Local Farmers Markets: Vocabulary
Part 3 | Farmers market vocabulary
Now you know what to ask and what not to do at the local farmers, but there are still a lot of words that need deciphering. Here are some terms that will help you navigate your farmers market like a pro. As always, when in doubt, as the farmer or vendor what something means. Some of the terms, though regulated by the USDA, are used unofficially by some farmers.
Certified Organic (USDA): Accredited third-party agents inspect and certify farms and operations on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The National Organic Program of the USDA certifies that:
Certified Naturally Grown: Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a non-profit organization offering certification tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers using natural methods. The standards for CNG certification use the USDA organic guidelines as a baseline. This is a peer-reviewed (rather than government audited) process that is less expensive and time consuming for farmers.
Biodynamic: Biodynamic farming involves trying to achieve a balanced and diversified ecosystem within the farm itself. This philosophy aims for social, economic, and ecological sustainability. Biodynamic certification uses USDA organic guidelines as a baseline, then had additional requirements.
GAPs/GHPs Verified: Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are audit programs through the USDA that verify that produce is produced and handled in a safe and responsible way that reduces the likelihood of contamination and the spread of foodborne illnesses.
Conventional: A term describing growing methods that are the opposite of organic practices. Conventionally grown produce may have exposure to synthetic chemicals, like pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones.
Sustainable: This term is used widely (and differently), but was first addressed by the government in the 1990 Farm Bill, saying:
“Under that law, ‘the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
- satisfy human food and fiber needs
- enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
- make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
- sustain the economic viability of farm operations
- enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.'”
Meat + Dairy:
Cage Free: This is an unregulated word that is typically associated with chicken eggs. It means that the animals are not kept in cages while laying eggs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have access to the outdoors. This isn’t a great indicator of how humanely the animals are treated.
Free Range: This is a term used to label meat and poultry that is regulated by the USDA. It means the animals were allowed “continuous access to the outdoors.” It does not necessarily mean that the animals ever were outside or were given an adequate amount of space outside.
Grass Fed: This is a USDA regulated term. It indicates that an animal’s diet consisted of mostly grass throughout its lifetime. This includes grass cut and fed to the animals. It is not related to whether or not hormones or antibiotics were used.
Pastured or Pasture Raised: There is not yet any USDA regulation over this term. It generally means that an animal had unrestricted access to a pasture throughout its lifespan. It typically indicates a fully grass fed diet, though feed maybe supplemented (especially in the winter) with other grains. The use of antibiotics and hormones is not necessarily restricted from use on pasture raised animals.
Pasteurized (dairy): Pasteurization is a process that involves heating milk to a certain temperature, then cooling it before bottling and/or processing it. The aim of the process is to keep dairy fresher longer and reduce the number of viable pathogens.
Homogenized (dairy): The cream (or fat) in dairy naturally tends to separate from the rest of the liquid (water). Homogenization typically involves putting milk under extreme pressure to reduce the size of the fat particles so that they stay suspended in the liquid. “Cream top” milk or yogurt usually indicates a non-homogenized product.
Raw (dairy): Raw milk is dairy that has not been pasteurized or homogenized (see above). In the US, regulations regarding the sale of raw milk vary state by state (click here for more information).
Humane: There is not one single USDA regulated definition of this term. Generally, this means that the animals were not treated in a cruel manner. Different agencies regulate the use of “humane.” The Global Animal Partnership has a 5-Step Rating.
Heirloom: There is not one agreed upon definition of heirloom produce. It sometimes refers to the age of a particular variety or cultivar of a plant. It may also mean that a variety has been bred, adapted, and passed down over many generations through seed saving. Most agree that heirloom varieties use only classic breading techniques and do not involve genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Baby: Baby produce is simply young produce that has not fully matured before harvest. Baby produce is usually smaller and more tender, but it is not a different variety.
Micro (Greens): Micro greens or herbs are smaller than baby greens. They have matured just past the sprout stage and usually have one set of true leaves. These are often used as a garnish.
Vine or Tree Ripened: A vine or tree ripened item was allowed to fully ripen before harvest. Many fruits and vegetables continue to ripen after they are harvested. It is not uncommon practice in the commercial farming world to pick items while still green or unripe, then later “gas” them to artificially induce ripening (especially common with tomatoes).
Small Batch: Small batch means just that: it was made in a small quantity (as opposed large scale commercial production).
Natural: The USDA says that items garnering the “natural” label “must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients.” The precise meaning is often debated.
Local: There is no single definition for local. It can mean that an item was grown or produced within 100 or 150 miles or within the same state. Locally made/assembled doesn’t necessarily mean that the ingredients were grown or produced locally.
Raw (Honey): Unheated (unpasteurized) honey.
Did I miss any words you want to know? Let me know in comments below.