CNG: The Grassroots Alternative to Certified Organic

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In 2002, the USDA implemented an organic farming program. Although it was a step in the right direction, the program forced farms that earned more than $5,000 a year to pay high certification costs and complete hours of paperwork if they wanted to be certified as organic. If farms couldn’t meet these demands, they were forced to abandon the word “organic” when describing their livestock or produce. This led a group of disgruntled farmers to create an alternative way for customers to recognize that their products were organic, without jumping through the USDA’s hoops.

With the creation of the organization Certified Naturally Grown, farmers now have a way to inform their customers that they practice strict organic growing. The Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) website reads:

“CNG strives to strengthen the organic movement by preserving high organic standards and removing financial barriers that tend to exclude smaller farms that sell locally and directly to their customers.”

CNG works on a participatory guarantee system (PGS) where other farmers in the area do most farm inspections. Doing inspections this way are more beneficial because farmers in the area know what is going on at nearby farms year-round, rather than an inspector from out of town who visits a few times a year.

The organization also conducts unannounced pesticide residue testing. All records that are required to complete the CNG process are available to the public, unlike the USDA’s version of the organic farming program. This is done to ensure that the farmers are complying with its stated principles and staying transparent to their customers.

CNG calls itself “grassroots” and is tailored specifically for farmers selling at local venues such as farmers markets, CSAs and other local food businesses. Although the certification does not allow farmers to label their products as “organic”, it gives them something to show customers that they are still adhering to organic practices and are being held accountable for adhering to the requirements of CNG.

The organization is in no way trying to be a replacement for the USDA’s organic program, however. The company encourages anyone who wants to sell to retailers to go through the USDA to ensure that consumers know their products are organically grown. They also fully support farmers who decide to become certified both through USDA and the CNG program.

It’s nice to know that organic farmers have a choice based on their market and who their customers are. CNG gives farmers, who don’t necessarily need to be labeled as USDA certified the ability to still sell their organic crops and foods.

Sam Ott writes for Absolute Auction & Real Estate Co., who sells hunting land and farms in Northern Missouri. Ott grew up on a farm helping his grandmother raise livestock. For their full list of farms for sale, visit


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