FAQs

There is no minimum dues requirement for apiary certification. We recommend $200 per year for those who can afford it, but we only require that each CNG beekeeper give some amount, as they can, in recognition of the fact that natural beekeepers are playing an important role protecting honey bees, and very few are deriving any significant income from their apiary. We want beekeepers to be able to participate and highlight their commitment to natural practices so more people understand and appreciate why they should be choosy about where they get their honey – and all their food!

They are allowed as long as they don’t contain synthetic fertilizers. These are products where fibers (peat or coir in the case of most grow plugs, and mineral fibers in the case of rock wool) are compressed and held together with binding materials. The structure provides a porous growing medium that provides structural support to plant roots while allowing the right mix of air and water to reach the roots.  Certified Naturally Grown views these products as essentially serving the same function that plastic pots serve on soil-based farms.

Just the plants will be CNG certified. There is only a very small supply of fish feed that would meet CNG standards for livestock certification, and that supply of organic fish feed doesn’t contain fish meal, an ingredient which professional producers consider essential to ensure palatability. That and other features of aquaponic fish management lead to the decision to postpone CNG certification for aquaponic fish until a later date.

While most of our certified producers have their entire operation certified, there are some situations where a farmer hasn’t managed to grow certain crops according to CNG standards (stone fruits or grapes are especially challenging in many areas). It is possible to exclude some crops from certification, and have other crops get CNG certified. We just ask that it be made clear which is which during marketing, and that everything is explained clearly on the farm’s public profile on the CNG website.

Yes, just be clear on your application about which animals you’re wanting to get certified, and which will be excluded from certification. You will need to submit a feed declaration for each type of livestock for which you seek certification, and for each of your feed suppliers.

Treated wood isn’t allowed for new construction where it will come into contact with the soil, though existing wood can be grandfathered in. If you’re looking for alternatives, you might consider naturally rot-resistant wood, such as cedar, black locust, black walnut, or white oak; materials like concrete, plastic or steel; or wood-plastic composites, as long as they do not contain fungicides. 

Generally, CNG producers must use seed that is organically grown, whether CNG, Certified Organic, or uncertified whenever they are available. But, if a producer is unable to find the variety they need in organically grown form after checking with at least three suppliers, CNG allows an exception for a farmer to use conventionally grown seed, just as long as it is not chemically treated or genetically engineered. This same rule applies to seed potatoes, onion sets, and sweet potato slips.

Yes! CNG requires that growers have one year of experience producing and selling their products before applying for certification. We look for practices to be tried and tested to ensure that growing methods are successful and sustainable. Folks who only grow microgreens are only required to produce and sell for six months.

In response to public comments, we updated the standards to allow for soil, compost, and vermicompost to be used in dead-end or non-recirculating sections of the system. These materials are natural, non-synthetic sources of nutrients. Many aquaponics systems function perfectly well without the use of these materials, but some producers find soil, compost, and vermicompost useful. CNG’s revised AP standards will allow their use in CNG operations, as long as the water does not recirculate from the portion of the system where those materials are used. 

Yes, we consider the paper chain pots to be compostable, in the same category as paper mulches. Learn more about our stance on paper pot transplanters and biofilm.  

In response to public comments, we made some changes to the draft standards. It is prohibited for IBC totes to be brought into an already CNG-certified operation. However, recognizing that many start-ups use IBC totes, the revised standards will allow IBC totes to be grandfathered in to CNG operations, but ONLY IF a) they were in use by that operation prior to certification, and b) they were either purchased new or it can be verified that they were only used for food-grade purposes prior to use by the aquaponics operation. It is expected that the grandfathered IBC totes will eventually be replaced. CNG has prohibited the introduction of IBC totes to a CNG aquaponics operation because they are designed for a one-way trip, not continuous use, so they are subject to degradation – just like water bottles and milk jugs – and shouldn’t be relied upon for long-term use in a commercial aquaponics operation where food is being produced for sale to others.  

We encourage producers to use feed that is organically grown, and feed that does not contain primary catch. However, because the organic fish feed market is in its early stages, there is limited availability and an extremely high cost barrier. Therefore we do not require that fish feed be organic, and we will not offer CNG certification for the fish raised in a CNG operation. As organic fish feed becomes more available, we will revisit CNG fish feed standards. CNG draft standards prohibit fish feed that contains (or is) medications, hormones, or human or other animal waste.

Many of the components in aquaponics systems are plastic. However, they are generally reusable and have a long useful life. Soil-based farms also routinely rely on a lot of plastic products (pots, landscape fabric or mulch, drip tape, irrigation pipe, twine), which tend to have a relatively short useful life and are discarded annually, or bi-annually.

It is important for CNG farmers to have an adequate buffer to protect their fields from potential sources of contamination. The appropriate size of the buffer depends on the context, including factors like prevailing wind patterns, the elevation and slope of the land, and what the neighboring land uses are. Typically, we look for a minimum distance of 20 feet to crops like a fertilized hayfield, field corn and soybeans, while a buffer of 50 feet is required for crops such as sweet corn. A buffer may need to be somewhat larger if for example the growing area is located downhill or downwind, or it may need to be quite a bit larger if you are located next to crops that are sprayed aerially. 

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

If your feed is certified organic, then it meets CNG standards. If your livestock are pasture-raised and don’t receive supplemental feed then you’re probably good to go, so long as you don’t add synthetic fertilizers to your own fields! If you buy from a local supplier, we recommend you show them the CNG Feed Declaration (required of all CNG livestock producers) and see if they can affirm those requirements are met. If you are having difficulty locating feed that meets CNG standards, you might get some leads from this preliminary list of feed suppliers.

You can’t! That’s why the management practices of beekeepers is so important. 

We recommend $200 or more per year, but members have the option to pay less. We offer several payment plans to make it easier to pay the recommended $200 over time in smaller amounts. Farmers who wish to pay less than $150 should apply for a waiver, which would grant them support from the Grassroots Fund. Waivers are intended for beginning farmers and those facing unusual hardship. An exception is granted for beekeepers, who must pay some amount, but to accommodate hobbyists, we don’t require a waiver for lower amounts.

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. 

Please review our Top Tips for Microgreens Growers page. If you have any questions or concerns, please email certification@naturallygrown.org

No matter how enthusiastic a beginning beekeeper may be about using natural practices, the learning curve is very steep. We don’t accept applications from beekeepers with less than one year of experience. Instead, we encourage you to review and rely on our Handbook for Natural Beekeeping as you set out to keep bees as naturally as possible. Note we recommend you not harvest any honey from your first-year apiary. The bees will need it all! 

The CNG label may be used on packaging only if the following two conditions are met:

  1. It states clearly on the label which ingredients are CNG certified (for example, “made with Certified Naturally Grown tomatoes” or “Ingredients: tomatoes*, onions, basil*, olive oil, salt, pepper   *Certified Naturally Grown ingredients”), AND 
  2. At least one of the two main ingredients is CNG (so for example, the label could not be used for a jar of salsa where only the garlic is CNG, but not the tomatoes)

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.

Please review our Considerations for Flower Growers documentation. If you have any questions or concerns, please email certification@naturallygrown.org

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.

We accept applications throughout the year. Be prepared to arrange your on-site inspection during your growing season.

All animals must have access to the outdoors, as well as shade, shelter, fresh air, and direct sunlight, except in cases of inclement weather. In particular, ruminants should spend most of their time on pasture for 120 days or more during the growing season.

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, mushroom, and aquaponic certification, based on organic principles. 

CNG certifies raw agricultural products, and minimally processed products like honey and maple. We’ve set the following policies to address questions about labeling from members who create value-added products from their CNG crops. 

  • The CNG label may only be used on products where the majority of inputs by volume are CNG certified ingredients. Common examples are Sauerkraut, pickles, and jams. 
  • If the majority of ingredients are not CNG, then the CNG logo may not be placed on the packaging, but the member has the option to indicate which of the product’s ingredients is Certified Naturally Grown. For example, a tomato sauce where only the basil is CNG, but not the tomatoes, may not use the logo but the ingredient list may indicate Certified Naturally Grown basil, or use an asterisk to indicate which ingredients are CNG certified.

Some value-added products require major ingredients that aren’t available in CNG certified form, like oils and alcohol, in which case there’s more flexibility with using the CNG label. 

  • Tinctures: May use the CNG label if the majority of plant ingredients are CNG. 
  • Salves and Infused Oils: May use the CNG label if the plant ingredients are CNG, and the oils are certified organic. Honey and beeswax should also be from a CNG apiary. 
  • If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes organic, and sometimes CNG, then the specific situation should be discussed with CNG. If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes CNG and sometimes conventional, then it may not be indicated that the ingredient is sometimes CNG.

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.

While we recommend you rely on a CNG beekeeper if you can, it often isn’t possible to find one within an hour’s drive. So instead you may rely on a beekeeper in your area who uses natural methods, even if they’re not part of Certified Naturally Grown. 

o meet CNG standards potting mix can’t contain synthetic ingredients such as chemical fertilizers or synthetic wetting agents. Commercial potting mixes frequently contain one or both of these, so it’s important to check the ingredient list carefully if you purchase potting mix. If you are able, making your own potting mix gives you more control over the ingredients.

Transplants must be grown without synthetic fertilizers, wetting agents, or pesticides, and with seeds that meet CNG standards. When purchasing transplants, sometimes it can be difficult to tell how transplants were grown. The best ways to ensure that transplants meet CNG requirements is growing them yourself if you are able, or communicating directly with the transplant grower about their practices. For perennials that were started conventionally, they can be considered fully CNG after 12 months under CNG management.

  • It uses 90% less water than soil-based farming
  • It can produce fresh, local produce and fish year-round
  • It produces food reliably without the use of synthetic chemicals.
  • Local food can be produced in places where soil-based farming is extremely difficult or unwise, such as where there is drought, soil contamination, or high-density urban spaces.

Poultry must have at least 5 square feet per bird of free-roaming space outdoors, or 2 square feet per bird if poultry is penned and is moved to fresh pasture each day. When kept indoors overnight or during extreme weather, they should have at least 1.75 square feet per bird.

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.

Some farmers join for the the marketing advantages of being a part of a recognized national organization. Other farmers are drawn to opportunities to network with and get feedback from other like-minded farmers, and some want a way to highlight their values and production practices. Many consider CNG a good alternative or supplement to being certified organic. The benefits of CNG include marketing, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging to a national movement. 

CNG encourages mechanical and cultural methods as the first line of defense against weeds, pests, and diseases. When those methods don’t solve the issue, most botanical and biological controls, such as ladybugs, BT, neem, or kayolin clay, are also allowed. (Rotenone is a notable exception; though it is an unprocessed botanical, it has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease.) As a general rule, most OMRI-approved products meet CNG standards. No synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides are allowed.

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. Production practices are verified with detailed peer-review inspections annually, so the designation requires more rigor than making a pledge. 

Please click the orange button at top of this page that says “Get in Touch“! 

Most conventional veterinary medicines are not allowed under CNG standards (vaccines are an important exception). When necessary to prevent animal suffering and death, CNG requires producers to use the most effective veterinary treatment available –whether synthetic or natural. Preserving certification status is not an acceptable reason to withhold needed medical treatment. However, if synthetic treatments are used, the animal cannot be marketed as CNG and should be removed from the flock or herd.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish or other aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a bacteria-mediated symbiotic, closed-loop, system. The waste produced by aquatic animals is converted by beneficial bacteria into nutrients that the plants can abosorb. In turn, the plants purify the water before it is returned to the fish.

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally-focused quality assurance systems. 
They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of 
trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.

Certified Naturally Grown is a Participatory Guarantee System. PGS have existed for decades, but in recent years they have gained recognition for the valuable role they play in the organic movement by including small-scale farmers in organic guarantee systems. 

PGS provide an important alternative to third-party certification programs. In addition to being more affordable and less reliant on paperwork, PGS are distinguished by their approach. Inspections are carried out by peers – typically other farmers in the area. The PGS model is based on transparency, trust, and direct relationships. PGS foster local networks that strengthen the farming community through mutual support and educational opportunities.

IFOAM – Organics International (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) actively supports the development of PGS with educational materials, a bi-monthly newsletter, the publication of an international PGS directory, and its PGS committee. An estimated fifty thousand farmers in more than 50 countries participate in this type of peer-review certification program. In some countries PGS has gained official government recognition and has entered into organic regulations.

The Global PGS Newsletter

Frequently Asked Questions about PGS

IFOAM’s PGS Resource Page

Minimally processed forms of calcium carbonate are allowed such as dolomitic lime and oyster shell flour. However, most pH buffering materials are synthetic, and at this time most producers consider them necessary to achieve a steady and balanced pH without causing stress for fish and the system as a whole. CNG allows these synthetic materials (such as calcium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and others), at least until further developments in the field of aquaponics yields a more natural alternative.

To manage fertility on their farm, CNG farmers use management practices like cover crops and crop rotations, and organic amendments such as compost, manure, fish emulsion, soybean meal, feather and bone meal, and unprocessed minerals. Synthetic fertilizers are not allowed. 

You’ll want to be very careful about your choice of substrate; it can’t include byproducts of genetically engineered agricultural crops (like most cottonseed hulls and soy meal). You’ll need to have a clean water source, too. Review the standards to see if they’re a good fit with your practices, and get in touch if you have any questions. 

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. 

We accept applications throughout the year. If you are new to farming, or newly committed to farming without synthetic inputs, then we ask that you not apply until you have at least one or two years of experience farming this way. Only then can you answer the application questions thoroughly and meaningfully. 

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

After we begin to accept applications from aquaponics producers, those that are accepted into the program will be listed on our website at certified.naturallygrown.org. Visitors can see a listing of all CNG producers in a particular state, or search for aquaponics producers within a given radius from their town or zip code. 

The very talented Cecilia Garvin, who was a CSA member of the founding farmers, donated her skills to create the vibrant image that anchors CNG’s marketing materials.

Since Certified Naturally Grown does not require any particular design or kind of system, it is not possible to set very specific standards for assessing whether a system is performing functions critical to the overall health of the system. There are just too many variables. However, CNG does require Producers to ensure that their aquaponic system is designed to adequately perform these essential functions. In the application process, producers will be required to describe in their own words how their system is designed to perform these functions.  A preliminary assessment will be based on the answers they provide initially, and in subsequent correspondence. Further assessment will be made by the inspector during an on-site review. During this review, recommendations may be made for system improvement. Indeed, this is one of the benefits of our peer-review system! But, if there is disagreement between producer and inspector about what is adequate, the case may be taken up by CNG’s Aquaponics Advisory Council, if there isn’t precedent, or by CNG staff, if the Council has already addressed the particular question.

Certified Naturally Grown is a Participatory Guarantee System, or “PGS”, and as such relies on peer reviews instead of third-party inspections. We do not hire inspectors. With CNG, it’s other producers, typically ones who are Certified Naturally Grown, who conduct the inspections. Inspectors might also be certified organic or non-certified aquaponic producers using natural methods. For full details on inspector options, see section 12 of the Aquaponics Standards. All certification reports are posted to each CNG producer’s profile, along with the inspector’s name, farm name, and signature. All CNG producers agree to conduct an inspection of another CNG producer if there is one within an hour’s drive who needs an inspection. Peer inspections are done by unpaid fellow producers.

Learn more about PGS, an internationally recognized grassroots approach to certification, at ifoam.org/pgs.

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.

We are aware of concerns about off gassing and leaching, but there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence that would justify prohibiting them. These materials may be prohibited in the future, pending more evidence.  

We discovered that there are very few commercially viable hydroponic operations that rely on natural fertility sources. The NOP has recently begun to certify hydroponic operation and allowed the use of synthetic, OMRI-listed nutrient solutions. CNG does not allow the use of these synthetic nutrient solutions. While we have heard from a few hydroponic producers who are confident it can be done, at this time the number and track record of such producers is too small to justify developing a whole new certification program. 

Recycled plastics present an increased rate of degradation and risk of leaching compared to virgin plastic, and additional risks posed by chemicals that may be added to plastics shipped overseas for recycling.

Mushrooms are not grown in soil and behave differently than plants. Separate standards were needed to provide more meaningful guidance for production of this distinct type of crop.

It is not sufficient for the feed to be non-GMO. That’s important, but the feed ALSO must be grown without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. If your feed is marketed as non-GMO, but not certified organic, then it very likely is grown with synthetic inputs.

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.

Factors impacting fish health include the following: handling, transport, and harvesting practices; temperature, pH, light levels and stocking densities; feed type and quantity; water quality, filtration and dissolved oxygen; biosecurity and hygiene.