Frequently Asked Questions

What does "Certified Naturally Grown" mean?
CNG farmers don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. CNG livestock are raised mostly on pasture and with space for freedom of movement. Feed must be grown without synthetic inputs or genetically modified seeds.

Is your program for farmers who are ‘almost organic,’ but don’t qualify for the USDA Organic Certification?
No! CNG participation requires a full commitment to robust organic practices. Our standards for produce and livestock certification are based on the standards of the National Organic Program. We developed from scratch our standards for Apiary certification, based on organic principles, and we're currently developing our own certification standards for mushrooms and aquaponics production. 

Why create a whole separate program?
Certified Naturally Grown provides a much-needed complement to the National Organic program. While the NOP is an important program that primarily serves medium and large-scale agricultural operations, CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities. These farmers often find the NOP’s heavier paperwork requirements are not a good fit for their small-scale operations. CNG enables them to get credit for their practices while offering accountability to their customers. Some CNG farmers become certified organic after a few years with CNG, and we think that’s just super.

So how is CNG different than Certified Organic?
CNG is a private non-profit organization that's not affiliated with the USDA's National Organic Program. CNG's certification approach is based on the participatory guarantee system (PGS) model that relies on peer reviews in which inspections are typically carried out by other farmers. The PGS model promotes farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing about best practices and fosters local networks that strengthen the farming community. This model minimizes paperwork and keeps certification dues affordable

Another difference is that Certified Naturally Grown’s certification process is transparent and open to the public. Every CNG producer has a profile on the website. On it you will find the information they submitted in their application, as well as scanned images of their inspection reports and signed declaration.

When was CNG started?
CNG was founded by farmers in the mid-Hudson Valley in 2002, the same year the National Organic Program took effect.

How should I decide whether to have my farm certified organic or Certified Naturally Grown?
The CNG label is most useful for producers who market directly, through CSAs, farmers markets, and local food businesses. If you’re planning to sell to large retail outlets or wholesalers, the national organic program might be a better fit. Some farmers choose both certifications (about eight percent of our members), often because they appreciate the local connotations and grassroots nature of CNG, but they also need organic certification for access to wholesale organic markets. 

Would participation in the CNG program give me permission to use the word organic to describe my farming operation and products?
No. To market your farm products as organic without breaking the law, you’ll need to be certified by an agency that is accredited by USDA's National Organic Program. Certified Naturally Grown has no formal affiliation with the NOP.

How much does it cost to be a Certified Naturally Grown farmer or beekeeper?
We recommend $200 per year for farmers, more or less depending on the scale of your operation. The minimum contribution for livestock or produce certification is $110. For hobbyist beekeepers with apiary certification only we don't specify a minimum. Dues payments may be made in multiple payments over time by using a credit card. For beginning farmers and those facing unusual hardships (like extreme weather, physical injury, or job loss) we have established a Scholarship Fund. You may wait until after your application is accepted to pay your certification dues. 

I'm a farmer and this all sounds pretty good to me. How do I get started?

Please review the Certification Types page/s that apply to you. If your practices seem like a good fit, then apply online. You can expect to hear back from us within two weeks.

I'm interested in certification for my mushroom and/or aquaponics operation. Can I join CNG? 
Yes! We launched our aquaponic and mushroom certification programs in 2016. Be sure to review the standards and register for updates on our Mushroom and Aquaponics pages. You can also see more FAQ about our Aquaponics program.

I'm interested in certification for my hydroponics operation. Can I join CNG? 
We don't offer certification for hydroponic operations, as almost all successful commercial operations rely on synthetic fertility sources. If you think we should change our policy, please tell us about your hydroponic operation here

What are the program requirements if my application is approved?
There are three core requirements that must be completed annually: the signed Declaration, membership dues, and the on-site inspection. There is also a "work requirement"; each member must conduct an inspection of another CNG farm (as long as there is someone who needs an inspection within an hour's drive). Find details on the Certification Requirements page.

What steps help ensure that participating farms adhere to CNG standards?
Every certified member must complete an online application. That is reviewed by CNG staff. Once accepted, it’s posted on their online profile for the public to see. The annual peer-review inspections also help ensure the program’s integrity. The local nature of the peer-review model is a benefit too, since nearby farmer-inspectors are much more likely to know what’s happening on your farm throughout the season than a third-party inspector who visits once a year for a pre-arranged inspection. Peer-support networks that develop often help ward off challenges that might tempt someone to cheat because they fear losing a crop.  Peer-inspectors who participate in CNG have a stake in protecting the program’s integrity.  As an additional safeguard, CNG periodically conducts unannounced pesticide residue testing.

How can I find CNG farms near me?
Just visit our online listing of CNG members. Click the state name to see all farms in your state, or do a search by zip code to find farms within a certain radius of where you live.

What if I read all this and I still have a question?
Please click the orange button at top of this page that says "Get in Touch"!