Know Your Agricultural Terms: Organic, Sustainable, Grass-Fed and More

The MARKET at the FAREWAY, a farmer’s market, café, and specialty food destination in Chestnut Hill (PA), is now a part of the “Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL)” community. We want to educate our existing and future customers on some lingo that will help you to understand what you are purchasing.

The MARKET is made up of a handful of mostly family-owned businesses, which take pride in their ability to offer fresh food and friendly service in a clean atmosphere. Some of the vendors also take a lot of pride in their food being organic, gluten-free and chemical free. Some vendors use phrases like “farm fresh right to your table” and others use words such as “organic,” “sustainable agriculture,” “chemical free,” “grass-fed,” “grass finished” and “slow food.” We want to make sure you are aware of what our vendors mean when they describe their items as such.

Businesses and corporate companies often use these phrases and words, but what do they mean exactly? We’d like to explain.

  • “Organic” can be “certified” or “not certified”.
    • In order to be “organic,” the food must comply with the standards of organic farming. In general organic farming requires resources to be recycled and uses techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, and compost to ensure the ecological balance is maintained. Fertilizers and pesticides that are considered to be natural (i.e. bone meal or pyrethrin from flowers) are okay to use but synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms are prohibited. [1]
    • “USDA Certified organic” is when the United States Department of Agriculture requires anyone who produces, processes or handles organic agricultural products to be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier. A certified operation must not only update their system plan each year, but they have to be inspected annually as well. The USDA has developed clear standards for organic food, investigates consumer complaints, and takes action against businesses and farmers who violate the law. USDA standards cover the product from farm to table, which includes the quality of the water and soil, pest control, treatment of livestock, and additives to food. Organic food must be separated from non-organic food. Animals must be treated humanely and have access to the outdoors so they can live naturally.[2]
  • “Sustainable agriculture” means building farms that can sustain healthy soil, produce healthy food, and bring harmony with the natural environment while being profitable. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations to meet their own needs.[3] Usually sustainable agriculture provides the community with access to fresh and healthy food while keeping the money spent on the farm in the community.
  • “Chemical free” is usually part of sustainable agriculture that prohibits the use of harmful chemical pesticides on crops. While this is difficult, especially where land has already been degraded, Neidermyer’s Poultry’s is chemical free, antibiotic free and hormone free.
  • “Grass-fed”, a popular phrase, means that the livestock has had continuous access to pasture throughout their lives. This means that they have never been confined to a feedlot where movement is limited. In fact, during 80% (or more) of their lives, they have had access to fresh forage as their primary source of energy. This results in leaner meats compared to grain-fed The grass-fed meat also contains less saturated fat and a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids (good fats), which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • “Grass finished”, although sometimes confused with grass-fed, is when animals are fed only grass during the period preceding processing.
  • “Slow food”, an international movement that was started by Carlo Petrini, is meant to preserve cultural cuisine, advocate for the consumption of wholesome, local foods, and to enjoy the food available within a short distance. This is a new fad all over the place – especially for families who work long hours. 

Take a look at the MARKET at the FAREWAY website and visit each vendor’s tab where you can read about the vendors and their specialties.