy to another certification that has similar standards of organic, but is designed for smaller-scale farmers. Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), a “national program that has sprung up as an alternative to the federal organic program and that has nearly 800 farms as members,” reports the New York Times.

I called Alice Varon, executive director of CNG, to learn a little bit more about this 10-year-old program, after balking that I had never heard of it before, regardless of its seasoned age.

Essentially, CNG is a grassroots approach to complement the National Organic Program, as it renders organic accessible to more farmers. CNG standards are based on organic, meaning no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or antibiotics can be used.

“Inspections are carried out by other farmers in the area, which apart from keeping CNG certification costs down, also strengthens relationships in local farming communities,” says Varon. “This program is ideal for small independent retailers and farmers markets—lots of produce purchasers feel bad asking their small farmers to become certified organic, because they know it comes with a hefty price.”

Less expensive, more accessible certification

CNG costs a minimum of $110 per year to maintain, whereas organic can cost upwards of thousands per year (although many states have organic grant programs to offset this cost), depending on the farm. Additionally, farmers can become CNG certified in a matter of weeks.

Organic is important—there is nothing that can replace it entirely. And there is something to be admired about a certification program that is difficult to obtain—stricter qualifications mean less contamination overall, and a cleaner finished product.

But CNG is important too: it rewards small farmers who care enough to grow responsibly.  

Look for the certification on produce, honey, meat, eggs, and dairy at your local natural store.

Do you think this standard could dilute organic certification? Share in the comments.

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