This covers woody ornamentals, annuals, perennials, foliage plants, potted flowering plants and cut flowers.

Producers should review the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Operations, the Evaluation Tool for Nursery and Greenhouse Operations, and the Policy and Procedures manual before applying for certification.

What is the Food Alliance Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Operations?

The Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Operations addresses the following areas of concern:

  • Safe and fair working conditions
  • Adaptive management of pests, diseases, and weeds,
  • Soil and water conservation,
  • Wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation, , and,
  • Operational efficiencies (energy use, recycling, etc.).

Grnhse 6The standard applies to field, container, and greenhouse operations in North America producing one or more of the following products:

  • woody ornamentals
  • annuals
  • perennials
  • foliage plants
  • potted flowering plants
  • cut flowers

The standard does not currently apply to Christmas trees, tree farms, etc.

Download a 2-page overview of the Food Alliance Standard for Nursery Operations.

Download the Complete Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Nursery Operations.

What is the Food Alliance Evaluation Tool for Nursery Operations?

The Food Alliance Evaluation Tool for Nursery Operations describes criteria and indicators used to assess sustainability practices and outcomes. The Evaluation Tool has two purposes:

  • Growers may use the Evaluation Tool as a self-assessment to benchmark current management practices and sustainability performance.
  • Third-party inspectors will use the Evaluation Tool to determine if an operation meets the requirements of the Food Alliance Certification program.

Please note that applicants for Food Alliance certification must meet both the criteria for their production type(s) and the Wildlife and Working Conditions criteria.

Download the:

Nursery Container Production Evaluation Tool
Nursery Field Production Evaluation Tool
Nursery Greenhouse Production Evaluation Tool
Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity Conservation Evaluation Tool
Safe and Fair Working Conditions Evaluation Tool

What is the Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual?

The Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual lays out rules that govern the certification program.

Download the Food Alliance Producer Certification Policy and Procedures Manual.

What is the Certification Process?

Step 1: Application

Download the Food Alliance Nursery Certification Application.

A printed copy of the application may also be requested by mail. Complete, sign and date the application, contractual agreement, and licensing agreement (if applicable). The initial inspection fee with application deposit must be included in order for an application to be processed.

Step 2: Inspection
The second step of the process is to host an inspection. Food Alliance will assign your application to a qualified inspector with experience in your particular production system. During the on-site visit, the inspector will verify the information presented in your application and assess your management practices. Your inspector will contact you to set up your inspection visit.

Step 3: Review of Inspection Results
The third step is a review of the inspection results. During the inspection, your inspector uses the evaluation criteria found in relevant inspection tools to assess your management practices. Following the inspection, the completed inspection tools and inspection documentation are submitted to Food Alliance to determine if requirements have been met.

If the reviewer determines requirements have been met, an Inspection Response Form is issued which lists suggestions for continual improvement. You will be asked to complete and return the Inspection Response Form, indicating your agreement to implement the suggested improvements. Once improvement suggestions are finalized and the reviewer issues final approval, Food Alliance certification is issued.

If the reviewer determines requirements have not been fully met or additional information is needed, the reviewer will contact you to request additional information and/or assign certification conditions (listed on the Inspection Response Form).

If the reviewer determines certification cannot be issued, you will be sent the inspection review findings, with an explanation of the “certification denied” decision.

Step 4: Certification
The fourth step is the issuance of a certification letter. Upon final approval, Food Alliance will issue your certification letter. If you are certified independently and will be engaging in a licensing agreement to market Food Alliance certified product(s), Food Alliance will contact you to complete some final steps prior to issuing your Food Alliance certification certificate.

Step 5: Food Alliance Certification Certificate, Licensing Agreement and Label Approval
The final step in the certification process is the issuance of a certificate number and a Food Alliance Certification Certificate. Food Alliance will assign certificate holders a certificate number and will issue an official certificate which lists products on which certification claims are approved. Food Alliance will countersign the licensing agreement submitted with your application. A copy of the licensing agreement, certification certificate, and licensing fee invoice will be mailed to you. You will also be sent information on Food Alliance labeling rules, certification seal usage, and certification claims guidance. All product labels and/or marketing materials asserting Food Alliance certification claims or using the Food Alliance certification seal must be approved prior to use.

Step 6: Continuing Certification
All Food Alliance certified operations will be sent an Annual Update form in January of each year which must be completed and returned. All Food Alliance certificate holders (producers & handlers) must report sales of Food Alliance certified products annually, and pay licensing fees according to the agreed upon invoicing schedule. Additionally, all Food Alliance certified producers must update their application and be re-inspected once every 3 years. Food Alliance certified handlers must update their application and be re-inspected on an annual basis.


Nursery and Greenhouse FAQ

Questions about the Standard

What issues does the Food Alliance Nursery and Greenhouse Standard address?

To what types of operations does the standard apply?

Why did Food Alliance develop this standard?

What are the benefits of working with Food Alliance?

How are Food Alliance evaluation criteria created?

Who participated in developing the evaluation criteria for this standard?

Who supported the development of this standard?

Questions about Certification

Why Should My Business Seek Food Alliance Certification?

How much does certification cost?

What types of nursery and greenhouse operations are best suited for Food Alliance certification?

What issues does the Food Alliance Nursery and Greenhouse Standard address?

The standard covers:

  • Soil and water conservation
  • Integrated pest, disease and weed management
  • Safe and fair working conditions
  • Operational efficiency (energy use, recycling, etc.)
  • Wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation

To what types of operations does the standard apply?

The standard applies to North American nursery and greenhouse operations producing one or more of the following products:

  • Nursery – Container and in-ground grown woody ornamentals for landscaping.
  • Annuals – Bedding plants/hanging baskets/containers typically sold for summer/fall use.
  • Perennials – Container grown.
  • Foliage –Tropical plants mostly grown for indoor use.
  • Potted Flowering Plants – Holiday and general potted plants such as poinsettia, Easter lily, chrysanthemum, etc.
  • Cut Flowers

The standard does not currently apply to Christmas tree production or tree farms.

Why did Food Alliance develop this standard?

Food Alliance developed the Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Operations upon industry request. Representatives of the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) approached Food Alliance after some of their members requested independent, third-party verification of their sustainability practices.

Because some of OAN’s members were already Food Alliance Certified for other crops, they were familiar with Food Alliance’s reputation for stringent, comprehensive standards and certification—and for constructive collaboration with farmers and supply chain members. This signal of industry support gave Food Alliance the confidence to raise funds and expand its standards development and certification services to horticulture.

What are the benefits of working with Food Alliance?

Food Alliance has over a decade of experience developing and maintaining comprehensive sustainability standards and criteria for a wide range of agricultural products and operations. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Food Alliance’s business decisions are bound by mission, not motivated by profit. And as the organization’s name suggests, Food Alliance worked in alliance with industry stakeholders, encouraging insight and innovation.

How are the Food Alliance evaluation criteria created?

The Food Alliance evaluation criteria are used to evaluate performance and outcomes in areas of social and environmental responsibility. Initially, Food Alliance staff work with a consultant to develop the first draft of the criteria. A select group of scientific researchers, usually from universities and public agencies, provide the first round of review and comment.

Once those comments are integrated into the criteria, a second round of review gathers comments from those with expertise in the standard area, such as industry organizations, private consultants, and non-profit staff (e.g. consumer group representatives, farm labor representatives, and environmentalists). Second round comments are integrated into the criteria before Food Alliance inspectors, Food Alliance producers and handler/processors, and other practitioners provide final review.

The final draft is field tested prior to the adoption of the criteria. The names of all consultants and reviewers are listed at the end of the criteria, for those interested in seeing who had input.

Footnotes are also often provided to ensure clarity and consistency of interpretation.

Who participated in the development of the evaluation criteria for this standard?

Individuals with professional experience and expertise in the nursery industry – agencies, universities and the private sector – contributed to criteria development and review, and provided opportunities for field testing.

The nursery evaluation criteria were developed in collaboration with Don Richards, Applied Horticultural Consultants.

The following individuals reviewed and provided comment on the evaluation criteria:**

  • James Altland, Research Horticulturist, Application Technology Research Unit, USDA-ARS
  • Sam Doane, Production Horticulturist, J. Frank Schmidt and Son, Co.
  • Alan Elliott, Operations Manager, Carlton Plants, LLC.
  • Jonathan Frantz, Research Horticulturist, Application Technology Research Unit, USDA-ARS
  • Kate Knox, Salmon Safe
  • John Lea-Cox, Professor and University Research and Extension Specialist, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland
  • John Majsztrik, University of Maryland
  • Robin Rosetta, Associate Professor, North Willamette Research and Extension Center, Oregon State University
  • Walter Suttle, Monrovia Nursery
  • Sarah White, Assistant Professor, Nursery Extension Specialist, School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, Clemson University

** Not all reviewer comments and suggestions were incorporated in the final draft of our evaluation criteria, so recognition of their contribution does not constitute an endorsement.

The Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) provided valuable support through industry contacts, research, and outreach. It is promoting the new standard and criteria as a set of tools the entire horticulture industry can use to assess operational sustainability and management practices. OAN views sustainability certification as a potential market differentiator for its members.

Salmon-Safe advised on water quality components of the criteria. It is supporting outreach and implementation of the nursery certification program in partnership with Food Alliance.

Who supported the development of this standard?

Food Alliance received funding from:

  • USDA Specialty Crops Grant, administered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture
  • Oregon Governor’s Fund for the Environment, granted to Salmon Safe.
  • Meyer Memorial Trust Willamette Restoration Initiative
  • Bullitt Foundation
  • Nike Employee Grant Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation

Why Should My Business Seek Food Alliance Certification?

Food Alliance provides a trusted and independent third-party audit process for certifying socially and environmentally responsible management practices. As a voluntary program, Food Alliance Certification gives nursery owners a credible way to distinguish their operation and products to wholesale customers and end buyers. Food Alliance Certified plant materials are also already recognized and awarded points under the LEED Green Building Standard.

How much does certification cost?

Certified nursery operations pay both inspection fees and licensing fees.

Inspection Fees

A payment of $750 is due with the application. This includes a non-refundable $350 document processing charge and a $400 deposit towards the actual cost of the inspection.

The processing charge covers review of applications, coordination of the inspection, review of inspection reports, and the recommendation for certification.

Inspection costs include inspector time and travel expenses, which may vary depending upon the location, number of facilities, number of production lines, etc. The balance for inspection costs is invoiced upon completion of the inspection and is payable in 30 days.

In most cases, the total for nursery inspection fees averages between $900 and $1,500. Food Alliance certification is valid for 3 years, so you can think about the pro-rated cost for inspection fees being $300 to $500 per year.

On request, Food Alliance can provide an estimate for the cost of inspection before you submit your application for certification, based on your location and the size and complexity of the operation.

Licensing Fees

Nursery operations also pay an annual licensing fee based on a percentage of the company’s gross annual sales, as follows:.

Less than $100,000 – $100 flat fee

Fee on sales from $100,000 – $1,000,000 – 0.1%

Fee on sales over $1,000,000 – 0.05%

LICENSING FEE CAP: $5,000 per year

Food Alliance licensing fees are applicable to the upcoming year. A quarterly billing option is available.

What types of nursery and greenhouse operations are best suited for Food Alliance certification?

Food Alliance certification is most suited to nurseries that:

  • Actively manage their operation with environmental and community impacts in mind,
  • Continually strive to innovate and do better; and
  • Wish to differentiate their company and its products in the marketplace with thoughtful marketing that highlights sustainable practices.

Producers interested in pursuing Food Alliance certification should understand that certification is a tool that helps add credibility to their sustainability claims through outside verification to meaningful standards.

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