Green Market Glossary: Farmers Market Labels Demystified

Farmers Market ProduceShopping at your local farmers market is a great way to support farmers and food practices you believe in — and often pay less for fresher, tastier produce and meat. But all of those little labels poking out of crates of corn and stuck on egg cartons can be confusing or even misleading. Use this glossary for your next shopping trip, and be sure to ask the farmers at the stand if you have any questions about their methods.


Animal Welfare Approved: Available only to family farms, this certification requires that animals be hormone-free and given continuous access to the outdoors. Cattle must be at least 70% grass-fed, and chickens must be cage-free.


Cage-Free: Chickens with this label do not live in cages and have enough space to walk and spread their wings, but don’t generally have access to the outdoors. They may still be put through processes like beak cutting, which is done so chickens in tight quarters don’t violently peck at each other.


Certified Organic: Products deemed “organic” have been given the label by a certification body of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To get it, farms must provide a production plan that the USDA inspects for sustainability. Meat labeled organic comes from animals that were given organic food and access to the outdoors, and organic produce is farmed without synthetic pesticides or chemicals.


Certified Naturally Grown: Some smaller farms choose not to go through the process of becoming certified organic because it can be expensive, opting instead for this label, which has similar guidelines to the USDA organic label. The certification is offered by a grassroots organization formed to help small farms.


Conventional: A farm with this label doesn’t have any special certifications but may have introduced some sustainable practices. Ask the farmer.


Free-Range: This term is regulated by the USDA and means that the farmer must prove that poultry have access to the outdoors, though for an unregulated amount of time. The term does not regulate eggs.


Grass-Fed: To get this label, the majority of an animal’s feed must be from grass or forage. In addition to giving meat a different taste, a “grass-fed” label means that the farm did not have to ship in soy or corn feed, reducing the farm’s carbon footprint. However, the label does not mean that the animals were given the chance to graze outside.





Heirloom TomatoesHeirloom and Heritage: These labels, often seen on foods like multicolored tomatoes and twisty squash, refer to varieties of plants and animals that have been passed through the generations to preserve unique colors, textures and tastes. These lines are not mass-produced because they tend to me more delicate.

Locally Grown: Refers to products that come from the surrounding area. There is not a standard for how far away “local” food comes from.

Natural: This refers to a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color that’s only minimally processed, according to the USDA. This claim doesn’t need to be certified, however, and only applies to meat and poultry.

On everything else, natural is often more confusing than helpful. This is one label to definitely be wary of. Marketers have long ago realized the word “natural’ will influence purchases.

Related Rescources

How To Tell The Difference Between Natural and Organic

Why Labels on Genetically Engineered Foods Won’t Cost Consumers a Dime

Sweeteners In Milk Lead To Another Labeling Fight

Choosing A Natural Lifestyle Based On Food

Many people are realizing that a more natural lifestyle and diet is a better choice for their health and the health of their families. The quality and purity of the food we eat is the key factor to maintaining a healthy body. Eating food grown naturally makes all the difference. Here are some diet descriptions to help you choose a diet that’s a fit for you.


Organic products are grown using a system of farming that maintains and replenishes the soil fertility without synthetic, toxic pesticides and fertilizers. 

100% Organic

Only products using exclusively organic methods and ingredients can state 100% organic on its label. The label mus also state “certified by” and the certification agency. It can also display the USDA Organic seal.

USDA Certified Organic

This means that 95 percent of more of the ingredients by weight (excluding salt and water) have been organically produced and processed. These foods are also eligible to display the USDA Organic seal.

Made With Organic Ingredients

Products with at least 70 percent organic ingredients may be labeled in this way and list up to three organic ingredients on the front panel.


Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients are only permitted to list organic items on the ingredient information panel.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires all manufacturers of organic products to comply with the new organic standards. These standards ban the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and genetically engineered organisms and irradiation in any product labeled “organic”.

When buying certified organic, it’s useful to know the difference and what the labels really mean.

Organic Trade Association


These foods are minimally processed and contain no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.


Vegetarian foods are derived from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. Some animal protein such as eggs or other dairy products are allowed.


A vegan diet is derived solely from plant origin. It excludes animal foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products and honey.




The kosher certification process can be just as thorough as organic. The purpose of Kosher food is to prohibit the contamination of one food type by another focusing on  cleanliness and safety.  Reasons for food not being kosher include the presence of ingredients derived from nonkosher animals or from kosher animals that were not  slaughtered in the ritually proper manner, a mixture of meat and milk, wine, or grape juice (or their derivatives) produced without supervision, the use of produce from Israel that has not been tithed, or the use of non-kosher cooking utensils and machinery.


Halal foods are foods that Muslims are allowed to eat under Islamic dietary guidelines. The criteria specify both what foods are allowed, and how the food must be prepared. The foods addressed are mostly types of meat/animal tissue. Muslims must ensure that all foods, particularly processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and non-food items like cosmetics, are also halal. Frequently, these products contain animal by-products or other ingredients that are not permissible for Muslims to eat or use on their bodies.

A variety of substances are considered as harmful (haraam) for humans to consume and, therefore, forbidden as per various Quranic verses: 

  • Pork
  • Blood
  • Animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but God.
  • Carrion (carcasses of dead animals)
  • An animal that has been strangled, beaten (to death), killed by a fall, gored (to death), savaged by a beast of prey (unless finished off by a human).


Where Does Your Food Come From?


Find out at the Global Grocer courtesy of Food and Water Watch.

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