Navigating the produce aisle is getting more confusinG.
Local, hyperlocal, organic, CNG…the labels on our produce are getting more and more descriptive. But few people know exactly what these terms are. There are many different understandings (and even misunderstandings), which is why we feel it’s important to share what we’ve learned in our time in the industry. Our goal is to establish a common interpretation of four important terms as they relate to produce.
So, what do they mean?
We’re going to take a wild guess that you are already a little familiar with what food labeled as “local” means. But to create a common ground we would like to use a provision to the Farm Act from 2008, that states that for a food item to be labeled “local” it must be produced “so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product.” For perspective, a drive from sunny Southern California to the Bay Area of San Francisco, CA is around 400 miles. Or a drive from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL is around 400 miles. Or a drive from Boston, MA to St John, NB, Canada, is about 400 miles or 650 kilometers. Clearly “local” doesn’t always mean nearby or even grown/produced from within the same state as it is purchased and consumed.
Almost everyone reading this post will have already seen a head of lettuce, bunch of kale, or a handful of cilantro for sale labeled as “organic”. The USDA defines organic production as a “system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity." There has been some media attention recently as to how this definition applies to hydroponics and whether or not this definition should be applied to soil-less growing methods. Regardless of where one lands in that debate, organic labeling strives to promote agricultural practices that do not use synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMO), eg. seeds. Farmers applying for certification by the USDA must pass routine inspection and follow organic farming guidelines established by their home states.
Freight Farms’ Hyper-local
Have you ever had a tomato right out of a backyard garden? Or a carrot from a farmer’s market stand? Or even a bunch of picked-that-day Lacinato Kale (great for salads!)? The Freight Farms community of farmers defines “Hyper-local” produce as food that is grown right in a community’s backyard, eg. 3 miles outside of downtown Boston, and available for purchase at a market or consumption at a local restaurant on the same day it was picked off the tower. Our farmers are growing lettuces, leafy greens, and herbs with little to no food miles and sometimes even right out the back door of fast-casual restaurants. The benefit of being a hyper-local food supplier is that produce can be harvested and delivered the same day, and can remain fresh much longer than produce distributed long distances. Eating local, and hyper-local food is one way to shrink your footprint on the environment...and get the tastiest goods!
Certified naturally grown (CNG)
This label is referred to as "The Grassroots Alternative to Certified Organic", and is a far less expensive and more accessible alternative to the USDA National Organic Certification program for farmers. Similar to organically grown produce, Certified Naturally Grown farmers don't use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs. CNG farmers typically sell at farmers markets, through CSA's and at local, independent grocers and can be recognized by the label!
Regardless of the label, it is important to understand where and how food is produced. Transparency is key to this understanding. Being able to identify the miles food travels from source to market and the practices used to grow that food will empower individuals to make better food choices amongst the many labels. One of the major benefits of growing in the Greenery is the ability to provide unparalleled transparency in all operations from seed to harvest. Our farmers are able to communicate the complete story of how food is grown to their customers, and demonstrate good agricultural practices throughout the whole process.