The goal of the USDA Organic Final Rule was to create a consistent organic standard that the consumer could understand and rely on. With the implementation of the Final Rule in 2000, if a product was labeled USDA Organic it had a definable meaning.
What the USDA Organic standards does not do, what it cannot do, is support local farmers. By its very nature the USDA certification standards make it nearly impossible for small farmers to participate in the organic certification procedures. For many farms, like Colchester Farm where I interned this summer, the cost of the USDA organic certification is simply too high. In order to be organically certified Colchester would have had to hire an additional staff member in order to maintain the rigid documentation that the Final Rule requires. Instead Colchester used the label "pesticide-free" despite the fact that they use organic growing practices. For some consumers the "pesticide-free" label is enough, but for die hard organic shoppers this ruled out purchasing food grown at Colchester, organic growing practices or not.
Certified Naturally Grown is a new label that focuses on the small farmer. In fact Certified Naturally Grown attempts to uphold even more stringent ideals than the Final Rule. According to their website:
We have used the USDA National Organic Program Final Rule as the basis for CNG's Certification Standards. Our farmers must also conform to the USDA's National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
However, Certified Naturally Grown is not in any way affiliated with or accredited by the USDA National Organic Program.
Sustainable agriculture doesn't start and stop with a commitment to allowable and non-allowable materials and practices. Certified Naturally Grown farmers reflect a commitment to work within the natural biological cycles that are necessary for a truly sustainable farming system - a system that works in harmony with the micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals, to maintain and increase the long-term fertility of soil, leaving it even more vibrant and alive for the next generation of farmers.
Currently there are less than a thousand farms holding the Certified Naturally Grown Certification. I am not sure that this grassroots certification will take hold, but it has its heart in the right place. I would like is see this logo become recognizable to consumers. The transparency of the organization is admirable and its commitment to sustainability ideals rather than just low input farming distinguishes it from the USDA's organic standards.