For Flower Farmers Growing Above and Beyond

“Certified Naturally Grown’s sole existence is to do something good for people and planet,” say 3 Porch Farm’s Steve and Mandy O’Shea in Georgia. “This organization provides an incredibly valuable service for both the community and the farmer. Whether you are planting a seed or prepping a plate, you are involved in the process that CNG puts all its efforts towards improving,” they continue.

This is to say, Certified Naturally Grown is much more than a farm certification: it’s a community, a movement, and a commitment to healthy ecosystems.

Since 2002, Certified Naturally Grown has offered certification for farmers using natural methods to grow crops for their local communities. CNG’s peer-review approach is tailored for direct-market farmers who are dedicated to working in harmony with nature, without relying on synthetic chemicals to manage pests, soil fertility, and plant diseases.

Today, there are nearly 800 CNG farmers and beekeepers all across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Eighty-five percent of CNG’s producers have produce certification, with flowers included in this certification. Georgia is home to the largest number of CNG farms, followed by New York, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

“A Prime Differentiator in a Crowded Field”

Certified Naturally Grown offers distinct marketing benefits across many groups of customers. “It’s a very concise way to highlight growing practices,” say Eli Hernandez and Marie Denoon of Rainbow Sprinkles Farm in Arkansas. Just imagine how helpful that can be at market on a busy weekend morning. “It’s the icing on the cake!” emphasize Marie and Eli.

Many farmers choose CNG as a conversation starter. Charlie Griffin of Hepzibah Farms in Alabama realized, “Many market-goers were assuming that locally grown also meant organically grown. We were looking for a way to make it obvious to customers in a very busy market which farms were pursuing sustainable practices.”

In some areas, CNG certification can even grant access to certain markets. Members of CNG’s Guide to Exceptional Markets (GEMs) recognize and promote CNG producers’ high standards, and in some instances, even prefer or require that vendors hold a certification such as CNG. As David Norman of Good Ashe Lavender Farm in North Carolina says, “CNG certification is a prime differentiator in a crowded field.” Plus, CNG certification has given his lavender farm an additional sales channel: “We can safely offer our lavender buds for culinary purposes, without any consumer fear of contamination.”

All CNG producers earn a profile on the CNG website at CNGfarming.org, chock-full of information and photos to serve as a stellar landing page for all sorts of customers. Once applicants complete the certification process, they’re also eligible to purchase CNG marketing materials such as logo stickers to place on bouquet packaging, or laminated certificates or signs. Certified Naturally Grown also offers affordable custom design services for banners, sticker labels, business cards, and more so farmers can benefit from the cachet of a full suite of customized marketing supplies.

But as it turns out, marketing isn’t the only reason, or even the main reason, why folks join Certified Naturally Grown and maintain their certification.

CNG Inspections Grow Community

This grassroots certification requires members to make a commitment to robust ecological practices and reject synthetic inputs—just like certified organic farmers. However, CNG differs from USDA Organic Certification with its peer-review inspection model, in which inspections are typically carried out by other CNG farmers. This practice promotes full transparency, builds trust, and boosts farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing. Plus, peer inspections work to minimize paperwork, and keep certification dues affordable so farmers can focus on what really matters: their beautiful blooms.

Many farmers report that they initially chose Certified Naturally Grown because of its accessibility around both time and money. It doesn’t take long for farmers to find much more in this certification: “CNG stood out as a viable option to showcase the way I grow, and my commitment to the environment without having to go through too much red tape,” says ASCFG member Nadine Charlton of Blumen Fields Flower Farm in British Columbia, Canada. “I wanted to show off my commitment to the principles of organic production, but I’ve found that my favorite thing about being certified by CNG is that it is so community minded.”

For Rainbow Sprinkles Farm, CNG gave farmers Marie and Eli an instant community of friends and colleagues when they moved their operation from Texas to Arkansas in 2018. “We’ve met some wonderful farmers and shared many ideas. Thanks CNG!” declare Marie and Eli, echoing countless CNG farmers across the country.

Certified Naturally Grown inspections are not designed to be formal or intimidating. Rather, they are an educational opportunity for growing community.

“We love when it’s time for inspections!” says Jolea Gress of Green Earth Growers, another ASCFG member, who grows in Minnesota. She is one of the countless farmers around the country who also report that their annual CNG inspection is one of the brightest moments of their growing season. In Ohio, lavender grower Kylee Seibert Wongrowski of Luckey Road Lavender Co. shares, “My first CNG inspection from a fellow local CNG lavender grower was the single most valuable interaction that I have had since I began this adventure.”

Grassroots Certification Goes a Long Way

Most CNG farmers are growing on a fairly small scale, on around 10 acres or fewer. But the small size doesn’t stop CNG certified flower farmers from competing with wholesale growers.

“Hearing from clients that the flowers are nicer than anything they get from the wholesalers, I know that my flowers have been grown with people and the environment in mind,” says Nadine Charlton. “Sure it takes extra time and effort, but knowing that my flowers are bug free without pesticides that harm the environment and those that work with the cut flowers at the end product makes it all worthwhile.”

Plus, as the most discerning flower farmers know, “Flowers and vegetables after harvest are brighter and more gorgeous in color and last twice as long as compared to those that are heavily sprayed,” says Sidney Egly of Gyspy Flower Farm, an ASCFG member in Maryland. “The end results are worth it.”

Are you ready to pursue a holistic certification and grow your community? Please join us! You can learn more, get certified, and register for updates at CNGfarming.org/flowers 

For more information:

CNGfarming.org/flowers  Instagram: @CNGfarming  Facebook.com/CNGfarming