A Green Market Guide To Understanding What You Buy

The Green Market season is upon us!  In communities across the country many of us are flocking to the local green market to pick up our weekly supply of fruits and veggies, have a chat with the vendors and to learn more about the locally grown movement in general. I admit I’m still a novice. I ask questions, listen in on conversations and sometimes just walk through the ailes feeling a bit overwhelmed. Not only is there a wide variety to choose from, but as a consumer, there is a lot to learn about the benefits of these products vis-à-vis what’s available at the local grocery store.

My closest green market is at the corner of 110th Street and Manhattan Avenue in NYC.  There’s an array of fruits and vegetables, meats from naturally fed animals, nuts and nut products and local honey varieties to choose from.  And week-to-week there are ‘guest’ vendors with new products. I bought the most amazing assortment of Indian chutneys a couple of years back from a lady who makes them herself and I’m still waiting for her to return. This time I will STOCK up!

All told there is more I don’t seem to know than there is time in one summer season to learn. There’s just so much of a vendor’s time I can take up in one visit. So it was a pleasant surprise when a friend told me to check out HellaWella’s Green Market Glossary. It’s a handy little guide to supplement my expanding, albeit limited, understanding of the locally grown food movement.

I invite fellow locally grown green market novices to give it a read and use it to navigate this exciting world:

Green Market Glossary: Farmers Market Labels Demystified

By Nancy Ryerson

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 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.

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