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TexasRealFood Guide to Labels

by Caroline Grape
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As part of our directory of businesses in Texas and further afield, you’ll find that each business has a note letting you know they adhere to certain practices and/or memberships and certifications. There’s a lot of different approaches to farming sustainably, or supporting organizations who encourage a shift in the agriculture movement. As important as moving away from industrial-sized farming, is to look for a diverse range of approaches to address the gaps we are currently facing in our policy and certification systems in the U.S. To help demystify some of these Memberships & Associations, we’ve compiled a handy guide below. 

These are all aimed at helping you better understand your food, food suppliers and what you can do to support farms and farmers trying to make a difference in how our food is produced. Once you’re familiar with these terms, it’ll be easier than ever to find the right producer for you, through our vast directory. Why not check out our list of terms and definitions, and our article that break it down and simplify it all.

Are you looking for healthy, grass fed beef? Look for the American Grass Fed Association (AGA) logo. The American Grass Fed logo ensures that you are buying only from producers who raise their livestock on pasture, filled with grass, herbs and wildflowers, as the natural diet of livestock should be. Their certification is third-party verified and guarantees that when consumers buy grass fed beef with the American Grass Fed Association logo, they are ensured it was born, raised, and processed in the USA, that the animals were treated humanely, and that they were grazed regeneratively. This confirms to shopkeepers and the consumer that American Grass Fed Association certified producers are improving soils, water quality, biodiversity, and American farming communities. Anyone can join to become a member, with different levels of membership based on whether they are Certified American Grass Fed, working towards certification, or just supportive of the organisation. This gives access to various benefits, dependent on the tier of membership. They also stand by the rights of farmers and ranchers to make a living that not only supports their families, but encourages next-generation succession through education, support, and marketing. Their website also serves as a resource hub for those that are looking for more information on the highest-end animal husbandry, regenerative methods, and holistic management of livestock.

If you’re looking for a rare, heritage-breed steak for a special occasion, check out The Livestock Conservancy’s directory. Committed to maintaining American heritage breeds of livestock and poultry, they focus on championing these dying breeds as key to ensuring a diverse and healthy livestock population throughout the U.S. Emphasizing that different breeds have vastly different flavors, you’re sure to find a special producer who will provide you with an extraordinary cut of meat, full of rich history. 

Wanting local food with less mileage? Look for the Buy Fresh Buy Local logo, which is run through the Farmers Market Coalition. Not every state has a local chapter, but their network is expanding so keep your eyes peeled! Producers that carry this logo proudly focus on supplying the freshest produce locally to both consumers, restaurants, and farmers markets.

If you want the healthiest, happiest roast chicken for your dinner, go for the American Pastured Poultry Producers (APPA) logo. A non-profit trade organization that encourages the production, processing, marketing and purchasing of poultry raised on pasture. They see pastured poultry as the model for environmentally, emotionally, and economically sensible poultry production that can feed your local communities uniquely nutritious, delicious, and humanely-raised chicken, eggs, turkey, ducks, geese and guineas. 

Rather have a whole side of fish for dinner? Then Seafood Watch, which manages the Seafood Choices program, will help you find the most sustainable choice. By labelling each of their fish choices as ‘Best’ or ‘Good’, it’s easier than ever to make sure you’re buying sustainably sourced fish. If a choice is marked with ‘Avoid’, you know that steering clear will help manage seafood populations around the world, as well as supporting suppliers who make the best choices in fishery.

Looking to get more involved with local organizations? Here are some of the associations and membership organizations you can support that work on both a local, state and national level, educating, supporting, and advocating on behalf of farmers and food professionals for a better tomorrow. 

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will help you find the information necessary to source your most local organic farmers, and offer membership for those that practice organic gardening as well. If you want to get involved and learn more about organic gardening and farming, check their website for upcoming events and their annual conference. It’s a great place to get started on your organic gardening, with lots of helpful information aimed at empowering and encouraging Texans to grow without chemicals, and with the planet in mind.

A little further afield, but still looking to the health of the Southern states’ agriculture systems, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group fosters a movement towards a more sustainable farming and food system—one that is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane. The organization focuses attention on issues and differing perspectives around food production, marketing, and distribution, and brings sustainable solutions to farmers, families and communities in the southern U.S. 

Similarly, Community Alliance with Family Farmers work with the agriculture sector nation-wide to build sustainable food and farming systems, and help local farmers to adopt healthier practices. They look to connect communities and businesses directly to farmers, preserving integrity and growth possibilities to small-scale farmers as an alternative to big ag. They also work in the policy sector to affect the political sphere in favour of supporting small, family-owned farms and farming businesses. 

Another great initiative is the Farmer Veteran Coalition that works specifically with veterans at all levels from the U.S. armed forces to establish successful and sustainable farming initiatives. They believe that veterans possess the necessary skill set required from farming, and that farming activities can help veterans to transition to a normal life after service. They provide support, financial and otherwise, as well as outreach initiatives for their members. By supporting this organization, you’re also saying ‘Thank You!’ to the veterans of the U.S. who are reintegrating to American life. 

Looking for other initiatives that help support the rights of farmers and ranchers? The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance does just this and is an advocate for independent family farmers and livestock owners. They operate on a national scale to influence policy, decision-making and support those who believe in an alternate farming model. The Land Stewardship Project also works to influence decision-making in favour of healthier farming systems. They are dedicated to creating transformational change in our food and farming system. The Land Stewardship Project’s work has a broad and deep impact, from new farmer training and local organizing, to federal policy and community based food systems development. At the core of all our work are the values of stewardship, justice and democracy.

Currently, the organic certification system run through the USDA has faced a lot of criticism for its lack of robustness and not maintaining key ‘hard-line’ organic principles as part of its certification standards. However, the Organic Crop Improvement Association works to remedy parts of this, and is a member-owned non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing the highest quality organic certification services and providing access to global markets. They aim to provide organic crop improvement through professional development of organic farmers and processors, including technical assistance, education information, publications, and research.

The food and restaurant industry also play an important role in the supply-and-demand chain for better, more sustainable, and locally driven produce and farming practice. Initiatives such as Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food USA aim to inform the general public about food movements, and empower both food professionals and consumers to adopt sustainable and viable solutions to make their businesses better, and drive the force for core changes in the food sector. Chefs Collaborative is an organization that brings chefs and food professionals together who believe in the power of the food and restaurant industry to be a driving force for a more sustainable food production system. 

Slow Food USA is an organization that stems from the Slow Food movement started in Italy in the 1980’s. It exists to facilitate and grow individual engagement in the movement, organize gatherings of the Slow Food network, direct campaigns to spread the Slow Food message, and build solidarity through partnerships with organizational entities both internal and external to the Slow Food network, with the ambitious goal of good, clean and fair food for all.

Importantly, nutrition and education about food should start at a young age to have maximum impact. The National Farm to School Program aims to do just that by helping schools connect directly with local farms to supply their cafeteria, while also encouraging students and teachers to get involved in understanding their local food supply chain. This can be in the form of farm visits, learning more about how food grows, or through competitions. 

So, whether you want to make conscious decisions when choosing how to buy your produce, or want to support local communities, state and national initiatives that aim to advocate for sustainable food businesses, look for the icons included in each listing to tell you more about your favourite producer. 


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