How do you define these food and agriculture terms?

Farm Forum

I overheard an interesting conversation the other day. I don’t make it a practice of eavesdropping, but they were talking rather loudly nearby. My ears perked when the topic moved to food.

“I’m going gluten-free because I need to lose some weight,” one of them said.

“I gained weight when I went gluten-free,” the other noted.

“Really?” she replied with surprise.

I wanted to jump in and agree that gluten-free isn’t necessarily a weight-loss diet, but I ate my breakfast and read the newspaper.

As a late-night comedian famously showed with his “person on the street” interviews, people do not necessarily know what “gluten” is. It’s a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For some people, it promotes a response from their immune systems.

People with celiac disease need to eliminate gluten from their diets to avoid damaging their small intestines. If the intestine is damaged, absorption of nutrients from other foods may be affected and many body systems can be damaged.

However, most of us are just fine eating gluten-containing foods. Be sure to visit with a health-care provider if you have concerns, though. The Celiac Disease Foundation at has more information.

I wonder if the average person on the street would know the definitions of other specialized, sometimes confusing, terms associated with foods. Recently, I spent some time in California. One day I was going to order fruit, eggs, toast and coffee.

The restaurant menu featured terms such as “locally and sustainably produced,” “free range” and “fair-trade certified” associated with my menu choices. Could you define all these words?

Try this “quiz” about terms associated with food and food production. Here is your “word bank”: conventional, local food, organic, fair-trade certified, free range, natural and sustainable. Granted, some of these descriptions are legal terms from government sources while others have acquired definitions from common use.

1. This term refers to livestock raised in the open where they can roam. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the use of this term for poultry.

2. Using traditional agricultural practices, growers may use man-made fertilizers or pesticides in this type of agricultural production.

3. Although a precise definition is not available, this word refers to food additives and foods that have no man-made ingredients. The use of this term is regulated when it is used on fresh meat and poultry labels.

4. A food product that complies with environmental and labor principles by a specific organization can carry a logo if the producer is licensed to use it.

5. This term means that the food has been grown in soil that has remained free of man-made pesticides or fertilizers for a specific length of time. The producers can be certified after they have met strict compliance guidelines.

6. Food with this designation is produced within a fairly close geographic location. Although the term does not have a precise definition, half of people surveyed a few years ago thought the food was produced within 100 miles of their homes.

7. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this term refers to “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices that meet America’s need for food and fiber and enhance the natural resources that food growing depends upon.”

Here is the key: 1) free range; 2) conventional; 3) natural; 4) fair-trade certified; 5) organic; 6) local food; 7) sustainable.

You do not need acres of land to grow some food for your household. Some of my “local food” will come from my backyard garden if the weather is agreeable this year. I will try to use sustainable practices and keep my food “natural” in my kitchen. Farmers markets and co-ops are other ways to enjoy locally produced foods.

Try gardening this year. When beginning a gardening project, consider the space and time you have available. Do you have a flower bed that could become a “vegetable bed?” Lettuce and radishes grow fairly quickly. String beans also pop up quickly and are fun for kids to harvest. How about a tomato plant in a large pot on your deck or some fresh herbs in a window box?

The NDSU Extension Service has many resources at to help you learn how to grow your own food. To learn about square-foot and container gardening, see “Gardening Delights for All” at

Visit with your Extension agent/assistant to learn about classes, handouts, and helpful videos and websites. Later in the season, remember to visit the NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition website at for directions about preserving food.

By the end of summer, you could use your own locally grown food to prepare this recipe from Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Stir-fry Veggies and Beef

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. soy sauce

1/3 c. water

1 c. sliced carrots

2 c. broccoli florets

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 c. fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 Tbsp. oil

8 ounces sliced beef

Mix ginger, garlic powder, soy sauce and water; set aside. Rinse vegetables. Prepare vegetables as directed. Heat oil in a large frying pan and add meat when the oil is hot; stir until brown. Push meat to the side and in the middle of the pan, add carrots, onions and peppers. Cook for about one minute. Add mushrooms and broccoli, and cook until they are tender. Add the liquid mixture and cook until bubbly. Reduce heat, cover pan and cook for two more minutes. Service with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 250 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 15 g of carbohydrate, 6 g of fiber, 23 g of protein and 410 milligrams of sodium.