TERMINOLOGY:  Every industry has its own unique terminology.  Agriculture is no different in this sense.  These are some terms that you will likely hear when you spend some time around agriculture.

Ag:  Abbreviation for agriculture.

Annuals:  Are plants that need replanted every year.

Aquaponics:  Is a system of growing fish in large containers (often tilapia).  The fish water, which is full of nutrients, is then pumped into a hydroponic system and fertilizes vegetables.

Brassicaceae:  Is a huge plant family that is often referred to as the cabbage family.  It includes cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, radish, turnip, kohlrabi, bok choy, and collards.


Community Garden:  Is a piece of land in the neighborhood that is divided into subplots.  From there, community members are normally charged a nominal fee for land/water access in order to grow veggies.  Not profit driven and often profit prohibited.

Companion Planting:  A strategy where plants are grown in strategic couplings/groupings to synergize each plant’s strength.  The classic example is the Native American’s Three Sisters, comprised of corn, squash, and beans.  The beans grow up the corn, while providing nitrogen to both the corn and squash.  The squash in all of squash’s burliness chokes out the weeds.

Cover crop:  Is a system of planting non-saleable crops before, after, or between saleable crop plantings to maintain soil fertility often to reduce soil erosion and to provide food for micro-organisms.

CSA:  Community Supported Agriculture.  Traditionally, this has been a direct-sales, prepaid subscription model, where consumers buy a “share of baskets” for some number of weeks directly from a farmer.  The farmer particularly benefits from the early income stream of early spring cash and the consistent sales.  Today however, brokers have co-opted this model.  Instead of farmer to consumer, it is farmer to broker to consumer.

Drip Irrigation:  Sometimes referred to as micro-irrigation.  It is a way to water crops through a system of water-pressurized plastic tubing that runs the length and at the base of a planting row.  The tubing has holes called emitters, from which water “drips.”  Drip irrigation reduces water usage and disease.

Farmer:  A person who grows food for an income stream.

Food Desert:  Areas in both urban and rural environments, where options for fresh, non-processed, nutritious foods are limited.  Food deserts are most often found in low-income neighborhoods.

Food Security:  The ability to eat one’s daily caloric intake with fresh, non-processed, nutritious foods.  Food deserts are food insecure.

GMO:  Genetically Modified Organism.  As it relates to agriculture, a GMO plant is plant that has had another organism spliced into its genetic sequence for some reason, like glyphosate resistance.  GMOS are banned in many countries.

Heirloom:  Sometimes referred to as open-pollinated.  Are cultivars of vegetables that are handed down through generations of families or through locales.  A plant from an heirloom seed will breed “true” to seed, which means the offspring plant will be very similar to the parent plant.

High Tunnel:  Also known as a hoophouse.  High tunnels are galvanized steel frame structures that are covered in giant plastic.  They are a relatively inexpensive alternative to greenhouses.  They provide early and end of season extra warmth and in general protect plants from the elements.

Hugelkultur:  Is an old Germanic form of raised bed, where sticks/branches/logs are placed on the ground and covered with soil.  As the logs rot, nutrients are slowly released and air pockets form for roots to grow.

Hybrid:  Are cultivars of vegetables that are formed when two distinctly separate cultivars are crossed on purpose with each other.  Hybrids do not breed “true” to seed; and therefore, seed should not be saved.

Hydroponics:  Is a grow system that does not use soil.  In lieu of soil, alternative medias are used such as, coco noir, expanded clay pellets, rock wool, and even just oxygenated, fertilizer water.  Hydroponics is considered cutting-edge technology and is the way much urban ag is going these days.  Green City Growers is a good example in Cleveland.

Integrated Pest Management:  Is a system of managing insect and disease pressure through the least means possible.  So instead of spraying a whole field of asparagus for asparagus beetle, only the 20 linear feet of asparagus, where the beetle has been found, is sprayed.  Alternatively, a soap or oil spray is preferred to a chemical spray.

Landscape fabric:  Is woven black plastic sold in rolls in 100-foot denominations.  It is stapled to bare ground.  From there, holes are burnt or cut.  It suppressed weeds, holds in moisture, and retains heat.

Lasagna Bed:  Also known as a layer bed.  This is another form of raised bed.  It starts with a layer of cardboard (stickers and tape removed) for weed suppression, and then another layer of organic material (coffee grinds, manure, leaf humus, straw, woodchips) is placed on top of that.  This is followed with additional layers of cardboard and organic material (switching up the organic material if at all possible).  Typically, lasagna beds are built in the fall, overwintered, and planted in the spring.

Market garden:  A term often used for a small vegetable/fruit farm, which originated as a way to distinguish itself from industrial tractor farming.  However as it applies to urban farming, it seems way easier to pave over a market garden than an urban farm.

Microgreens:  Is a system of densely growing vegetables in classic uniform plant trays just a little bit past the sprouting stage.  These tiny vegetables often have concentrated flavor and nutrients and are used as a garnish in high end restaurants.  They are very quick to grow and have a short shelf life.

N-P-K:  Refers to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  These are the three main nutrients necessary for plant growth.  These are listed on fertilizers as numbers, such as 3-4-3 or 20-20-20.  In these examples, the first fertilizer would have 3% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 3% potassium; whereas, the second example is much more concentrated with 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 20% potassium.

Organic:  In layman’s terms, organic is food that is grown without chemical fertilizers or chemical pesticides.  However since 2000, organic has become part of the Federal Register.   Since then, third party certification is necessary to legally be organic.

Perennial:  Are plants that are planted once and overwinter, growing again the next season in relative perpetuity.  Asparagus, rhubarb, and fruit trees are all examples.

Permaculture:  Best name in the marketing pantheon.  Subsequently, the media flock to this one.  Permaculturists mimic nature in their farm designs.  Things like bio-swales for water capture, following the natural contours of the land, and growing vertically, are all emphasized.

Raised Bed:  Is a grow system where mounds of mixed organic materials and mineral amendments (lime/rock phosphate/sand/soil/humus/peat/etc.) are placed on top of the earth/concrete/asphalt.  Benefits include long-term back saving, and increased drainage and heat.  Their downsides are short-term backbreaking during the building phase, are expensive to build and fill, and can be somewhat awkward to integrate drip irrigation.

Rooftop Farm:  Is simply a farm or garden on top of a roof.  These are popular in densely populated cities, which partly explain why we don’t have them in Cleveland yet.

Soil test:  A sample of soil (often a cup) is taken from one’s garden/farm and sent to a lab to be “tested.”  Standard tests come back with N-P-K , micro-nutrient, and pH results along with fertilizer and lime/sulfur recommendations.  Some tests include heavy metals and organic matter.

Solanaceae:  Is another huge plant family that includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, tomatillos, and ground cherries.

Specialty Crops:  USDA’s term for non-grain and non-legume crops.  What most people refer to as fruits and vegetables.

Square Foot Gardening:  A book describing the square foot gardening technique that combines raised beds with 1’ X 1’ grids to maximize yields and minimize backache.  Engineers seem to really love this one.  The book reads like an infomercial.  It’s particularly good for spacing issues.

SPIN:  Is a very systematic way of farming that stands for “Small Plot, INtensive.”  SPIN farmers focus on crops with short growing cycles and high dollar value (arugula, salad greens), uniform rows, and direct seeding.

Urban Farmer:  A person who grows food in the city for an income stream.

Vertical Farm:  Is a system of growing upwards, typically in pre-fabricated grow-towers.  Vertical farms maximize space by growing upwards and not outwards, while utilizing technology like LED lights and hydroponic systems.


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