Now that spring has sprung and the chill of winter is replaced by sunshine, farmers are prepping their crops in anticipation for a rewarding and fruitful market season. With that in mind, sometimes markets can be a little daunting. Especially if you are unfamiliar with all those certifications being tossed around now like biodynamic, conventional, genetically modified, heirloom, or organic. Not to fear though! We have created a convenient guide that explains what all those tricky words mean that you might see or hear at your next market visit!

Let’s begin with the most widely used term that you are probably familiar with.

Farming Terms

CERTIFIED ORGANIC: Yeah, yeah. We know! This is an easy one, but what exactly makes your next head of organic lettuce worthy of that cute little USDA Organic sticker? The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) “authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products.” Farmers must also document their farming processes and have an inspection done every year. Organic practices and process consists of such – focusing on renewable resources, soil and water conservation, rotational grazing, elimination of pesticides and/or fertilizers, crop rotations, use of animal manure, and respecting biodiversity.

CERTIFIED NATURALLY GROWN: Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) has no affiliation with the USDA’s NOP. They are a “private non-profit organization” that is customized to serve farmers who own a smaller-scale farm, and sell directly to their community. The certification standards are based on that of the NOP, but require less paperwork and lower membership fees.

CONVENTIONAL: Conventional famring relies heavily on the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Often practices like these lead to soil erosion, human health effects, and contaminated water source. 

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM: The USDA refers to GMOs as biotechnology and states it is the use of “tools, including traditional breeding techniques, that alter living organisims, or parts of organisms; to make or modify products; improve plants or animals; or develop microorganisms for specific agricultural use.” In food products, GMOs alter color, longevity, and otherwise natural traits in food, by copying genes from one desired orgainsm into the genetic code off another orgainsm.