Community markets and local produce retailers use many of the same terms you'd find in any good produce supermarket or grocery store. Still, some of these terms are misunderstood or confusing to customers.
The glossary at the bottom of this page is an excellent resource to demystify some terms often used by produce sellers. The following article can also help you become a more savvy shopper at Santa Clara County produce markets, including those in Sunnyvale, San Jose, Campbell, Gilroy, Morgan Hill and beyond.
What Natural Means to Santa Clara County Produce Markets
Many people strive to eat more natural foods, but there is no set standard for labeling foods as “natural”. The general understanding is that products and foods marked “natural” or “all natural” are as close as possible to their natural state and have been minimally processed, if at all.
Meat products are the only items for which a definition of the word “natural” exists from the USDA. In these cases, natural meat is required to be free from artificial flavors, colors, chemical preservatives or other synthetic ingredients, but producers and farmers are left to their own honor for natural products, as the USDA does not verify these claims.
The Real Meaning of “Local Food”
Local foods, also known as the locovore movement, have become increasingly popular in Santa Clara County and the Greater Bay Area, including San Jose, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Milpitas, Palo Alto District, Cupertino, Gilroy, Campbell and Morgan Hill and other towns.
Traditionally, local foods are those that were grown or raised near the point of consumption. That often translates into fresher food that has traveled a lesser distance, with may mean a smaller carbon footprint and more money remaining in the local economy.
However, it is important to remember that there are no set standards for what “local” really means. Local may mean the immediate city, county, state, region or country, depending on the Santa Clara County produce market or seller making the claims.
Many foods marked “local” in California do indeed come from within the state, since California is a verdant farming area with a moderate climate. You should talk with your community market staff, check labels or ask where individual products come from if eating locally is important to you.
Why Choose Free-Range or Grass Fed Meats?
Meats, poultry, dairy and eggs that are labeled free-range, grass-fed or pastured are preferred by some customers because the animals of origin may have lived healthier lives than those in factory farms.
The term “free range” implies that the product comes from animals that were raised in open air environments with room to roam. However, it's important to know that free range claims are not regulated when it comes to eggs and red meats. The USDA does regulate free range claims on poultry, but it only requires that the birds have access to the outdoors for at least some time each day.
Grass fed and pastured animals are those that have a significant percentage of their calories provided by pasture grasses. Their diets may be supplemented by grains, and there is no regulations as to the exact percentage or manner in which the grasses are fed to the animals.
If it is important to you that your meats, dairy or eggs come from animals that had access to open air or free-range feeding, talk with the Santa Clara County produce market staff about their suppliers' standards for raising cattle and poultry.
What is Organic and No-Spray?
Purchasing organic foods can be confusing for consumers because of recent changes in the labeling and certification process. Technically, organic foods are those that are farmed in ways that restore and maintain the land, water and air. This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides because the plants are healthier and can better resists pests and disease on their own. All fertilizers and other materials used in the growing process are low- or no-polluters that break down easily in the natural soil.
The USDA's National Organic program seeks to certify all products that are sold with the organic labeling. However, some farmers choose not to seek organic certification because of the cost of certification, personal feelings about certification regulations and the time investment in becoming certified.
Instead, many farmers in Santa Clara County and beyond practice organic and sustainable growing methods without using the certified organic label. These farmers may label their products as chemical free, no-spray, biodynamically grown, or even transitional organic in the event that they are in the midst of attaining their organic certification.
How Heirloom and Heritage Produce Differs from Other Fruits, Vegetables and Meats
Heirloom products are those that have been bred for generations, and carefully developed for their unique textures, colors and flavors. Many heirloom fruits and vegetables are quite different from their factory farmed cousins, and some consumers prize heirloom foods for their unique attributes.
Similarly, heritage foods are carefully bred from rare or nearly-extinct breeds of animals and vegetables. These products also differ greatly from mass-produced foods in terms of colors, flavors, textures and variety.
Heirloom and heritage products are often harder to find and may be more expensive than factory farmed alternatives because they generally produce smaller yields and are more delicate, so they are harder to ship long distances. Most heirloom and heritage plants and animals are farmed in the local area in which they are sold because of travel concerns.
If you are interested in heirloom and heritage items, talk with local produce market staff in Gilroy, Cupertino, Campbell, Palo Alto, Milpitas and other areas to confirm that they can provide the items you're looking for.
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