Newsletter August 2016: Farming Jeopardy

Hello all! It’s hard to believe that it’s August already; I know that’s cliché to say but there is something about summers on the farm that make it seem so long, and yet it flies by so quickly. The heat during July has definitely made me wish for Autumn to hurry up and get here.

Farm Market season is in full swing, and one thing that comes with that is that we field a lot of questions about our farm and our products. The most common questions we get are regarding shoppers trying to navigate the minefield of food labels. They’re trying to figure out what so-and-so certification means and is it better than this-or-that certification…. trust me, it can get confusing fast! So here’s what you need to know about terms you’ll see at the famers market or in the grocery aisle.


Sustainable - Sustainable agriculture is a very broad term that means a farm has, on some level, a commitment to improving the land with their farming practices. At Alden Hills, we do this by the way that we graze our animals on pasture to build soil and we do not use harmful chemicals.

Bio-dynamic – Bio-dynamic farming is similar to sustainable. A bio-dynamic farm will usually be smaller but has a variety of animals and crops that all work together to create a balanced eco-system.

Local – “Local” is probably the most used term you’ll see and also the most trivial and vague… I’ve seen farm markets that classify a local farm as any farm within a one state radius! Local carries this connotation that its healthful but when purchasing, you really need to dig deeper because farming practices matter more than just location. Just because an egg is laid geographically close to you does not mean it wasn’t fed junk chicken feed, etc.

Grass-fed – “Grass-fed” means that an animal is raised on pasture. You have to be careful with this term because a cow can be fed grain in the final months of its life and can still be sold legally as grass-fed. The important question to ask is whether the product is grass-finished.  

Grass-finished – This term means that the animal you are buying has never been fed grain. We are proud to say that we finish all of our beef on grass at Alden Hills.

All-Natural or Natural – Legally this doesn’t mean anything on a label. Ask the seller for more information!


Organic – Organic means that a product meets the USDA Organic standard and is inspected by a third party certifying agency to verify. I see people using terms like “better than organic” or “raised organically” but these mean nothing. If it doesn’t have the Organic seal, then it is not Organic! Alden Hills is proud to be a certified Organic farm.

Certified Grass-fed – This is a certification that verifies that an animal is truly raised on grass its whole life.

Certified All-Natural – This certification is similar to Organic but less strict.

Certified Non-Gmo – This certification ensures that no genetically modified organisms were fed or grown to make a product. Certified Organic includes these requirements as well.

Certified Humanely Raised – This certification focuses solely on how the animal was raised and verifies that it is raised in a humane way. Certified Organic includes these requirements as well.

The most important thing to remember with all of these different labels is that you should get to know your farmer. That’s the best way to understand how they do things, and you can see for yourself if you agree with their farming philosophies.

So with all of that in mind, keep asking us questions…we like telling you about Alden Hills and how we do things here!


Levi Powers