Here is a guide to terms relating to farming practices, animal husbandry, and food processing. Many of these terms do not have legal definitions and may mean different things to different people. By shopping at farmers markets, you can talk to the people who produce your food. We encourage you to ask sellers about their practices.
The term “artisanal” implies that products are made by hand in small batches, but the term is unregulated and sometimes used by large manufacturers.
Biodynamic farming views the farm as a living organism. In addition to organic practices such as crop rotation and composting, biodynamic farmers rely on special plant, animal, and mineral preparations and the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. The term is not regulated, but some biodynamic products are certified by Demeter Association.
This unregulated term suggests that eggs are laid by hens permitted to roam in the henhouse (but not necessarily with any access to the outdoors). Learn more.
Certified Farmers Market
A location approved by a county agricultural commissioner for California farmers to sell their products directly to consumers, regulated through the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Farmers who sell at Certified Farmers Markets are required to post a Certified Producer’s Certificate from their county’s agriculture department. The certificate confirms that all their products are grown, raised, or caught in California and sold directly by the producer or their employee or family member. “Certified Producer” does not mean certified organic.
Animals in a herd are all bred from within the herd. No animals are purchased from breeders or other sources and incorporated into the herd. This practice limits entry of diseases into the herd.
Produced using standard practices widespread in the agriculture industry, such as monocropping and the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms. This term is often used in contrast to “sustainable.”
Meat (usually beef) that is “dry-aged” is hung in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room for a period of weeks, during which microbes and enzymes break down the connective tissue, making the meat more tender. Most beef is “wet-aged” in plastic bags, which reduces the amount of water (and therefore, money) that is lost and hastens the process. Many people believe dry aging results in superior flavor.
Grown with little or no irrigation. Special techniques are often used to retain soil moisture. Tomatoes, potatoes, and some orchard crops like apples and apricots can be dry farmed.
For products from less developed countries (like coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, and bananas), fair trade seeks greater equity through trading partnerships based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. Many certifiers follow international standards developed by Fairtrade International. Fair Trade USA uses its own standards. The term generally means just compensation and fair treatment for farmers and workers, as well as investment in community development and environmental sustainability.
Farmstead cheeses are made on the farm using the milk that was produced on the farm. They are often made by hand and in small batches.
Suggests that the product came from an animal that was able to roam. The USDA only regulates the term for poultry, not beef, pork, or eggs. Meat birds are required to “have access to” the outdoors, but no amount of time or space is specified. Free-range hens are often kept indoors in large warehouses. Learn more.
GMO-Free / Non-GMO
The vast majority of processed foods in the US contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), whose DNA has been manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering. Certified organic products must be GMO-free. The non-GMO claim is unregulated, but the Non-GMO Project offers a third-party certification. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market prohibits the sale of products known to contain GMOs.
This label on meat means the ruminant animal (cattle, sheep, goat, or bison) was raised on a diet of fresh pasture during the growing season and stored grasses (hay or grass silage) during the winter months or drought conditions. The USDA standard was revoked in 2016; it is now a voluntary claim. Several organizations offer private certifications. Sometimes the term “pasture raised” is used interchangeably with “grass fed.”
“Finished” animals have reached physical maturity and have developed fatty tissue. Some grass-fed animals, like most livestock in the US, are grain finished, or fed grains for an undetermined amount of time before slaughter. Other grass-fed animals are grass finished: they fed exclusively on grasses throughout their whole life.
Heirloom crop varieties have been developed by farmers through years of cultivation, selection, and seed saving, and passed down through generations. Unlike hybrid crops and GMOs, heirloom varieties always produce seed with the same characteristics of the parent plant.
Unlike the few animal breeds that dominate the meat industry, heritage breeds are rare and have a long history. Modern breeds have been selected for qualities that make them ideal for industrial meat production. Similar to heirloom fruits and vegetables, heritage meats typically have unique characteristics and tastes that make them highly desirable. Because these breeds are often native to particular regions and climates and may not be suited to industrial facilities, such animals may be raised in a more sustainable manner, with access to open pasture and a diet free from antibiotics and growth hormones.
Humane implies that animals were raised with compassion in a way that minimizes stress and allows them to engage in their natural behaviors. Humane certifications (like Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved) have varying standards; requirements may include nutritious feed, ample fresh water without added antibiotics or hormones, and sufficient space and shelter. The term “humane” is otherwise unregulated.
Hybrids are created by cross-breeding parents of different species or cultivars (varieties) to bring out the best traits of both. Seeds saved from hybrids will not “come true”; new seed must be purchased each year. Hybrids are not GMOs. They are produced by controlled crossing, not by gene splicing (see “GMO free” and “heirloom”).
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
A pest management strategy that minimizes impact on the environment. Pesticides are applied in such a way that they pose the least possible hazard, and are used as a “last resort” when other controls are inadequate.
USDA guidelines state that “natural” meat and poultry products can’t contain artificial ingredients or added color and must be only minimally processed; there is no verification system. The claim “natural” on other products is unregulated.
In conventional operations, antibiotics are routinely fed to cows, hogs, and chickens to promote faster growth and prevent diseases that run rampant in the cramped conditions in which food animals are kept. “No antibiotics” claims are regulated by the USDA and require ranchers to show documentation.
Hormones are used in industrial farming of cows and sheep to increase growth rate or milk production. Some hormones are natural, some are synthetic, and some (like rBGH) are genetically engineered. Like “no antibiotics,” the “no hormones” claim is regulated by the USDA. Documentation must be shown, but the USDA does not routinely test. Hormone use in pork or poultry production is prohibited by the USDA.
Produced without the use of (most) synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy come from animals fed only organic feed and given no growth hormones or antibiotics. All products sold as organic must be certified by organizations accredited by the USDA, such as California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Certification includes extensive record keeping and annual inspection of fields and processing facilities. Organic products must be made with at least 95% organic ingredients.
“Pasture raised” implies that meat or poultry comes from an animal that was raised outdoors on pasture. This term is sometimes used by ranchers to differentiate their product from “free-range” products coming from animals raised indoors. This term is unregulated and there is no standard definition. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market only allows pasture-raised eggs to be sold by farmers in our market. Learn more.
“Pesticide free” (or sometimes “no sprays”) is an unregulated term that implies that there are no toxic sprays applied, at least not directly on the produce. Unlike the certified organic label, these claims are not verified by a third party. This label can be misleading and is prohibited in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Raw Milk Cheese
These cheeses are made from milk that is not pasteurized. In the U.S., raw milk cheeses are required to be aged for at least 60 days.
Sulfured / Unsulfured
Some dried fruits are treated with sulfur dioxide (SO2) to retain color and act as a preservative. Some people have allergic reactions to sulfur. Unsulfured fruits are often brown in color. Organic dried fruit must be unsulfured.
Farmers need to practice organic methods for three years on a given piece of land before the products grown there can be certified organic. “Transitional” means that the farmland is in the midst of that transition period toward organic certification.
Vine Ripened / Tree Ripened
These terms are applied to fruit that has been allowed to ripen on the vine or tree. In our industrial food system, fruit is often picked unripe in order to withstand shipping, and then sometimes treated with ethylene gas to “ripen” and soften them. Tree ripening and vine ripening allows the sugars in the fruit to fully develop, yielding better flavor.
CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of farmers markets and educational programs. Learn More »