Origins Farm

  (Hanover, Virginia)
Growing food differently
[ Member listing ]

Being Certified Naturally Grown.

I once heard someone speak about his childhood; he mentioned that everyday when he came home from school, his mother would ask “Sammy, did you ask a good question in class today?” She did not ask him what he learned in class, but rather inquired into the quality of his questioning. Since then, I have been more aware of the kinds of questions that I ask. So, imagine my delight when I am asked the question: “But Alistar, is it organic?” It’s a good question, right? It assumes that one is interested in one’s food – it’s quality, how it’s grown, by whom, where.

In answering, I speak about our sustainable farming methods – using no synthetic fertilizers, practicing crop rotations, producing our own compost, biological pest control, and so on. I speak about the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) standards and growing requirements, which are based on the National Organic Program (NOP) rules. I make it clear that the primary difference between CNG and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic program is the cost to farmers and paperwork requirements. I explain that CNG is based on the participatory guarantee system (PGS) model, in which annual inspections are carried out by other farmers. The PGS model promotes farmer-to-farmer knowledge, sharing about best practices, and fostering local networks that strengthen the farming community. And I especially draw their attention to this: that CNG’s certification process is transparent and open to the public – you will find every farmer’s complete certification application online, as well as scanned copies ofInspection Summaries and Grower Declarations. At this point, the customer either purchases our produce or politely walks away.

If this customer walks away, my first thought is: was my answer insufficient or unclear? My second thought is: did this person want to see a “USDA organic” stamp on our potatoes or zucchini squash? Would that stamp of approval be a sign that all is well with our vegetables? Or is it about being told by a food system what is ok to eat and what is not? In the United States, if a food product is labeled as “organic,” it means that the product has been grown, produced, inspected, and certified to be in compliance with the organic standards of the USDA National Organic Program. All Certified Naturally Grown producers comply with those same standards, which makes our produce “organic”. Only, we never use that word. And, our choice to be Certified Naturally Grown “is not an attack on the UDSA certified organic program in any way“. It is, however, our activism.

Organic farming is older than Chuck Norris, David Hasselhof, and Bruce Lee combined. Like, really old. The preeminent agrarian, Wendell Berry, describes organic farming best in his bookThe Gift of Good Land. He says ”an organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence, and the benign dependence of an organism”.

In our local region, we have a few farms that are USDA certified organic, and we are very happy for them. And those who purchase from them should be happy, as well. As a proud CNG food grower, I have huge respect for any grower or producer who wrestles with the practices of organic farming. I applaud growers who plough their stories into the soil; whose farmland is suffused with human feeling; and who are a bridge between earth and table, seed and sustenance. The next time you are at a farmers market, ask a good question before you purchase. Ask us a question, even if it is the one above, and try our produce – we promise you’ll love it!



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