South Coventry farm becomes peer-certified in providing naturally grown food for community

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Emma Cunniff, owner and operator of Kneehigh Farm, poses with a harvest of beets       Submitted Photo – Kneehigh Farms

By Michael Sneff, msneff@pottsmerc.com

SOUTH COVENTRY >> A local farm is taking its approach to clean, organic growing methods to the next level by using a peer-reviewed certification system that’s environmentally friendly.

Kneehigh Farm of Chester County, recently joined more than 40 other Pennsylvania farms as well as nearly 800 farms and beekeepers nationwide in a pledge to grow produce in harmony with nature.

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The farm is part of the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program, according to owner/operator Emma Cunniff, who brought Kneehigh Farm to South Coventry in 2015.

Farms that are part of the Certified Naturally Grown program are required to grow and harvest food naturally without the use of synthetic chemicals or GMOs, according to the program’s website www.cngfarming.org.

Not only do the natural growing farmers work in harmony with the environment, but also with one another. Farmers in the program inspect and verify each other through a peer-review certification system, rather than by using inspectors.

Cunniff said she prefers the peer-reviewed method because it involves farmers looking out for other farmers.

“We hold each other accountable,” Cunniff said. “It builds the community of farmers together, lessening competition and making our customers happy.”

Cunniff said she learned about the Certified Naturally Grown program when she was asked to come verify another farmer in the area and liked the concept so much, she decided to follow the same model.

“I’ve learned so much not only from other people coming to see my farm, but me going to see theirs,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s the most genuine option.”

The major differences between being Certified Naturally Grown and being Certified USDA Organic are the verification and check-up process and the cost. Certification costs for USDA Organic may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, while the fee to be a Certified Naturally Grown farm is between $110 and $200, according to their respective websites, usda.org and cngfarming.org.

“People naturally connect over food,” she said. “By focusing on building the local community, we can bring back the little things like families gathering at the dinner table.”

Cunniff grew up in California, where there is a large competitive agriculture scene. She said that her motivation to move East was to bring that kind of easy-access food sourcing to other areas that need it.

“Pennsylvania was always a draw for me,” she said. “I wanted to come out here to supply foods for urban environments like Philadelphia, and eventually maybe even New York.”

The farm is entirely women-operated, although Cunniff said that wasn’t initially the goal. She said all the applications received just happened to be from women. Cunniff works the farm with two other women, Molly Peach and Lilly Means.

Kneehigh Farm is operated through a pay-up-front Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) system; one that allows customers to customize and pay for their package of produce ahead of time. Cunniff said that the biggest issue with running a farm is having funds to maintain it in the months when people aren’t buying as much, like in the winter.

The CSA program helps alleviate some of that financial stress. The funds collected from the CSA program enables the farm to buy things like seeds and equipment to uphold its natural growing commitment.

“It’s a trust-based system,” Cunniff said. “Paying up-front before the growing begins is the customer telling us that they trust us to provide.”

Kneehigh Farm grows more than 150 varieties of produce such as squash, cucumbers, herbs and lettuces in the warmer months as well as root vegetables like potatoes and onions in the colder months. They ship produce to more than 20 different restaurants and businesses. The produce grown is also sold at several area farmers markets.

Cunniff said that being certified as well as having a share program really benefits the customers and local business they supply their food to.

“We all need food to live,” Cunniff said. “If there isn’t a clean, sustainable way to get food in everyone’s hands, then everyone suffers.”

Kneehigh Farm is located at 3500 Coventryville Road in South Coventry. For more information about the farm’s CSA program visit www.kneehighfarm.com or email Cunniff at emma@kneehighfarm.com

Email business story ideas to business editor drovins@21st-centurymedia.com


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