Food System Glossary



The capacity of actors in a system to manage resilience, either by moving the system toward or away from a threshold that would fundamentally alter the properties of the system, or by altering the underlying features of the stability landscape. See to learn more.


Agricultural Cooperatives

Agriculture cooperatives involve the pooling of resources by multiple individuals in order to accomplish a shared goal which often includes the sharing of labor, machinery, and/or land with the objective of increasing positive outcomes for all involved.



Agriculture is the science of farming, which includes the cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products. It also refers to the production of crops, the raising of livestock, and farming in general.



A system of aquaculture in which the waste produced the by farmed fish, or other aquatic animals, supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.



Generally, these terms mean that the product was made by hand with great care and high-quality ingredients. They are most frequently applied to items like bread, chocolate, cheese, vinegars and jam.




Biodynamic farming uses organic practices such as crop rotation and composting, with special plant, animal and mineral preparations. Production practices are done according to the rhythms found in nature.


Biodynamic Agriculture

Based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, this method of farming is rooted in a holistic understanding of nature. It involves treating the farm and the soil as living organisms that need to be nourished and replenished, as well as used for their resources.




Cage-free birds live in large houses in flocks up to several thousand. While they might never go outside, they are able to walk around, spread their wings, and lay eggs in nests. There is no regulated definition of this term.


Capacity Building

Enhancing the ability of individuals, organizations or communities to address their own long-term needs.


Carbon Footprint

A representation of the effect human activities have on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases produced (measured in units of carbon dioxide). See to learn more.


Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity is the theoretical equilibrium population size at which a particular population in a particular environment will stabilize when its supply of resources remains constant. It can also be considered to be the maximum sustainable population size; the maximum size that can be supported indefinitely into the future without degrading the environment for future generations.



The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Agriculture Marketing Service evaluate meat products for class, grade, and other quality characteristics. Their findings are then represented on food labels as “Certified,” such as “Certified Angus Beef.” The word “Certified” can also mean a product meets standards defined by a third-party, non-governmental organization or trade group. In such cases, the USDA requires that the word “Certified” be printed in close proximity to the name of the certifying organization or standard, such as “Fair Trade Certified.”


Certified Humane

The Certified Humane Raised & Handled Label is a consumer certification and labeling program. When you see the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label it means that an egg, dairy, meat or poultry product has been produced with the welfare of the farm animal in mind. Food products that carry the label are certified to have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment. Visit the Certified Humane Website to learn more.

Certified Naturally Grown

A grassroots alternative to the USDA’s National Organic Program meant primarily for small farmers distributing through local channels such as farmers’ markets, roadside stands, local restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and small, local grocery stores. The standards and growing requirements are no less strict than the USDA National Organic Program rules. The primary difference between Certified Naturally Grown and the USDA Organic program is cost to farmers and paperwork requirements. Visit the Certified Naturally Grown Website to learn more.

Certified Organic

The USDA requires that anyone who produces, processes or handles organic agricultural products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier in order to sell, label or represent their products as “organic.” To become certified, an organic producer, processor or handler must develop, implement and maintain an organic system plan which meets the certification requirements. A certified operation must update its organic system plan and be inspected annually.


Part of sustainable agriculture prohibits the use of harmful chemical pesticides. As a practice, chemical-free farming aims to restore soil stability and fertility in target locations. Chemical-free agriculture is difficult, especially where land has already been degraded.

Chicken Coop

A chicken coop (or hen house) is a building where female chickens are kept. Inside hen houses are often nest boxes for egg-laying and perches on which the birds can sleep, although coops for meat birds seldom have either of these features.

Chicken Tractor

A chicken tractor (sometimes called an ark) is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. Chicken tractors may also house other kinds of poultry. Most chicken tractors are a lightly built A-frame. It may have wheels on one or both ends to make moving it easier.

Community Capacity

The knowledge, skills, participation, leadership and other resources needed by a community to effectively address local issues and concerns.

Community Food Assessment (CFA)

“A collaborative and participatory process that systematically examines a broad range of community food issues and assets, so as to inform change actions to make the community more food secure.” From: What’s Cooking in Your Food System: A Guide to Community Food Assessment.

Community Food Security (CFS)

A condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance, social justice, and democratic decision-making. Visit to get info to learn more.

Community Garden

A plot of land that is gardened by a group of people to produce fruits, vegetables, flowers, and sometimes chickens for egg production. Community gardens exist in a variety of settings, urban and rural, on vacant lots, at schools or community centers, or on donated land. Food may be grown communally, or individuals or families may have individual garden plots or beds.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community Supported Agriculture creates a direct connection between farmers and consumers. To join a CSA is to buy a share of the season’s harvest. The farmer gains the security of knowing he or she has been paid for a portion of the harvest and the farmer’s “community” participates in how and where their food is grown. Every week throughout the season, the CSA community receives a box of that week’s harvest. Most of the local CSAs will deliver to several convenient area locations, but they always encourage the community to come to the farm, and even to participate in the growing of their food.

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

Research that is conducted as an equal partnership between traditionally trained experts and members of a community. In CBPR projects, the community participates fully in all aspects of the research process. CBPR projects start with the community.


Compost is a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

In concentrated animal feeding operations, animals are confined for more than 45 days per year. The EPA determines whether an agricultural business is a CAFO based on regulations created by the Clean Water Act, and special permits have to be given for the owners to operate a CAFO legally.

Consumer Cooperatives

Businesses owned and run by the customers themselves with the goal being improved service rather than improved profits. Members govern the cooperative, usually through a democratic process. Profits generated by the cooperative are returned to the members based upon their use of the cooperative’s services.

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)

An advanced and intensive form of hydroponics-based agriculture. Plants are grown within a controlled environment so that horticultural practices can be optimized.


Products that are created via standard practices accepted by the agriculture industry are often called “conventional.” This isn’t an official term, but it implies that the product did not undergo any special production or certification process, which means it may include pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified traits. It may also have been produced with agribusiness practices like use of synthetic fertilizers and

Corn Maze

This is a maze that is cut out of a corn field. These mazes have become popular tourist attractions in North America; they are normally combined with other farm attractions of interest to families and day-trippers.


Direct-to-Consumer Marketing

Methods used by growers to market and sell products directly to consumers, enabling them to compete outside the supermarket system and other large wholesale market channels. Includes farmers’ markets, farm stands, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture, pick-your-own/you-pick farms, Internet marketing, and niche marketing.


Distribution is the act or way that farmers transport their products or livestock to customers, businesses, or other farms.


DIY is an abbreviation of Do It Yourself, and means you do the work yourself rather than hire a professional or buying a pre-built object.



A seal or logo indicating that a product has met a set of environmental or social standards.

Ecological Footprint (EF)

Term introduced by William Rees in 1992 and elaborated upon in his book, coauthored with Mathis Wackernagel, Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth, New Society Publishers, 1996. A measure of how much land and water is needed to produce the resources we consume and to dispose of the waste we produce. Related term: Carbon footprint

Economic Gardening

An innovative, entrepreneur-centered economic growth strategy originally developed by the city of Littleton, Colorado, that’s based on the belief that small local entrepreneurial firms are the engine for the creation of sustainable wealth and new jobs. By treating economic growth like a garden, more attention is paid to the unique attributes and resources of a given community and the “complex biological and interrelated factors of building an environment conducive to entrepreneurial activity: intellectual stimulation, openness to new ideas, the support infrastructure of venture capital and universities, information and community support.” (Source: Small Business Administration article)

Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)

An electronic system that allows participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to authorize transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account to pay for fresh foods. A growing number of farmers’ markets are equipped with the technology to accept SNAP benefits.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

A diverse set of interdependent actors within a geographic region that influence the formation and eventual trajectory of the entire group of actors, and potentially the economy as a whole. Entrepreneurial ecosystems evolve through a set of interdependent components which interact to generate new venture creation over time. Within an ecosystem, start-ups, established businesses, research institutions and others can interact and mutually benefit from each other’s ideas, knowledge and connections. Formal accumulation of knowledge and the conceptualization of previous experiences contributes to improving the virtuous cycle.


In economics, benefits or costs that are not included in the market price of goods or services. For example, the cost of natural resource depletion, pollution and other environmental and social factors are externalities that often are not factored into the market price of a product.


Fair Trade

A market-based approach to reducing poverty and empowering farmers in developing countries by encouraging fair wages and labor conditions and promoting environmental sustainability. Trans Fair USA is the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, which carry the official “Fair Trade Certified” label.

Family Farm

The general concept of a family farm is one in which ownership and control of the farm business is held by a family of individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption. Family ties can and often do extend across households and generations.

Farmers’ Market

A common facility or area where several farmers or growers gather on a regular, recurring basis to sell a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally-grown farm products directly to consumers. Certified Farmers’ Markets are those provide certification the products sold there are produced by the farmers themselves.

Farmland Preservation/Protection

Land that produces our food and provides us with scenic open space, wildlife habitat and clean water is increasingly at risk from urban sprawl and rural subdivisions. According to a 1997 American Farmland Trust study, every state in the nation is sacrificing irreplaceable agricultural resources to urban sprawl. We are converting a total of 1 million acres a year, and while the quantity of top-quality agricultural land being lost varies from state to state, the process of conversion increases the pressures on agriculture even beyond the acres that are actually taken out of production. Actions to reverse this trend are being taken on many levels. Tactics include focusing on policies related to property tax relief and protection from nuisance lawsuits for farmers, purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs, special agricultural districts where commercial agriculture is encouraged and protected, comprehensive land use planning, and farm-friendly zoning ordinances.

Farmstead Cheese

The American Cheese Society classifies a cheese as “farmstead” if it is made with milk from the producer’s herd or flock and crafted on the farm where the animals are raised.

Food Alliance Certified

The Food Alliance is a nonprofit organization that certifies farms, ranches and food handlers (including packers, processors and distributors) for sustainable agricultural and business practices. These businesses use Food Alliance certification to make credible claims for social and environmental responsibility, to differentiate and add value to products, and to protect and enhance brands. Certified farmers and ranchers meet stringent standards.

Food Circle

A dynamic, community-based and regionally-integrated food-systems concept. In contrast to current linear production-consumption systems, the food circle is a production-consumption-recycle model. A celebration of cycles, this model mirrors all natural systems and is based on the fact that all stable biological systems function as closed cycles or circles, carefully preserving energy, nutrients, resources and the integrity of the whole.

Food Desert

Geographic areas that lack convenient and affordable access to a range of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and high quality sources of protein.

Food Hub

A food hub is a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.

Food Miles

The distance food travels from where it is grown or raised to where it is ultimately purchased by the consumer or end-user. Local food systems can reduce food miles and transportation costs, offering significant energy savings. Consumers also benefit from fresher, better-tasting, and more nutritious food, while more food dollars stay within rural communities. Related term: 100 Mile Diet

Food Policy Councils (FPC)

Officially sanctioned bodies comprised of stakeholders from different elements of a state or local food system. Food policy councils allow collaboration between citizens and government officials to examine the operation of a local food system and provide ideas or recommendations for how it can be improved. They are considered a key aspect of community food security. Visit to learn more.

Food Security

Access by all people at all times to affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate food, derived from non-emergency sources and produced through sustainable practices in order to lead healthy and productive lives. (Source: Community Food Security Coalition)

Food Sovereignty

Communities achieve food sovereignty when they democratically control what they eat, how it is raised and by whom, and how profits in the food system are distributed. The guiding principle behind food sovereignty is the belief that each person has a right to adequately nutritious food and the resources necessary to be able to feed oneself with dignity and in culturally appropriate ways.

Food System Assessment (FSA)

A food system assessment looks at the way the area being assessed grows, processes, distributes, consumes, and disposes/reuses its food. The end result can be used to identify specific ways to strengthen the links between the economic, environmental, and social aspects of the food system.

Food Systems Council (FSC)

A grassroots network focused on educating the public, coordinating nonprofit efforts, and influencing government, commercial, and institutional practices and policies on food systems. They help the community to explore its own food system, assess what is possible, and build programs for change. FSCs differ from food policy councils by the nature of their grassroots coallition makeup and that they do not act as official advisory bodies to governments.


This term, gaining in popularity, indicates the interconnected nature of a local food system. In the same way a watershed is comprised of diverse, interdependent plant and animal species, a foodshed is made up of local and regional food producers, their customers, and the retailers (food co-ops, farmers’ markets, and independent grocers) that carry their products, creating an integrated local economy.


The USDA definition of these interchangeable terms, “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside,” applies only to poultry meat (not egg-laying hens) and suggests that the animals were raised in an unconfined environment. However, the USDA’s requirement is somewhat vague and does not include any minimum amount of time for outdoor access. “Free-range” labels on beef, pork, and eggs are not regulated.


GAP Certified

GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) is a series of on-farm practices designed to minimize the risk of food contamination, maintain a clear record of how food was produced, handled and stored, and ensure people buying produce that it is coming from a clean, well-managed environment. To be GAP certified farms go through a third party audit, chosen by buyers, to show proof that they have followed the necessary practices.


The act of cultivating or tending to a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, or herbs are planted.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

GMOs are plants and animals that have had their genetic makeup altered in the laboratory to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. For example, tomato plants can be genetically altered so that the tomatoes will store longer. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism with a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism. Genetic modification is currently allowed in conventional farming in the United States.

Global Food System

A concept developed around the vast influences of trade, globalization, labor and market competition in the way it effects the production, distribution, pricing and consumption of food worldwide.


Indicates the absence of gluten, which is composed of two proteins that naturally occur in some grains, including wheat, spelt, and rye, and products derived from these grains. The term is not regulated in the US; products are labeled gluten-free voluntarily by manufacturers to assist people with sensitivities or allergies to gluten.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)

GAP approach aims at applying available knowledge to addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability dimensions for on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products. Based on generic sustainability principles, it aims at supporting locally developed optimal practices for a given production system based on a desired outcome, taking into account market demands and farmers constraints and incentives to apply practices.

Grass Farming/Grass-Based Farming

Grass-based production relies on pasture or rangeland to supply the protein and energy requirements of livestock. Grazing and forage feeding replace high grain diets, close confinement and feedlot-finishing during most or all of an animal’s lifetime. The producer focuses on pasture plant and soil management, and proper stocking density and rotational grazing. Related terms: Grass-fed; Pasture-based; Pasture-raised; Pastured poultry; Free-range; Intensive grazing


Grass-fed or pasture-raised livestock have had continuous access to pasture throughout their lives and have never been confined to a feedlot where movement is limited. This type of livestock typically spends about 80% or more of their lives with access to fresh forage as the primary energy source. The end product results in leaner meats compared to grain-fed livestock.


An animal is considered “finished” when its natural growth has slowed enough for it to start putting on fat; this is the stage at which animals are slaughtered for meat. Grass-finished animals continue eating grass until they reach this stage, while most meat animals spend the last several months of their lives in feedlots, eating grain.



Heirloom species are seeds that have been cultivated over generations. There is no official definition, but it is widely agreed that seeds are naturally pollinated, and a strict interpretation of the term requires that the species be at least fifty years old and not commercially cultivated on an industrial scale.


A term applied to breeds of livestock that were bred over time to be well-adapted to local environmental conditions, withstand disease, and survive in harsh environmental conditions. Heritage breeds generally have slow growth rates and long productive lifespans outdoors, making them well-suited for grazing and pasturing.

High Tunnels

Also called high hoops or hoop houses, these are temporary, covered structures that extend the growing season. They are constructed in the field with materials like translucent plastic or polyethylene fabric in order to protect crops from adverse weather (rain, wind, cool or warm temperatures) and, in some cases, pests.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

A sweetener derived from corn, commonly found in myriad consumer goods in the United States, including soft drinks, yogurt, salad dressing, and soup.


Humane treatment of animals does not have a legal definition. However, the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program’s “Certified Humane” label indicates that the meat comes from animals that were able to engage in natural behavior, given ample space, and provided clean water and a healthy diet free of antibiotics and hormones.


Growing vegetables and fruits (such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers) in water with nutrients washing over the roots of the plants, without the use of soil.


Industrialized Food System

A wide range of activities and disciplines in modern food production. From a consumer perspective, the industrialized food system might be equated with corporate farming. As such, it represents large-scale, vertically integrated food production businesses, seen as the source of a range of effects (some undesirable) on the environment, on food quality, and on society in general.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

An ecologically based approach to pest (animal and weed) control that utilizes a multi-disciplinary knowledge of crop/pest relationships, establishment of acceptable economic thresholds for pest populations and constant field monitoring for potential problems. IPM makes use of all available pest control methods, turning to pesticides when less risky methods fail to control the pest population.

Integrity Food

Integrity foods are produced in ways that are consistent with community values, principles, and beliefs. This term implies a global perspective on food issues, from soil to plate; it goes beyond food safety in capturing all aspects of food production, methods of procurement, and the means of distribution.


Kitchen Incubator

A shared-use commercial kitchen where caterers, street cart vendors, farmers, and producers of specialty/gourmet food items can prepare their food products in a fully licensed and certified kitchen. The kitchens, often sponsored by an umbrella nonprofit organization, provide start-up businesses the opportunity to explore food production without the high cost of buying their own equipment or constructing their own building. Interactive map of incubators in the US available from


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

A quantification of the level of energy and raw materials used as well as the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes produced at every stage of a product’s life or process. LCA can be conducted for a whole process or for part of a process.


There is no official rule about what constitutes local food, but the widely accepted idea is that local food was grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of where it’s sold and eaten. In some instances, however, food originating from within one’s region or even one’s state is considered “local,” depending on the scope of available foods and the location.

Local / Community Food System

A community food system, also known as a local food system, is a collaborative effort to integrate agricultural production with food distribution to enhance the economic, environmental, and social well-being of a particular place (i.e. a neighborhood, city, county or region). One of the primary assumptions underlying the sustainable diet concept is that foods are produced, processed, and distributed as locally as possible. This approach supports a food system that preserves local farmland and fosters community economic viability, requires less energy for transportation, and offers consumers the freshest foods. Related terms: Foodshed, Food Circle, Food Miles

Locally Grown Food

Food and other agricultural products that are produced, processed, and sold within a certain region, whether defined by distance, state border, or regional boundaries. The term is unregulated at the national level, meaning that each individual farmers’ market can define and regulate the term based on its own mission and circumstances.

Locally Sourced

“Locally sourced” is used to describe or label food products, however, there is no agreed definition for the use of “local.” Some may consider vegetables grown within 100 miles to fit the definition, while others may feel that it only includes food produced within a 10-mile radius.


A locavore is a person who attempts to eat only foods grown as locally as possible. Locavores often grow their own food or buy foodstuffs grown within their region. The particular radius of what constitutes as local depends on the individual.

Logic Model

A logic model is a representation of how an activity (such as a project, program, or policy) is intended to produce particular results, showing logical relationships among resources invested, activities, and benefits that result as a sequence of events.


Monoculture Cultivation

With monoculture cultivation, land is used exclusively for the constant cultivation of a single crop—a practice that leaves soil depleted of nutrients and often requires synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and/or genetically modified crops for continued use.


Natural / All-Natural

This term is defined by the USDA only for meat products, which should be only minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients or added colors. As defined, the term is broad enough to cover most meats. The label may be added to products at the meat manufacturer’s discretion—the USDA does not investigate every claim. On produce and packaged food labels, “natural” is a marketing term, suggesting that the product was created without the use of artificial ingredients. However, this term is not regulated or verified by a third-party certifier for non-meat products and is open to wide interpretation.

No Antibiotics

Industrial meat companies often add antibiotics to animals’ food to prevent disease caused by cramped and unsanitary conditions, a practice that is raising concern about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant illnesses in people. The USDA allows the label “no antibiotics added” or “raised without antibiotics” on meat or poultry products. However, the use of these terms is not verified by third party certifiers and is largely based on information given by the producers themselves, thus reducing the strength of such labels. The term “antibiotic free” is not defined or approved by the USDA.

No Hormones

Industrial meat companies use hormones to promote growth and milk production in cattle. The USDA regulates the label “no hormones administered” on beef, and federal law does not allow hormones in raising hogs and poultry.



Crops and animals raised organically have not been exposed to synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, genetic modification, growth hormones, or antibiotics. The original principles of organic farming are based on the minimal use of off-farm inputs and focus on practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Organic farming practices do not ensure that products are free of residues; it stresses methods to minimize pollution to the air, soil and water by using products that readily break down in the soil. Organic is a method used to produce food, not the food product itself. Related terms: Certified organic, Organic but not certified, Uncertified organic

Organic But Not Certified / Uncertified Organic

Many farmers adhere to accepted organic practices but are not certified organic. Organic farming is an approach to agriculture where the aim is to create integrated, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural production system. They cannot label their product organic, so they use descriptive terms such as “organically grown”, “organic methods”, or “organic but not certified.” By not being certified, there is no guarantee that the farmer is using the methods defined by the National Organic Program. To find out more about a farmer’s reason for not pursuing certification, ask him or her.

Organic Certification (Certified Organic)

Under the USDA National Organic Program, all products sold as “organic” must be certified. Certification involves a farm submitting a production plan and being inspected annually by a certifying organization. The process is very similar to quality control programs used in other industries. The organic certification process is designed to assure customers that the organic products they purchase have been produced using appropriate organic practices, with records that allow traceability.

Organic Farming

A production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests. Related Terms: Certified Organic


Pasteurized / Homogenized

Pasteurization is the process of heating foods to kill pathogenic bacteria. The USDA regulates the use of this word in food labeling and in some cases may require certain foods to be pasteurized. Homogenization, when it refers to milk, is a mechanical process that breaks down the fat globules so that they are uniform in size and distributed evenly throughout the milk. Some milk is pasteurized, but not homogenized—that’s why it will have a “plug” of cream at the top.


A contraction of “permanent agriculture,” the word “permaculture” was coined by Australian Bill Mollison in the late 1970s. One of the many alternative agriculture systems described as sustainable, permaculture emphasizes design with thought given to the location of each element in a landscape, and the evolution of that landscape over time. The goal of permaculture is to produce an efficient, low-maintenance integration of plants, animals, people and structure, which can be applied at the scale of a home garden, all the way up to a large farm.

Pesticide-Free / No Spraying

Some farmers may avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides even if they continue to use conventional approaches such as synthetic fertilizer. “No Spraying” or “Pesticide-Free” indicates that while the farm may not be organic, there are no toxic sprays applied to the produce. These claims are not verified by any outside parties. Ask the farmer if anything has been applied to the surface of the produce if this is a concern for you.


The practice of taking the crops you grow or livestock raised and processing them into a new and different product.


Raw Milk

Cow’s milk that is not processed or pasteurized before being bottled for consumption. Sale of raw milk is illegal in many U.S. states, and cheese made from this type of milk must be aged as a safety precaution. Proponents claim that raw milk has remarkable health benefits.


Any area that has some unifying feature and is typically, but not necessarily, smaller than a country (e.g. county, state, watershed).


The ability to persist, innovate and transform into more favorable configurations in the face of change; the capacity for self-organization, to learn and adapt. Related terms: Adaptability

Rural Communities

Places (incorporated or unincorporated) with fewer than 2,500 residents and open territory.

Rustic Foods

While there is no universally-accepted definition of “rustic food,” the implication is that every aspect of the meal has been prepared by you, using fresh ingredients from where you live.


Seed Bank

A seed bank is a type of gene bank that stores seeds as a source for planting in case seed reserves elsewhere are destroyed. The seeds stored may be food crops, and/or those of rare species to protect biodiversity.

Seed Saving

The practice of collecting seeds for replanting in the future. Seed saving is seen by many as an essential indigenous capacity for local and regional food systems.

Seed Sovereignty

The freedom to collect, re-grow, save and distribute seed, free of legal and practical restrictions, as a necessary foundation for healthy, equitable and resilient food systems. Seed sovereignty is asserted as an act of resistance and social empowerment in response to the monopolization of seeds (as well as DNA) by agrochemical firms, and regulations of seeds favoring such firms. One of the most notable proponents of seed sovereignty is Dr. Vandana Shiva, and the participatory research initiative she helped start, Navdanya.

Seed Stewardship

Process of saving seeds with the purpose of maintaining or improving that seed’s health and resilience. It also includes the act of saving and selecting a variety of seeds over a period of many seasons, with the end goal of passing it on to others in the future.

Slow Food

An international movement begun by Carlo Petrini in Italy seeking to preserve cultural cuisine, advocate for the consumption of wholesome, local foods, and to enjoy the food available within a short distance. The movement combats a global food system associated with “fast foods.” Visit the Slow Food USA website to learn more.

Social Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurial approaches to organize, create, and manage ventures to address social problems and make social change. Social entrepreneurship focuses on creating social capital, but need not be incompatible with making a profit. Learn more about social entrepreneurship at Cornell Center for Transformative Action.


This term has no standard definition, but it is generally used to describe food production that does not deplete nonrenewable resources (like petroleum) and is mindful of the well-being of animals, workers, the environment, and the local community. Related term: Sustainable agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is a system that utilizes an understanding of natural processes along with the latest scientific advances to create integrated, resource-conserving farming systems. It integrates three main goals: environmental stewardship, farm profitability, and prosperous farming communities. These systems will reduce environmental degradation, are economically viable, maintain a stable rural community, and provide a productive agriculture in both the short and the long term.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

SARE is the USDA’s primary means of studying and publicizing sustainable agriculture practices. Through a competitive grants program that works with teams of agencies, organizations, and farmers, more than 3000 projects have been implemented.

Sustainable Cuisine Practices

• Purchasing sustainably and locally grown or raised products. • Using ingredients that are seasonal and plentiful (not in danger of depletion). • Encouraging local purveyors to provide diverse products including heirloom varieties and rare breeds. • Minimizing waste by using all edible parts of a product (i.e. making stock out of scraps and bones), composting, and recycling.

Sustainably Grown

Generally, a product can be considered sustainably grown if its production enables the resources from which it was made to continue to be available for future generations.


Sustenance is food and drink regarded as a source of both strength and nourishment.



Tilth is the physical condition of soil, in relation to its suitability for planting or growing a crop. A few factors that determine tilth are the formation and stability of aggregated soil practices, moisture content, degree of aeration, and drainage.

Transitioning to Organic / Transitional

Farmers need to practice organic production methods for three years on a given piece of land before the products grown there can be certified as organic. Transitional means that the farmland is in this transition period, moving toward organic certification.



U-Pick or pick-your-own farm is a type of farm where the customers are allowed to harvest their own produce, often paying less per pound than they would in stores.

Urban Farming

Urban farming is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town or city. It uses the resources of the city to help grow the food to then be sold directly to the customers living near the farm.


The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), created in 1862, is the federal department that administers programs that provide services to farmers (including research and soil conservation and efforts to stabilize the farming economy).


Value-Added Product

A raw agricultural product that has been modified or enhanced to be a product with a higher market value and/or a longer shelf life. Examples include fruits made into pies or jams, meats made into jerky, and tomatoes and peppers made into salsa.


Products labeled “vegan” do not contain any animal products, including meat, dairy, and animal byproducts.

Vertical Farming

Cultivating plant or animal life within a city skyscraper greenhouse or on vertically inclined services.


“Vine-ripened” or “tree-ripened” is a term applied to fruit or vegetables that have ripened on the vine or tree and were then picked when ripe. They often taste better because their flavor and sugars have developed naturally but they can be delicate to the touch and too fragile to ship. Alternatively, fruits shipped long distances may be picked while still unripe, and later treated with ethylene gas to “ripen” and soften them prior to being sold.


A vineyard is a plantation of grapevines, especially one producing grapes for winemaking. but also raisins, table grapes and non-alcoholic grape juice. The science, practice and study of vineyard production is known as viticulture


Wild / Foraged

Items gathered growing wild in fields or woods. Can include ramps (wild leeks), dandelion greens, morel and puffball mushrooms, fiddlehead greens, wild asparagus, strawberries, blueberries and a variety of nuts.


A winery is a building or property that produces wine, or a business involved in the production of wine. Larger wineries may feature wine making equipment, warehouses, bottling lines, laboratories, and large expanses of tanks known as tank farms.

SOURCE: Adapted from

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