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Decades of Change: The History of Organic Farming

| Articles | January 22, 2008

Fifteen years ago, you may have had a hard time finding an organic tomato in your local supermarket. Due to recent farming

advances and public awareness, however, consumers can find a host of organic products in supermarket shelves and in the

produce section of grocery stores across America. How did we come to the point we’re at today and when did buying produce

become so complicated.

In truth, it’s the type of farming in which farmers use artificial pesticides, herbicides and other conventional farming

techniques that is really historically new to us. Before 1940, much of the produce grown and eaten in American homes was

totally organic and was often picked no further than one’s own backyard.

The use of chemical additives and even farm implements we see today gradually found its way into farming in the first half

of the Twentieth Century. In 1950, there were three million tractors in the US, up from 600 tractors in 1910. At about

the same time, proponents of organic farming techniques began to practice their trade, beginning in Central Europe and India

around 1920.

Organic farming methods began to reach consumer awareness, beginning in the 1950s and, in the following two decades, there

was an increasing concern about the environmental effects of farming techniques using chemical pesticides and herbicides.

This was when food-purchasing cooperatives and specialized organic food producers came to the forefront among some consumers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, regulators recognized a growing need for some way to provide organic certification to those farmers

who followed specific growing rules and who used approved growing techniques. It wasn’t, however, until the 1990s that the

formal or governmental certification of organic foods became available in the US and in several countries throughout the

world.

In the last two decades, the availability of organic foods on the market grew dramatically and, at one point, the surge of

growth of the organic food market exceeded twenty percent per year. In fact, the sales of organic baby food increased by

almost twenty-two percent in 2006 alone.

In the last five to seven years, multinational food companies have jumped on the organic food bandwagon and have increased

their research and development of foods that could be certified organic. This has led to an increase in the availability

of processed organic foods and in the lowering of the cost of these types of products.

In today’s time, organic foods continue to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, in part due to the fact

that organic farmers must meet stricter quality guidelines. This is a labor intensive process that drives up the costs of

the product.

To meet consumer demand, supermarkets strictly devoted to providing organic foods, such as the Whole Foods Market and

Waitrose (in the UK), have gone into business and are providing quality organic foods to consumers. In order to provide

organic foods to a larger population, Wal-Mart announced its plans to increase the availability of organic foods to its

customers and at a lower cost than the supermarkets.

It appears that, almost as soon as the big farmers began putting synthetic pesticides and herbicides on their crops, a

backlash developed and a group of dedicated farmers and consumers worked-and continue to work-toward improving the

availability and quality of organic foods for those food consumers who can’t grow an organic produce garden in their

own backyard.

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