|US Early Development of Organic Farming; Case Studies for Organic Agricultural Development|
The early development of organic farming
The first steps of organic farming in the US were taken by a few pioneers who became world famous. J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing, particularly to consumers through promotion of organic gardening, inspired by his encounter with the ideas of Sir Albert Howard. In 1947, Rodale founded the Soil and Health Foundation, the forerunner of the Rodale Institute, and formed his central message and philosophy: ‘Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People®’. Paul K. Keene in central Pennsylvania was one of the first organic farmers; he started his farm, Walnut Acres, in the mid 1940s and sold food products nationally in health food stores and by mail order. In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring, chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment.
In the early 1970s, as a result of the anti-war movement, civil rights movement, and environmental movement in the US many college-educated men and women sought to create an alternative life on farms and in community-living situations. At the same time, many farmers began to question the effectiveness and impacts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming methods were adopted by both these groups, but there was little awareness or interaction between them.
In the early 1970s farmers began to come together to share information and experiences with organic methods. From these meetings there arose membership organizations, organic production standards, certification programs, market labels, and public promotion of organic products. Among the initiatives started in the 1970s and still active today is the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), which began in 1973 as a group of 54 farmers from California’s Central Coast mutually certifying each other’s adherence to publicly available standards for organic agriculture. Oregon Tilth was founded in 1974, primarily as an organization of organic farmers, gardeners, and consumers. Tilth provided certification services for the State of Oregon after 1980, when legislation was enacted to regulate organic production and labeling. The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), formed in the early 1970s, founded OCIA International in 1985 and incorporated in 1988. It was formed as a non-profit membership organization of farmers, processors, and handlers, and now provides certification and information service internationally. The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) operated independently in seven states until the mid 1990s, when the chapters formed the association to coordinate their activities, advocacy, and newsletters. The earliest of these chapters, NOFA-Vermont, was organized in 1971. All chapters are membership organizations of organic farmers, gardeners, and consumers providing educational programs,
and now operate certification agencies.
In addition, founders of several businesses and farms helped shape the development of the
organic sector during this period.
The development of the organic sector during this period was successful because these
early alliances were farm-based and were organized and operated regionally. The alliances
originated among farmers and later developed to include the rest of the supply chain and
consumers or individuals. An important factor in their success was the market-orientation of
these organizations as well as their philosophical agenda.
1940s-1960s:Pioneer Era – J.I. Rodale, Paul Keene, Rachel Carson, Frank Ford
1970s:First organic farmer organizations and first organic certification; organic products
sold directly or through natural foods stores.
1980s:First state laws and organic certification; first national organic trade association
(OFPANA); national discussion on organic standards and certification; Alar Report published
by National Resources Defense Council
1990s:US law regulating organic production and labeling: the Organic Foods Production Act
(OFPA); appointment of National Organic Standards Board (NOSB); proposed rules for the
US National Organic Program (NOP); 20% annual sales growth of organic products; Organic
Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and
Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) established.
2000s:Implementation of NOP; organic integrated into mainstream markets; first lawsuit
challenging NOP; increased government funding for organic research; The Organic Center
(Author: Katherine DiMatteo)
Further reading on Early Organic Sector Development In the US:
Case Study Overview
Organic Agricultural Conditions
Organic Market Development
Regulatory Framework and Policy
Supporting Structures and Lessons Learned
(Adapted From IFOAM, Building Sustainable Organic Sectors)
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