"Naturally Grown" vs. USDA Organic: Which is Better for You? or None of the Above

logofarm1Three years ago, I stumbled upon the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) label for farmers and growers of organic food.  After researching it a bit, it left an impression on me that has never left me. It is a certification program that assures produce, from chickens to the eggs and vegetables to grass-fed beef, are grown in the most natural way. These methods are demonstrated to maximize nutrition as well as enhance soils year in and year out. Like USDA-organic certification, the standards are strict and there are many requirements. The CNG program originated from the UK.

This past week, CNG came up again, so I reviewed the CNG website again and was delighted to know that there are 19 farms in a Ohio now certified.

This morning, I telephoned the CNG org and, what d’ya know, Susan picks up. Susan is from Eastern Ohio, down at the Lone Oaks Farm Farm, just about 90 minutes from me. She just happened to be next in line to answer the telephone. Nobody was home at the HQ in downstate New York, so the calls are routed to a volunteer anywhere in the U.S. We spoke for over an hour and I could not quite believe my ears– or maybe I could.

Vounteer is a key word, I think.  It is refreshing to know that volunteers are manning the entire operation and who offer professional advice for nothing. There is also a difference between a gentle and friendly grassroots, bottom up movement and one that is heavy-handed, top-down government and big Ag controlled, for the most part. Well now, don’t ya know, apparently USDA is attempting to make the CNG label a violation–you can read this 2008 story for yourself at Sugar Mountain Farms in Vermont.

Some elements of CNG beats out the USDA-organic program. Some of their requirements are more stringent (including such things as free-range chickens actually means being pastured, rather than running around in a dark barn–makes a big difference in the nutritional quality of the eggs and the meat.)

There is no charge for the CNG stamp of approval, although a small donation is suggested. Also, the Naturally Grown organization does not go around and say they own the words Naturally Grown and threaten action against using these words on a label or sign. I think that is very nice of them.

USDA Organic logos in the grocery store have ruined my appetite a few times, knowing that their meat and produce can come from 1800 miles away (and being familiar with USDA meeting agendas with Big Ag in Washington). CNG is more of a local phenomena, where Farmer Jack over in the next county might be likely to stop in and see you to inspect your operation. In either program, the producer may not pass mustard or quit in the middle of the year and not destroy his business cards–leaving him open to allegations he may be a little shady.

In all fairness, the CNG or USDA logo is no guarantee for freshness, taste or nutrition– or whether a tomato has a speck of e-coli on it. The USDA has more frequent inspections, while the CNG is self-certification with an annual inspection by another program member actually doing the same thing on his farm. Whether certified or not, I would have to agree with Susan: consumers should follow the motto– Know your Farmer, Know your Food.

Which one of these programs is better depends upon one’s own perspective and unique situation. Alot of good Family Farms could do without these logos altogether and produce the same good stuff. And some might be very interested in the CNG deal. (My wife says if the CNG program really takes off, it will become corrupt, too;  or go the way of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. I told her that I thought it would be more likely that CNG could wind up like the American Heart Association logo.)

Seriously though, we simply want to make our readers aware that there is an alternative certification out there. Only you can decide if these programs are right for you. You will, of course, take one of the three “marketing positions.”

Comments anyone? We would like to know your experience with these programs or your opinions.

Disclosure: The writer is not affiliated with USDA or CNG or affiliated agents at the time of this writing. The writer is not a farmer and is not qualified or certified to analyze the differences in these programs or offer a credible opinion.


One response to “"Naturally Grown" vs. USDA Organic: Which is Better for You? or None of the Above

  1. My husband and I run a farmers market, and after looking into the CNG program our suggestion to the board is to mandate either CNG or Certified Organic standing for all new applicants. This is after discovering that some of our non-certified sellers were skirting the request to grow according to sustainable, organic methods. Of course, CNG is considerably more affordable for small, family-run farms to obtain than USDA Organic. I really like that CNG is a grass-roots, self-governed movement and one can only hope that they keep to their true course.

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