Farming Terms

Certified Organic (USDA): This designation indicates a product has been produced, processed and handled in accordance with the USDA-NOP standard and has been certified by the USDA.

Conventional: Standard agriculture practices that are most prevalent throughout the industry are considered conventional. This includes techniques such as row-cropping, tilling, mono-cropping, and the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, hormones and antibiotics. Conventional farming in the United States also includes the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Dry Farmed: This practice indicates farming that occurs on non-irrigated land with little rainfall and relies on moisture conserving tillage (cover crops), rather than traditional tilling methods between rows and crops. It is also heavily dependent on the selection of the appropriate drought resistant crops for the site.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): GMOs are plants that have been created by man by artificially altering the DNA of naturally occurring organisms to achieve a desired trait. Typically genes from one species are spliced into the genes of another in a lab to create a new species or variety that can be reproduced through seed.

Heirloom: This term refers to a variety of plant or breed of animal that has been preserved or developed through the generations by cultivation, selection and seed saving to preserve traits and variations that are naturally passed down through reproduction. The common threshold for the claim of heirloom is a species or variety that has been in existence for over fifty years. Plants and animals of that age predate genetic modification and have proven they are not suspect to the reversion of hybrid varieties.

Hybrid: Hybrid varieties are produced by crossing two varieties or species of plant to create an entirely new one. Plants that are marketed as “hybrid” have been manually produced by mechanically performing the pollination steps to ensure the desired cross of specific parent plants. Hybridization can occur naturally, and when this occurs those plants are often cultivated through isolation and natural reproduction or the use of tissue culture. If these plants are able to reproduce naturally through seed or root they rise to the level of a variety.

Integrated Pest Management: A strategy to reduce the use of chemicals and maintenance through the careful selection of plants, the monitoring of pest and disease and determining their actual threat. IPM requires that chemical solutions only be used as a last result when mechanical or natural solutions are ineffective and a lack of action would result in greater negative environmental impact than acting chemically.

Locally Grown / Local Food: Local is subjective in terms of location and can refer to a region, state, municipality or radius. Local implies that the food is produced, processed and sold within a specific region. This term is unregulated, but the most commonly used threshold is a radius of 150 miles. This radius is used as a baseline of environmental impact, as the shipping of food over 150 miles is believed to have a greater negative environmental impact than conventional farming methods.

Naturally Grown (USDA): USDA requires that anyone marketing a meat or poultry product as “natural” use limited processing, no artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives or other artificial ingredients. There is no USDA sanctioned natural certification process. There are processes to contest the claim of a product as natural by contacting your local USDA agent. While artificial is definable, there is no set standard as to when a processed organic product ceases to be natural.

No Spray: This term is an expansion of Pesticide Free in that it also excludes herbicides and fungicides, whether synthetic or organic. Due to the impact of drift and health impacts of residual spray of all types (organic or synthetic), the term is used to imply a level of food and environmental safety.

No Till: This is a practice of soil conservation that includes top growth harvest of crops but leaves the root mass in place to retail moisture and increase microbial activity. This practice usually requires the use of some sort of herbicide (either organic or synthetic), mulching and the use of cover crops.

Organic: Term refers to any carbon based matter or life form that occurs in nature without synthetic production.

Organically Grown: For product to be sold as organically grown, they must be grown in accordance with the USDA-NOP standards for organic certification. This term cannot be used to designate USDA Organic Certification, but is often used by producers operating under the $5000 exemption of the USDA-NOP standard. The NOP standard does provide a baseline for the word organic, but use of this term has no legislative authorization, and is regulated only by challenge through an official complaint to the USDA that the products were not organically produced.

Permaculture: Permaculture is an ecological design system to reach for sustainability in all aspects of human life. It involves everything from soil development and water conservation to community design and housing construction. Permaculture is a way of living and belief system founded in the principles of nature rather than just an agricultural practice.

Pesticide Free: This term implies that pesticides either organic or synthetic have not been used in the growing and processing of a product. This designation is meant to imply pollinator protection rather than an organic status.

Reversion: A reversion refers to the offspring of a hybrid species that reverts to the parent species. This can occur through the production of seed or through the emergence of active growth that reverts to the parent species and is capable of reproduction.

Species: A species is a naturally occurring plant or animal.

Sustainable Agriculture: Sustainable agriculture practices strive to raise healthy food for consumers and animals, protect and restore the environment, provide for the humane treatment of workers and animals, provide a fair wage to the producers and support and enhance local communities, economies and the environments they live in.

Transitional: A farm that is transitional is in the initial three year period operating under organic standards required before becoming certified.

USDA: United States Department of Agriculture

USDA-NOP: United States Department of Agriculture National Organic Program

Variety: A variety is a clearly identifiable form of a species that varies by habit or genetics. For a variety to be true and not a hybrid it must be able to reproduce by natural means.

Vine or Tree Ripened: Fruits and vegetables that are vine or tree ripened have been allowed to achieve maturity before harvest. Most conventional harvesting and mass produced fruits are harvested before ripening to make them more firm when shipping. Upon arrival at the final distribution center, they are often gassed to induce ripening at the final market location.

Processing Terms

Artisanal: This term implies a product is made by hand and in small batches.

Canned: Canned foods are preserved in liquid or dried and stored in a container that is heated to remove excess air and create a vacuumed seal. Canning does not imply safety, as foods must undergo the appropriate pickling or cooking process to achieve sterilization.

Cry-o-vac: A form of meat storage utilizing liquid and plastic bags which are vacuumed and sealed to remove any access air. This is performed to prevent the product from breathing and slow the aging process. This is the most common form of meat packing and storage.

Cured: Curing is using a combination of salt, sugar, nitrite and/or nitrates for the purposes of preservation, along with flavor and color enhancement. Cure ingredients can be rubbed on to the food surface, mixed into foods or dissolved in water. The end result is a food that uses a chemical process to inhibit microbial growth, making the foods safe for lengthy unrefrigerated storage and human consumption.

Dehydrated: Dehydrating a food requires the removal of all liquids and is used most often for storage or transport. Dehydrated foods typically require rehydration before consumption.

Dried: Dried foods have gone through a process to remove excess liquids for the purpose of increasing shelf life or to prepare for consumption. Drying does not imply dehydration as a certain percentage of moisture is retained to allow for the consumption of the product in the dried form without rehydration.

Dry-Aged: This process requires the hanging of meats in temperature and humidity controlled rooms for a designated period of time to relax the muscles and tenderize the flesh while developing flavor. Most commercial meats are stored in plastic and liquids with artificial additives to try to accelerate and simulate these results.

Farmstead: Products that are listed as “farmstead”, such as cheeses, have been produced at the same location the product was raised.

Flash Frozen: Flash freezing is used to quickly freeze perishable food items. Foods items are subjected to temperatures well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the water inside the foods to freeze in a very short period of time without forming large crystals. This prevents damage to the cells, preventing freezer burn and sugar degradation to preserve the foods flavor and texture.

Freeze Dried: Freeze Drying is a dehydration process for preserving perishable foods or to make them more convenient for transport. Freeze-drying works by freezing the material, reducing the surrounding pressure and then adding enough heat to turn the frozen water directly into a gas and escape. This process preserves many of the sugars often lost in dehydration and can increase flavor upon rehydration.

Fresh Frozen: Fresh frozen implies that a food is frozen within the first 24 hours after harvest or slaughter. This is not the same as flash frozen as this is about time from harvest or slaughter not process. The term is of importance because without processing, sugars and nutrients in most foods can break down after the first 24 hours by as much as 50%.

GAPs: Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are principles of production, processing and storage to reduce microbial infection.

Homogenization: Homogenization is the process of reducing the particle size of fluid products such as milk, fruit juice and sauces to make them more stable and have a more uniform texture.

Pasteurization: Pasteurization is a process of heating a food, usually liquid, to a specific temperature for a definite length of time and then cooling it immediately to slow the growth of microbial bacteria.

Pickled: Pickling is the preservation or cooking of food with an acid or brine solution, with or without the use of heat. The elimination of microbes to insure safety is a result of the reaction of the foods with the acid or a fermentation process and does not require heat.

Raw: Foods that have never been pasteurized, or heated to a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit are considered to be “raw”. The USDA and FDA require that all raw milk cheeses in the United States are aged a minimum of 60 days. The sale of raw milk is prohibited in most states, excluding Missouri.

Raw Milk (Missouri Law): Farmers can sell raw milk and cream to the final consumer either on the farm or through delivery without being required to have a permit. Those interested in selling raw milk and cream other than on-farm or through delivery (e.g., farmers markets) must obtain a retail raw milk permit from the state and must have state approved bottling equipment on the premises. In addition, farmers with a retail raw milk permit must comply with state labeling regulations for raw milk and raw milk products.

Smoked: Smoking is a method of preparing protein-rich foods and to prevent them from spoiling quickly. The dehydration that occurs in the process and the antibacterial properties of absorbed smoke provide the preservation mechanisms, but do not necessarily “cure” the meat for food safety.

Sulfured: Sulfured fruits have been treated with sulfur dioxide or meta bisulfate to prevent oxidation (browning) during the drying process and preserve the natural color.

Vegan: Vegan foods contain no animal products or byproducts at all, including meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin or honey.

Vegetarian: Vegetarian foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds with or without dairy products and insect byproducts such as honey. A vegetarian product will not contain any meat that is mammalian, poultry, fish, crustacean or a derivative of their slaughter.

Wood-Fired: Foods that are baked in a clay, brick or sod oven that is fired by wood are wood-fired versus baked in a conventional oven with gas or electricity.

Meat and Poultry Terms

Antibiotic Free: Antibiotic free means that the farmer has not administered antibiotics to their animals. This can also imply that the animal has been raised humanely as the main causes for the need for antibiotics are caused by overcrowding.

Closed Herd: This term implies that all of the animals in a herd have been bred from the same original herd and no animals have been purchased or leased to breed or incorporate into it.

Free Range: Free Range implies that a product comes from an animal that is unconfined and free to roam. Free Range eggs are not proactively regulated under USDA guidelines. However, poultry and poultry whose eggs sold using the claim must have access to the outdoors for an undetermined period each day. Enforcement of this policy is only done when violations of this requirement are made through your local USDA office. Poultry and eggs that are labeled as free range will rarely be certifiable as organic, as it is virtually impossible to ensure that the bugs they eat have not been exposed to chemicals on neighboring farms.

Grass Fed: Grass-fed animals are raised on diets consisting of freshly grazed pastures in season and stored hay or silage in winter and during droughts.

Grass Fed / Corn Finished: This designates an animal that has been allowed to pasture and has been grass fed, but has been fed corn in the final months before slaughter to develop flavor and increase the marbling in the flesh. The animal may or may not be pastured or allowed to roam in the final months or days before slaughter.

Heritage: Heritage breeds of livestock are the animal equivalent to heirloom vegetables. These animals have been bred naturally over time and are typically adapted to local environments, withstand disease and harsher weather conditions. This often results in slower growth rates, but a longer lifespan.

Hormone Free: Hormone Free means that a farm has not used hormones in any way to increase production. Typically hormones are used to speed growth in slaughter animals and to increase dairy production.

Humane: The label humane implies that an animal has been treated with compassion until slaughter. Humane certifications are not standardized by the USDA and may vary by state or organization issuing the certification. Generally this implies that the animal has had space to lie down, been allowed to engage in natural behaviors and been provided with adequate shelter, food, water and nutrition without adding antibiotics or hormones.

Pastured: Pastured is the Free Range equivalent for livestock such as cows and hogs, and implies they are not raised in pens or buildings and are allowed to roam freely in pastures until the final days before slaughter.