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Roseanne Gallagher, with chickens. Photo: Sarah Harris.
Roseanne Gallagher, with chickens. Photo: Sarah Harris.

Certified naturally grown: an organic alternative

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It can be expensive and time-consuming for farmers, especially small farmers, to go through the organic certification process. But there's another option. It's called certified naturally grown. The grassroots organization that offers this label uses organic standards, has farmers conduct inspections for their peers, and provides marketing materials.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Roseanne Gallagher loves her ducks. 

She laughs as she reels off their names: Roger, Ruben, Barack Obama, several indistinguishable ducks named Daisy, a pair of matching Guineveres, Juliette. 

We walk through the chicken hut and explore Gallagher's greenhouses. Even though there’s a couple inches of snow on the ground, dill, lettuce, and arugula are growing inside this little hut.

The Gallaghers keep ducks and chickens for eggs. Photo: Sarah Harris
The Gallaghers keep ducks and chickens for eggs. Photo: Sarah Harris
See that little thing that looks like a star?" Gallagher asks. "That’s claytonia, which once you have it reseeds itself, and it’s like these little oval-shaped succulent leaves that are really good in salad. Look that one’s a little bit bigger over there, and see the spinach over there?" 

Gallagher and her husband Tom have a small operation called Magic Earth Farm. They sell eggs to a couple dozen customers, they’re getting more and more into fruit, in the summer they have a small vegetable CSA.

They don’t use pesticides. They feed their chickens the vegetables they grow, or organic grain.  But Magic Earth Farm isn’t certified organic – it just wasn’t worth it for their small number of customers.

But a couple years ago, Roseanne heard about another certification from someone at the Paul Smiths farmers' market – certified naturally grown. 

"She told me that it was just kind of grass roots organization that you have to follow organic methods but you didn’t have to go through all the paperwork and bureaucratic stuff that goes along with certified organic through the government. And it sounded like a good way to let people know what are methods are for growing our food and keeping our animals." 

Roseanne and Tom Gallagher. Photo: Sarah Harris.
Roseanne and Tom Gallagher. Photo: Sarah Harris.
Certified naturally grown the organization started in 2002, when standards for organic produce were made into law. 

Alice Varon, the group’s executive director, says it was started by Hudson Valley farmers, who’d been using the word organic to describe their produce and their methods.

"They could no longer use that word unless they went through the new USDA certification process. And since many of these farms knew many of their customers and were selling locally and didn’t have much staff or resources for that new certification process, they wanted another alternative and that’s what certified naturally grown is."

Certified naturally grown bases their standards on the federal organic standards. You can’t use synthetic fertilizer or herbicides. You can’t give your livestock antibiotics. There are specific requirements for compost and soil health.

An annual inspection is carried out by a fellow certified naturally grown farmer in area. It’s called a participatory guarantee system. 

Now there are over 700 farms in the U.S. who have gotten the certification.

Roseanne Gallagher signed up over 2 years ago.

She puts certified naturally grown stickers on eggs for new customers. And she hangs up a sign at farmer’s markets. 

"Anybody that does know about it, if the see the certified naturally grown sticker on my eggs or they see the logo, they know that I am using organic farming methods."

Sometimes, she wonders why she decided to get certified. Her regular customers come to the farm and are familiar with the way she and her husband do things.

"So people know, they just know, once they’re part of buying from the farm, what goes on here. And whether it really helps to have the certified naturally grown on there, I don’t know."

Bernadette Logozar is with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Malone. She says it probably does help.

"It’s another way to identify your products amongst all those other ones that are in the marketplace." 

Logozar says that certified naturally grown makes sense for small producers who want to convey their farming philosophy in their marketing, but don’t have resources to become certified organic.

"If there are ways that you can differentiate your product, there are certification programs you can take part in, I would encourage you to do that because it’s one more way you can add value to what you’re already doing in your marketing."

For Gallagher, it’s not totally about the marketing. It’s about recognizing what she already does: growing things, naturally. 


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