by Callie

Certified Natural Aquaponic Produce Arrives

You may soon be seeing Certified Natural aquaponic produce offered at farm markets, in farm stands, and grocery stores in the US and Canada. The Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) Advisory Council published the Aquaponics Standards for Certification in January 2016, following a period of public-review and commentary that ran from last June into October. Final revisions were made to the publicly reviewed draft based on feedback from aquaponic growers, consumers, and other farmers before officially publishing these guidelines for obtaining certification.

This is great news for small market growers and indoor farms, because it’s not only super expensive to get certified organic status through the USDA’s National Organic Program, but the avalanche of required paperwork is very time consuming too. Maintaining organic status is an annual drain on the bottom line, and the fees continue to escalate. Which is a big reason for the Certified Naturally Grown program, which is, in their own words:

“a much-needed complement to the National Organic program. While the NOP is an important program that primarily serves medium and large-scale agricultural operations, CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities. These farmers often find the NOP’s heavier paperwork requirements are not a good fit for their small-scale operations. CNG enables them to get credit for their practices while offering accountability to their customers.”

It’s not that the standards for a grower to get their harvest Certified Naturally Grown is any different allow them to be ‘almost organic’. All CNG farmers must be fully committed to robust organic practices. There are no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides in use at any CNG certified operation – and they are all GM feed and GMO-free.

What Is Certified Naturally Grown?

A clip from the CNG flyer. Courtesy of Certified.NaturallyGrown.org.

CNG Is Different

While CNG growers of standard market crops have much the same requirements to follow as they would for organic certification, they have much lower fees, and far less paperwork. And the NOP and the USDA have no organic honey standards, or organic mushroom standards. The CFG developed these from scratch, as they have now done with aquaponics.

Unlike the government program, CNG is a private non-profit organization and has nothing to do with the USDA or the National Organics Program. Their certification process is transparent, and is done through a Participatory Guarantee System that relies on peer review inspections done by other farmers, which is far better than a paper-pusher inspector. It allows knowledge to be shared among farms and strengthens farm community through local networks.

And because they are not affiliated with a national agency, their programs are not only available to growers in the US. CNG is open to small growers and family farms all over North America. There are already member farms listed from several Canadian provinces.

Fish Harvests Aren’t Certified

At some point in the future, an aquaponic grower may be able to obtain CNG certification on the fish being sold, but not at present. The biggest reason is the lack of fish feed that meets the standards for livestock certification. Additionally, this particular feed contains no fish meal, making it unpopular with the fish being raised in a system.

They will revisit this certification when a palatable organic fish food becomes widely available. Why not use worm meal?? Patience, organic fish food is a relatively new development. They will conquer the issues given some time and a growing demand, and this drawback will evaporate. Why wait? Certified Natural will be an awesome selling point at market, even if it is only fruit and vegetables for the time being.

1st Certified Natural Aquaponic Farm

You probably haven’t heard of Montello Fresh™ Veggies, unless you happen to live near Montello, Wisconsin, but they now sell certified natural aquaponic produce. However, you may have heard of Nelson and Pade, makers of quality aquaponic systems, and the source of some of the most intensive aquaponic farming courses in the world. This is the brand name they have given the harvests out of their greenhouses, which are sold in stores around the region, as well as at the farm stand at their business.

Both Rebecca Nelson and John Pade are on the advisory committee for the Aquaponics Standards, but there’s a good reason for that. Aquaponics and controlled environment agriculture is both their life’s work and their passion. They know it inside and out, and were already following the practices outlined in the standards draft that went through the public review process. If they had to make any adjustments at all to become certified, they were likely minimal, since the program was opened for application in February, and their certification was announced on March 8th.

Someone had to get the ball rolling, and now that news of their certification has gone out on the wire, it will spread word to aquaponic growers from coast to coast. It probably won’t be long until there are more such farms certified.

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Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.