Part 6: The USDA rolled out its first proposal for national organic standards in late 1997 and within weeks the verdict was decisive: universal repudiation, to put it mildly.
Part 5: Today’s discussion will pick up in the light of the morning after and the reservations – felt to this day – whether hooking up with Uncle Sam turned out to be as advantageous as hoped. A healthy match between the two has always been a tricky proposition, given the USDA’s top-down approach to decision making and the organic community’s commitment to consensus process.
Part 4: Organic agriculture was becoming pretty big business, considering that the people making it happen had started out with little more than determination. The organic community – meaning the extended family of farmers, certifying agents, natural food merchandisers, environmentalists and consumers – recognized that some harmony and reciprocity between the dozens of regional certification standards was needed to avoid a Tower of Babel.
Part 3: Despite a perpetual cold shoulder from the land grant agricultural establishment and the commercial food industry, organic agriculture grew steadily if silently during the 1980s. Each regional farmer group developed its own set of standards that specified the conditions with which a farmer must comply for their farm and the food it produced to be certified, labeled and sold as organic.
Part 2: However insightful it was, the organic vision that Howard and his peers, notably Lady Eve Balfour in England and J.I. Rodale in America, had outlined by 1950 was incompatible with the changes then transforming commercial agriculture. The components of this transformation were not all that new – chemically derived fertilizers and pesticides were introduced in the nineteenth century and hybrid seeds and mechanized tractors became commercially available during the 1920s.
Part 1: What comes to mind when you see food labeled “organic” at the grocery store or farmers market? I asked one audience that question years ago, and a gentleman replied emphatically, “Nuts!”