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Lexicon of Sustainability

Watchword: Terroir

Watchword: Terroir
To draw attention to the best and brightest ideas in sustainability, the Lexicon of Sustainability's Food List project defines the words that are integral to a healthy, transparent, and accountable food system. Each week, we explore a new word through artwork, films, recipes, and written works. See all Food List words here. 

Terroir is the notion that food has specific qualities defined by a sense of place. "Terroir" is a French word, often used to describe not how wine tastes but from where it tastes, and not from a winemaking region but from a single vineyard, even a single lot planted on a single hill. It’s that precise.

Scientists say terroir is determined by unique mineral combinations in the soil or an area’s microclimate, which is akin to a climatic signature. A farmer’s growing practices also play a role.

The takeaway? Food is more than what you eat. From the people who tend to it, to the minerals in the soil in which it is grown, to the local microclimates of the area, how food is farmed influences everything about its taste, texture, smell, and overall quality. 

Title: Terroir
Location: Full Belly Farms, Guinda, California
Featuring: Judith Redmond

"Terroir" is the belief that the flavor and character of a food product are directly attributable to the climate, geography, and farming practices from which it sprung.

Each farm is unique, so the combined effects of terroir take time to be revealed. Some parts of a farm are colder in spring. Some are weedier. Others, sandier. A farmer must understand the land, meet new challenges as they arise each year, and develop a farming approach that builds resilience. At Full Belly Farms in Guinda, California, organic farming and soil building practices combine with the terroir of the Capay Valley to build deep flavor in their fruits and vegetables.

Short film: "Sapelo" by Southern Foodways Alliance

Residents of the Hog Hammock community in Sapelo Island, Georgia, believe that the Geechee Red Pea is their key to economic development. The peas they grow taste of history and place. Planted anywhere else, they wouldn’t be Geechee Red Peas; they’d just be peas.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. They set a common table where black and white, rich and poor—all who gather—may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

Recipe of the Week: Baked Pasta with Tomato & Ricotta

Add fresh local veggies to this versatile recipe for a one-of-a-kind dish that expresses the terroir of your region.

What's your favorite local food that simply doesn't taste the same grown anywhere else? Tell us in the comments below, and follow us for more on terroir throughout the week.

For the past three years, the Lexicon of Sustainability has sought out the foremost practitioners of sustainability in food and farming to gain their insights and experiences on this important subject. What began as a photography project to spread their knowledge has grown to include short films, study guides, traveling shows, a book, and a website where people can add their own terms to this ever-evolving lexicon. See more at

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