Torn Between Organic and Local? Try This Alternative

If you are like me and are working hard to support sustainable food systems, you might often find that there’s a conflict between buying something certified organic, and buying locally grown food because my local producers aren’t always certified organic.

To me, it doesn’t seem like it really contributes to a sustainable food system to purchase something that was grown thousands of miles away, that has burned hundreds of gallons of fossil fuel to get here, just to tell myself that I am doing the right thing by buying organically.

I keep asking myself how is this contributing to my local economy, to sustaining local businesses and farms, to building a sustainable food system, and to helping our environment? For me, the answer to these questions is that it does not.

Fortunately, I have found a solution that allows me to buy things that are grown and raised using natural methods by farmers and ranchers in my own region. This is by purchasing from a farmer registered with the Certified Naturally Grown program.

Certified Naturally Grown (CNG),, was created by farmers and describes itself as “an alternative non-profit certification program tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers using natural methods.”

It was created as an alternative to the high fees that come with USDA Certified Organic Grown certification.

Many could not afford these fees and found themselves having to drop the term certified organic when describing their produce or livestock. However, these farmers are still committed to maintaining the high standards of natural production methods.

That’s why they decided to create something that would assure their customers that despite the fact that they are not “certified” organic; they still grow following strict organic practices.

What they came up with is a certification model based on what they call the “highest principles and ideals of organic farming.” This includes using the USDA Organic Standards as their starting point but remaining independent of the USDA and its program and therefore, they aren’t limited by the USDA Organic Standards.

In addition, the requirements are affordable and reasonable, requiring less paperwork than USDA Standards. The program is administered by an executive director and a Farmers Advisory Committee made up of natural, sustainable farmers from around the country with expertise in sustainable farming.

In addition to paper work requirements, the CNG certification process requires on-site farm inspections and pesticide residue inspection.

The program is also supported by respected groups like Local Harvest, Small Farm Today, and Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

One of the neat things about the Certified Naturally Grown program is that each farmer’s complete certification application is online and there is also public access to scanned copies of inspection reports.

There are almost 500 farmers in 47 states now enrolled in the Certified Naturally Grown program. For omnivores like me, this includes meat producers as well. Check the site for a farm near you and consider supporting CNG farms:


Darla G.
Darla G.6 years ago

I would love to know if Canada has a CNG. Guess I am googling nest. Thanks I have always said there should be something inbetween factory farm ick and certified organic.

Michelle M.
Michelle M7 years ago

This is an old post but I just read it right now and wow! Thanks for helpful info. This is a big question and a great answer.

West C.
West C8 years ago

Great solution...there is nothing more environmentally friendly about supporting food producers closer to home whoare polluting the environment with chemicals, and supporting the monolithic organizations that produce matter what the rationale.

But the number one way to reduce one's ecological footprint over all is to avoid animal products as much as possible. Switiching to a plant-based diet more that compensates for the odd import by reducing overall energy consumption dramatically. Obviously, eating seasonally and bioregionally as much as possible in the plant department is the ideal. But here's a short article that points out the shortcomings of 'The Hundred Mile Diet' from the EarthSave Canada newsletter...

Hilary S.
Hilary S8 years ago

Thank you! I didn't know about this and hope I can find people in my area.

Ellen R.
Ellen R8 years ago

great post and when you buy locally at farmers markets you can talk to the producers about their growing practices as well. A lot of our local growers cannot afford the certification process but have good practices.