DEAR NEW FARM:
My farm is Certified Naturally Grown. I want to know your
thoughts on this versus organic certified; we follow the same
requirements as organic but without the paperwork and expense.
We forwarded your question to
Jeff Moyer, our farm manager, who sits on the National Organic
Standards Board. We also ran a discussion between two farmers
on this very same subject entitled Organic
farming, done well, needs the right label. And coincidentally,
we just heard from Certified Naturally Grown’s own
Alice Varon concerning this very discussion, so we’ve
included her comments below, too.
Thanks for the question and for reading New Farm. OK, naturally
grown…I’ll give you my thoughts. First I’ll
say that any transition towards an organic system of farming
is great. So, in that case “naturally grown” is
a good concept. That being said, there are advantages to being
a “certified organic” farm that may be worth the
extra time and money. While many folks don’t like the
involvement of the USDA in the certification process of organic,
federal standards are necessary for us to sell into commercial
markets, international markets and even our local dairy industry.
Without a legal, certifiable and clearly distinguishable definition
for the word “organic,” anyone could co-opt the
word for their own advantage. The same is true for the word
“natural.” Currently, the word natural is placed
on many food products. Like it or not, the food industry today
is much more than fresh produce sold at a farm stand. I still
think this is the best way to purchase food products—right
from the farmer who produced it. But many people cannot shop
that way, at least not year-round.
The certified-organic solution does entail some paperwork
and, yes, some added cost (although the USDA currently has
a subsidy plan that reimburses farmers for up to $500 of the
cost to be certified). But the market potential to your farm
can be tremendous. You can say you follow organic principles
but you can’t say you are organic. I know folks often
say that organic has lost sight of its roots and that it is
all about big business. I say, “not so.” There
is room for everyone in organic. Local is a hot-selling tool
right now, but who defines “local”? We all know
what we’d like it to mean, but many would argue differently.
In order to sort the whole mess out, we need certified organic
standards just like we have. We need vigilant farmers and
consumers to demand the standards remain high. And, we need
folks like you to challenge the system and ask the questions
that need to be addressed. Most importantly, we need more
farmers growing quality food in healthy soil for healthy people.
DEAR NEW FARM:
I'm glad to see this article [Organic
farming, done right, needs the right label] from NewFarm.org
is still out there, though I would dispute statements made
on both sides of this debate about Certified Organic vs. Certified
Naturally Grown. I'm also happy to report that the proponent
of the organic side in this debate has actively maintained
her certification with Certified Naturally Grown.
I just wanted to clarify possible misunderstandings:
Certified Naturally Grown stands in support of the defenders
of, and participants in, the National Organic Program seeking
to maintain high standards and build a strong organic movement.
The Certified Organic program is an important part of our
food production system that helps ensure thousands of acres
are farmed organically. This is a very good thing and we hope
customers will continue to value organic certification.
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) proponents are not saying
that the Certified Organic label is meaningless or "bad"
because it's used by wholesalers, just that it isn't a very
good fit for many of the smaller producers who sell locally.
Each farmer needs to decide for herself which program serves
her needs for marketing and representing her growing methods
to her customers, and weigh that against the cost and effort
involved in obtaining certification. About 10 percent of CNG
farms are also Certified Organic.
As for confusing the customer, I don't think it's so bad.
CNG standards are based on the organic standards. If someone
at the farmers' market wonders whether to buy the organic
tomato or the Certified Naturally Grown tomato, I say, in
the spirit of goodwill and solidarity, that they should probably
support the organic farmer because he paid a lot more for
his certification! But at the food co-op, where much of the
organic produce has traveled from distant lands, I'd be more
likely to opt for the food with the Certified Naturally Grown
label because that definitely came from a nearby farm. The
important thing is that we do our best whenever possible to
buy food that's grown organically and locally.
Certified Naturally Grown
us with comments, suggestions and questions.