If you are starting a farm, already own a farm, or are a consumer of goods grown on a farm, you may be trying to figure out the difference between certified organic and certified naturally grown.
I know I am.
As you may or may not know, my husband Jon and I are starting a market garden this year, so we are very interested in finding out the difference between organic and naturally grown.
Also, just as a consumer of produce in general, we want to know exactly what each certification is all about and what it means for growers and consumers alike.
Let’s start with certified organic.
What Does Certified Organic Mean In Canada?
According to the Organic Council of Ontario,
Organic agriculture is a production method which promotes and enhances biodiversity, protects long-term soil health and reduces the impact of agriculture on climate change by encouraging carbon sequestration in soil.
Sidenote: If you want to find out more about carbon sequestration in soil and soil health in general without pouring over a bunch of books, check out Kiss The Ground on Netflix. It’s a real eye-opener, to say the least.
How Do You Know A Product Is Certified Organic In Canada?
There are guidelines set out by the National Organic Standard that farms must meet or exceed in order to be certified organic.
No prohibited material must be used for at least 3 years prior to certification.
A certified body comes and inspects the farm to ensure all guidelines have been met before a farm can be called ‘certified organic’.
Once a farm has been certified organic, it can label its foods with the name of the certification body or the certification number.
Canada has federal legislation for organic agriculture and provides a “Canada Organic” logo to be displayed on organic products, as seen here:
Our farm is located in Ontario, where there is no dedicated provincial regulatory body regarding the use of the word ‘organic’, so if we choose to become certified organic, we will have to do so under the ‘Canada Organic’ certification process.
What Percentage Of Farms Are Certified Organic?
According to Statistics Canada, just 1.8% of Canadian farms are certified organic.
Keep in mind this statistic is from 2011, as I could not find any more recent data on the StatsCan website.
Is There A Difference Between Organic And Certified Organic?
When a product is ‘certified organic’, it has gone through the regulatory process and met or exceeded all the guidelines that go along with certification.
This means it can carry the ‘Canada Organic’ logo.
When a product is called simply ‘organic’, it has most likely not been through the rigmarole of becoming certified.
It could be a producer’s way of greenwashing their product to make it appear certified organic, or perhaps they practice organic techniques without undergoing the actual certification process.
Either way, if you want clarification, ask the grower if that’s an option like at a farmer’s market.
If you are at a store and the package says organic without the ‘Canada Organic’ logo proudly on display, I would suggest moving on and finding a product with the logo, if you want truly organic products.
What Does Certified Naturally Grown Mean In Canada?
According to the Certified Naturally Grown website,
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) farmers don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms.
This certification is not limited to Canada only, as it is in addition to National Organic Practices in Canada as well as the United States.
Products that are CNG certified have this logo:
CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities.
Many farmers find the National Organic Programs have a lot of paperwork that is not ideal for their small-scale operations and find the CNG program to be more suitable for their farms.
The CNG offers small-scale farmers to get credit for their practices while offering accountability to their customers.
It’s important to note that farmers that are CNG certified can not use the word organic on their products.
There is no affiliation between CNG and National Organic Certification programs.
What Are The Main Differences Between Certified Organic and Certified Naturally Grown?
- CNG is a private, non-profit organization.
- They are not affiliated with National Organic Certification programs such as USDA or Canadian Organic.
- CNG relies on peer review of farms (farmers inspect other farms), as opposed to certified inspection bodies imposed by government-run Canadian Organic certification.
- Minimal paperwork for the farmer.
- More affordable for farmers
Another interesting difference is that the CNG certification process is transparent and open to the public.
Every CNG farmer has a profile on their website which has the information they submitted in their application, as well as scanned images of their inspection reports and signed declaration.
I found this to be particularly interesting because transparency is so important in forming trust between farmer and customer. Being able to pull up a farmer’s application, as a customer, is pretty cool and adds another level of accountability.
Here is a simple chart to help clarify the differences between Certified Organic and Certified Naturally Grown:
At the end of the day, if you’re at the farmer’s market and you’re unsure of the certification the grower is using, just ask.
In my experience, farmers are more than happy to explain their growing process and the reasons behind it to their customers.
As far as our farm is concerned, I am leaning toward ‘certified organic’ but am not 100% set on that decision quite yet.
I am going to do some more research on both types of certification and let you know what I find in future articles.
Is your farm certified organic? If so which did type of certification did you choose? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers