Glossary of Terms Associated with Sustainable Agriculture

Artisan: Though the use of this term is not regulated, it implies that the product it describes was made by hand, in small batches. Artisan producers have mastered their craft and have a historical, experiential, intuitive, and scientific understanding of what makes their process successful.

Biodiversity: The presence of genetic variety among plants and/or animals in an ecosystem. Greater biodiversity within an agricultural area generally leads to healthier soil and improved resilience to diseases and pests. In contrast, monoculture is a lack of genetic diversity in an agricultural area.

Biodynamic: A spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production,and nutrition, as defined by the Biodynamic Association. Biodynamic agriculture was developed in the 1920s by Dr. Rudolf Steiner.

Buying clubs: Buying club members order food for periodic delivery, typically once a week. Unlike CSAs, buying clubs operate on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, allowing members to order as much or as little food as they want from week to week.

CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation): Agricultural operations in which animals are raised in large groups confined to small areas. Animal access to pasture, rangeland or fields is extremely limited.

Cage-free: This term is used to describe egg-laying hens rather than chickens raised for meat. Cage-free means that cages are not used in production of these products, but this label does not guarantee that the birds had access to outside space or pasture or whether overcrowding occurred, and this label cannot be third-party certified.

Certified Naturally Grown: Based on the National Organic Program, CNG farms do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, added hormones, or genetically modified organisms in production. CNG’s Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) decreases costs and paperwork for participants- largely by relying on inspections performed by other farmers.

Certified Organic: To be labeled organic in the United States, all fresh or processed foods must be produced according to the national organic standards and certified by an inspection agency accredited by the USDA. Organic farmers must use only approved materials and cannot use GMO’s, sewage sludge, or most synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A direct marketing model in which consumers pay for a share of a farm’s harvest at the beginning of the growing season and receive goods from that farm throughout the season. Consumers share in the risks and benefits inherent to agriculture while providing economic security to the farmers.

Conventional agriculture: This broad category of farming practices generally means that a farm uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It is often used interchangeably with industrial agriculture; however, small-scale, family farms may also practice some form of conventional agriculture.

Cultured/Fermented: Foods that have been broken down into simpler forms by yeasts, bacteria, or fungi. Fermented foods generally enhance digestive processes and have a longer shelf-life than non-fermented foods. Examples include yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.

Direct sales: Sales made by a farmer or food producer to consumers without an intermediary; i.e. at a farmer’s market, through a CSA, or online retail.

Fair Trade business: Practices that improve the terms of trade for farmers and artisans by increasing their access to markets and ensuring that they are justly compensated for their products and labor.

Farmstead cheese: Farmstead cheeses are produced on the same farm that raised the animals that produced the milk. In other words, they are cheeses “from the farm.”

Food hub: A for-profit or not-for-profit business or organization that manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers for the purpose of strengthening producer capacity and access to wholesale, retail, and institutional markets. Food hubs have positive economic, social and environmental impacts in their communities, and fill a critical gap in regional food systems.

Foodshed: Similar in concept to a watershed, a foodshed outlines the flow of food feeding a particular area.

Free-range/Free-roaming: This is a generally unregulated term that implies that the animals were able to move about in an unrestrained manner. It does necessarily mean the animal had outdoor access.

FSMA: The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of the US’s food safety practices since 1938. FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad new powers to prevent food safety problems, detect and respond to food safety issues, and improve the safety of imported foods.  To do so, FSMA authorizes new regulations for farmers who grow certain kinds of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) and for certain facilities that process food for people to eat.

GMO free/Non-GMO: The DNA of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering. GMO’s are developed for specific traits such as disease or pesticide resistance. There are two main areas of concern regarding GMOs: first, many believe that their long-term health impacts are not fully understood. Second, GMO crops lead to greater reliance on chemical pesticides—leading to higher exposure levels for both farm workers and consumers (as well as an increase in pesticide-resistant pests). GMO-free products do not contain genetically engineered ingredients. This term is not regulated, but Certified Organic products must be GMO-free and some products are verified by a third party, such as the Non-GMO Project.

100% grass fed: Animals that have been raised entirely on grass and are not fed grain. This term applies specifically to ruminant animals, such as cows, that are meant to eat grass.

Grass finished: Animals are fed grass and forage for a period before slaughter but may have been fed grains and other feed for much of their lives. This term is not regulated.

Group GAP: The goal of Group GAP is to enable a group of farmers such as a cooperative or a food hub to work together to achieve a collective food safety certification. Group GAP is still in the pilot phase. Fair Food is participating in the 2-year national pilot, working with two farm cooperatives in Lancaster County to achieve USDA Group GAP certification this year.

Heirloom varieties: Plants grown from seeds saved through several generations, which have not been hybridized or genetically modified. Unlike GM or hybrid varieties, heirloom seeds can be saved from year to year  because they will reproduce true to type. They also help preserve genetic diversity in the food supply.

Heritage breeds: Like heirloom plants, heritage breeds are  livestock that have not been bred to suit the demands of industrial agriculture. Heritage breed animals retain their historic characteristics and are raised in a manner that more closely matches the animal’s natural behavior.

Hormone & antibiotic free: Animals that have been raised without the use of growth hormones or subtherapeutic (routine) antibiotics.

Humane: Animal husbandry practices that raise animals under conditions that resemble their natural habitat, including ample outdoor space for movement, a healthy diet, and a limited-stress environment. This term is not regulated, but some farms are certified by a third party such as Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): A low-input approach to managing crops, ornamentals, and orchards. IPM methods include, but are not limited to: using predatory insects to kill plant-eating pests, employing mechanical pest traps, and using chemicals when necessary to avoid losing a crop. Many sustainable farms rely upon IPM as an alternative to the heavy use of pesticides.

Locally grown: The definition of “local” varies greatly and often by region. Fair Food considers locally grown products to be farm products raised within a radius of approximately 150 miles from Philadelphia.

Pasture-raised/Pastured: Animals that have never been confined to a feedlot or feeding floor and have had continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their lives.

Raw milk: Milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Pasteurization kills potentially harmful bacteria but it also kills all the microorganisms naturally found in milk which many people believe to have positive health benefits. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issues raw milk permits, and regulates the operation and sanitation of raw milk bottling facilities in the commonwealth. Twenty-eight states in the U.S. currently allow some form of raw milk sales. Another important benefit of raw milk is that through direct consumer sales and other viable markets for raw milk, dairy farmers bolster their business in an otherwise difficult dairy market.

Raw milk cheese: Cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. In the United States, raw milk cheeses must be aged for at least 60 days.

Seasonality: The time of year when a given food is at its peak, either in terms of harvest or flavor. Seasonal foods are typically the freshest, most flavorful, and least expensive on the market.

SNAP incentive programs: Programs designed to increase SNAP (formerly food stamps) recipients' access to fresh, healthy food by matching SNAP spending with coupons to spend on additional food. Philadelphia has 2 key incentive programs: Fair Food's Double Dollars and the Food Trust's Philly Food Bucks.

Sustainable agriculture: Sustainable can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but Fair Food uses the term to describe a holistic method of agricultural production and distribution that strives to be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible for present and future generations.

Transitional to organic: USDA Organic Certification requires that a farm implement organic methods for three years before it can be Certified Organic. While working toward a “Certified Organic” status, many farms use the word “transitional” to define their farming practices.

Triple bottom line: A business model that gives equal weight to environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic success.

Value-added products: Raw agricultural products that have been processed or packaged so as to bring higher returns and/or open new markets for the producer. Examples include jam, sausages, and bagged salad greens.  

Value chain facilitation: This emerging term describes much of Fair Food’s work of building connections along the values-based food supply chain. Fair Food is currently working with other groups around the country engaged in VCF work to more clearly define VCF’s role in building a sustainable food system.

Values-Based Food Supply Chain (VBSC): Also known as a “Food Value Chain” or simply “Value Chain," a VBSC is a wholesale market channel that values and communicates information about the social, environmental, or community values of the production process. Within a VBSC business relationships tend to be collaborative, products are differentiated by local branding or the story of the people producing them and reward are distributed more equitably across the chain.  

Vine ripened/Tree ripened: In the industrial food system, fruit is often picked while it is still under-ripe to minimize damage during transit over long distances, and ethylene gas is used to “ripen” and soften it. Leaving fruit on the tree or vine to fully ripen allows the sugars in the fruit to fully develop, yielding better flavor.

Wild foraged: The harvesting of uncultivated plant-based foods in the wild. Examples from this region include ramps, hen of the woods mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and paw paws.