I am writing this because it can be kind of confusing to figure out what farmers mean when they describe something as "chemical-free" or "spray-free" or "organic" etc. This is simply to help customers navigate all the different ways produce is described, so you can know exactly what you are getting (or at least have a better idea).
This is written in the spirit of complete honesty and with the feeling that sharing information will only make us all more aware and understanding of each other. There are many types of farming and all of them take a a lot of work and planning. This is mainly focused on vegetables because that is what we grow and what we know.
SPRAY-FREE (no-spray, pesticide-free)
This means that the veggie has not been sprayed by any sort of pesticide (including organic pesticides). SPRAY-FREE FARM means that the farm doesn't use pesticides on ANY of their produce. If they are not totally spray-free, the farm sprays some crops and not others, so if they are rotating their fields (planting different crops in different years) then there may still be pesticide residue in the soil that gets absorbed by the plants roots and ends up in your vegetables.
There is no governing body that overlooks if farms ARE actually spray-free, or if they are just saying that they are. This is where talking to and knowing your farmer comes into play, and this is why farmers markets are so great- because the person standing behind the table is literally the person who grows the food! You can ask them about their farming practices and develop a relationship and a state of trust.
ORGANIC (certified organic)
Organic means that everything that goes into growing the produce is from a natural source (not synthetic) and it has oversight from a governing body. A farm can't call itself organic without going through a certification process, which includes testing their soil for contaminants, lots of paperwork and recording everything they use. Organic is not the same thing as spray-free, because there are organic pesticides that can be used such as Neem which comes from the Neem tree. Some organic farms might not use any pesticides, so in that case they would be organic AND spray-free. Organic also refers to what kind of fertilizers are used to grow the produce, so they can't use synthetic chemical fertilizers.
Organic standards are not the same in all countries, so it's best to buy local organic. Also, organic farms sometimes also sell conventional produce, so it's best to make sure every veggie you buy is organic even if it's from an organic farm.
CONVENTIONAL (industrial, sprayed)
This means that the produce can be sprayed with chemical pesticides and grown with chemical fertilizers. These farms usually don't refer to themselves as "conventional", they just don't mention their farming practices. They are the most common and largest-scale type of farming nowadays, most of the veggies in the grocery stores and used as ingredients in processed food are conventionally grown.
This means the veggies were not grown with chemical fertilizers or chemical pesticides.
This means that they are grown indoors in a water system, often grown with synthetic fertilizers and might be sprayed with fungicides.
A farm that grows on a smaller portion of land with less employees and less overall quantity of vegetables produced.
These farms grow on more land with more employees and produce much more overall, they also tend to have more backing from government programs.
This means the soil is not disturbed every time a new crop goes into it, there might be some fabric laid down to decompose the remains of the last crop, or it might be pressed down and seeded right over the old crop. This allows micro-organisms in the soil to not be disturbed or set back by plowing and tilling. No-till might also refer to herbicides being used to kill off the last crop and weeds before the new crop being seeded in the field.
Farming with the aim to increase biodiversity within the soil and the ecosystem that support the sequestration of atmospheric carbon.
Farming with the idea that the entire farm is a living organism, focusing on the health and vitality of the soil and surrounding nature. Also can have a spiritual and astrological element.
A place where farmers and other small businesses form a collective to sell their products. They pay a fee in order to attend and there is usually a stipulation that it must be one of the owners of the farm/business that actually runs the table.
A building that one farm owns and sells their produce, and also buys other farmer's produce at a wholesale price to sell as well.
GMO (GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM)
These are plants that have had their genes altered by scientists and are dependant on chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides in order to survive.
This is a type of veggie that you can save seeds from and the next generation will be similar to the original.
This is a cross of two different varieties whose seeds will not give you the same variety as the original.
A variety of vegetable that has been around for a long time and is always open-pollinated. Multicoloured carrots, multicoloured tomatoes etc, a lot of types of vegetables were once many different shapes, colours and flavours before it became just red tomatoes and orange carrots.
CSA (community shared agriculture)
This is a program where you sign up with a farm for weekly shares of in-season veggies.
A pesticide that comes from a natural source and is approved by an organic certification board.
A pesticide that was synthesized in a chemical factory and used in conventional/industrial farming.
I hope this has been helpful to you, and if you have any questions about terms that I've missed I will do my best to answer them. It's always good to talk to the farmers you are purchasing your food from to get an idea of what all goes into it, many farmers fit into several of these definitions so the only way to know is ask! Happy eating!
A small-scale, no-spray, heirloom vegetable growing, nature-first farmer (say that 5 times fast!)