Growing Methods

Should I ask the farmers how they grow their produce?

Absolutely! Talking to farmers about growing methods is one of the advantages of buying direct. Farmers put a lot of effort into growing our food and are helpful in answering questions when we take an interest in how it is produced. Many consumers are concerned about the safety of their food and farmers are responding by reducing the amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers they use.

One of the results of this trend is the emergence of a complex assortment of growing methods and a diverse collection of terms and labels used to describe them. Organic, pesticide-free, no-spray? Consumers often have difficulty deciding what choices to make when they shop for fresh fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled “organic” must meet. All organic produce in a VCCFMA market is certified that the farm is in compliance with the National Organic Program and Organic Foods Production Act and will be labeled appropriately. All organic producers in the market are also registered with the State of California’s Organic Program.

The following terms and definitions will help you learn more about the growing methods used by your favorite direct marketing farmer. By talking with the farmers, sampling their products and comparatively shopping throughout the market, the consumer can feel comfortable with their food choices at a certified farmers’ market.

Conventional Agriculture:

Although the majority of California farming operations fall into this category, conventional agriculture is difficult to define because it’s scope is so broad and varied. Conventional farmers are concerned about the health and environmental considerations of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They have responded by adopting sustainable growing methods, such as beneficial insects and cover cropping whenever possible and reducing chemical usage. Conventional farmers work very closely with their county agricultural commissioners to report all their growing practices and to protect their customers and the public living near their farms by using the proper procedures and products.


Farmers may label their products pesticide-free. This would mean they have not used a synthetic pesticide or an approved organic pesticide product. This term does not mean the product is organic unless accompanying signage designates it as such. The farmer should be able to answer any questions on exactly what products and when they were used on this particular crop.

No Spray:

“No spray” is not a legal term in the marketing of agriculture and its use is discouraged by this Association and the California Department of Agriculture.


Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic food is produced without using synthetic ingredients, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled organic, a government approved inspector inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure their growing practices meet the USDA organic standards. All organic produce sold in the certified farmers’ market will have signage displaying it as such. These certified organic growers will also have paperwork available for review from their certifying agency.


Hydroponics is a technology for growing plants in nutrient solutions (water and fertilizers) with or without the use of artificial medium (e.g., sand, gravel, soil) to provide mechanical support. The definition of hydroponics has been confined to liquid systems only and is enclosed in greenhouse-type structures to provide temperature control, reduce evaporative water loss, and to reduce disease and pest infestations. The principal advantages of hydroponic controlled environment agriculture (CEA) include high-density maximum crop yield, crop production where no suitable soil exists, a virtual indifference to ambient temperature and seasonality, more efficient use of water and fertilizers, minimal use of land area, and suitability for mechanization, disease and pest control. The major advantage of hydroponic (CEA) compared to field grown produce is the isolation of the crop from the soil, which often has problems of diseases, pests, salinity, poor structure and/or drainage. The principal disadvantages of hydroponics, relative to conventional open-field agriculture, are the high costs of capital and energy inputs, and the high degree of management skills required for successful production. Capital costs may be especially excessive if the structures are artificially heated and cooled.

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