Pastured hens. Heirloom varietals. Heritage pork. Certified Naturally Grown. Biodynamic. It can get confusing trying to differentiate one term from another when it comes to food and agriculture, so here’s a handy guide that should help you to answer some quick questions about exactly what means what when it comes to real food.
Certified Organic / Organically Grown:
Certified Organic is a USDA term that denotes foods and products that have been grown and processed in accordance with the National Organic Program’s (NOP’s) standards. Such requirements require avoidance of synthetic inputs including but not limited to synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides and food additives. Moreover, it disallows genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from being considered organic. Fields must be chemical-free for three or more years before qualifying as organic. This period is called “transitional.” Organic certification also requires record keeping, field inspection and considerable fees. Growers who sell $5,000 or less per year may call themselves “organic” and refer to their produce as “organically grown,” but they may not refer to themselves as “Certified Organic.”
Certified Naturally Grown
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a grass-roots, third-party certification program that offers small-scale farmers an alternative to the hefty fees and paperwork associated with Organic Certification. Farmers who are Certified Naturally Grown grow in accordance with organic methods and quite often exceed organic methods required by the National Organic Program. Farms are inspected by neighboring farmers and inspection reports are made available to the public, and all farms are subject to random testing for pesticide residue. Certified Naturally Grown is inexpensive for small-scale farmers and provides a comforting, third-party reassurance to consumers.
All Natural / Naturally Grown
As it relates to growing practices, as opposed to animal husbandry, the terms “All Natural” and “Naturally Grown” are unregulated.
Beyond Organic is a term used by growers and ranchers to describe farming methods that not only meet the standards of the National Organic Program, but also exceed them; however, the term is not otherwise regulated.
Non-GMO / GMO-free
Non-GMO and GMO-free are terms to describe foods that are not sourced from genetically engineered or biotech crops. While most foods are GMO-free, this term is usually applied only to those foods which are customarily produced from genetically modified seed.
Genetically Modified / GE / GMO / GM
Genetically modified refers to crops whose gene structure has been altered through biotechnology. In this way plants are altered through manipulation of their genes to have traits they would not naturally have (i.e. resistance to certain pesticides). Genes from one species that exhibits a desired trait are inserted into the genetic code of another species, the resulting produce is considered genetically engineered. GM crops are permitted in conventional farming, but disallowed in organic farming.
Conventional farming refers to farming practices considered standard in the farming industry. Customarily, this includes the use of antibiotics, hormones, synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and mono-cropping. Conventional farming can include the use of genetically modified organisms.
Local refers to food that is grown, processed and sold within a specific geographic area usually based on a mileage radius or state borders.
Biodynamic farming refers to a method of farming put forth by Rudolph Steiner of Waldorf and Anthroposophy fame. Bidynamic farming regards the farm holistically – as one living organism rather than as a combination of isolated crops. While biodynamic farming includes organic farming methods, it also relies on the use of special composts and field preparations as well as astronomical sowing, planting and harvesting schedules.
Dry farming techniques include the use of special tilling that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation.
Integrated Pest Management / IPM
Integrated Pest Management is a pest control system in which a variety of techniques are used that strategically complement one another. Integrated Pest Management relies first upon prevention techniques followed by close observation and finally by intervention if necessary. Pesticides are used as a last resort with other pest management techniques being implemented first.
Heirloom refers to plant varietals that are a minimum of 50 years old and that have been developed by farmers for their special traits. They are most often sold through direct marketing at farmstands and farmers markets.
Transitional refers to farms that are seeking Organic Certification which requires that fields be free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for a minimum of three years. These years and the produce grown during these years are refered to as transitional.
Ranching & Animal Husbandry Terms
Conventional, in reference to meats and animal foods, means that the animals were raised according to the standard practice in the industry. This standard of practice often includes the use of feed lots, battery cages, antibiotics, hormones and unnatural diet.
Pastured / Pasture-fed / Meadow-raised
Pastured refers to omnivorous animals like poultry and hogs that are raised on meadows and pastures instead of on conventional farms. Pastured and meadow-raised animals will graze on bugs, vegetable matter and are usually supplemented with a small amount of grain. While given access to shelter, pastured and meadow-raised animals are generally unconfined and fed a natural diet.
Grass-fed / Grass-finished
Grass-fed refers to ruminant animals such as lamb, cows, bison and elk that are fed a natural diet of fresh grass during growing season and hay or grass silage during winter months. They are fed this natural diet until slaughter.
While similar to “pastured” or “meadow-raised,” free range refers to animals that are not confined; however, this customarily means that animals are given access to the outdoors for an unspecified amount of time each day.
Heritage breeds refer to animals that have been bred over a long period of time and are well-adapted to the local environment and often resistant to disease. These animals retain historical characteristics that are absent from breeds customarily used in conventional farming.
A closed herd means that all livestock are bred from the original herd with no animals being purchased and introduced. Closed herd operations offer a way to protect animals from potential pathogens introduced by purchased or leased animals.
Holistic management eschews systemic use of antibiotics and hormones while encouraging prevention of disease through natural methods. Holistic management views animals, the land the graze and the farm as a whole. With emphasis on proper and sustainable grazing techniques, holistically managed herds may actually reverse desertification and improve soil ecology.
Farmers Market Terms
Certified Farmers Market
A handful of states including California, Texas and Nevada certify farmers markets. The certification process ensures that vendors at certified farmers markets actually produce what they sell and thus minimize peddling or brokering.
A producer-only farmers market is a market that disallows resell, peddling and brokering. In short, all produce and goods represented at the market are represented by the people who produce them.
Reseller / Broker / Peddler
A reseller is a vendor at a farmers market who sells product which he or she did not produce. The reseller purchases from the farmer or from a wholesaler and then sells purchased goods to consumers.
Prepared Food Terms
Artisan refers to time-honored, traditional techniques of producing food. Artisan foods are produced by hand in very small amounts.
Farmstead refers to value-added products produced on the farm such as farmstead cheese or farmstead jams.
Raw refers to foods that have not been pasteurized by being heated to a minimum of 145 º for 30 minutes. Foods that are customarily pasteurized include milk and dairy products, fermented foods and almonds. Some states prohibit the sale of these raw foods directly to the public.
#2 Produce / Seconds
The term seconds refers to produce that is visually unattractive or marred in some way and not ideal for sale at regular prices. Seconds may be misshapen, slightly scarred, overripe, underripe, blemished, too large or too small. Seconds are often sold in bulk at a steep discount.