Q&A

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.

Thanks,
Dallas Flynn
Minnesota

 

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.

 

DEAR DALLAS:

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.

Jeff

 

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.

Alice Varon
Certified Naturally Grown
www.naturallygrown.org

 

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