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Trailblazers, Heroes & Pioneers

The Organic Farming Movement

By David Kupfer


In late December 2000 the US Department of Agriculture announced final
adoption of the first standards the Federal government has ever imposed
for the labeling and processing of organic foods. The new standards ban
the use of irradiation, biotechnology and sewage-sludge fertilizer for
any food product labeled "organic." When the department introduced
proposed regulation in 1997, all three of these methods were permitted.
After nearly 300,000 people wrote letters of protest opposing their
inclusion, the department withdrew that proposal and started again.
Also banned is the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in food,
as well as the use of antibiotics in all meat labeled organic. While the
Bush administration could try to overturn the rule, (which does not
become fully effective until 2002) there is little such expectation,
considering the high level of public support and vitality of organic sales.

The organic farming movement and organic foods industry has been growing
at a remarkable rate in recent years. Sales of organic commodities in
natural foods stores approached $3.3 billion in 1998, compared with $2.08
billion in 1995, according to industry sources. Sales of organic products
in conventional supermarkets are also rising. Industry experts expect the
current average annual growth rate of 20-24 percent for organic food sales to
continue over the next decade. Such growth is profoundly transforming the
organic foods industry, and the implementation of the USDA's recently adopted
national organic program is furthering this momentum.

Indeed, the new federal standards are impacting the form, function and
scale of organic farming in America. In the U.S., organic farming
represents the fastest growing sector of the agriculture economy. In
1999, the country's second-largest conventional lettuce grower (Tanimura
and Antle) and the U.S.'s largest organic vegetable shipper (Natural
Selection Foods, marketer of the Earthbound Farm brand) became partners
in supplying organic lettuce to large, mass-market supermarkets. One of
the finest emblems of the 1960's hippie subculture has come of age.
Organics have become big business.

The Early Pioneers

A few individuals served as pivotal catalysts in the transition toward a
more sustaining, permanent, chemical-poison-free agriculture, providing
both the, applied, academic, and experiential basis for what is now a
global movement and way of life for organic farmers. These innovators
provided the technical and philosophical backdrop for the mainstreaming
of organic foods that occurred when the flower children's 'back to
nature' movement converged with the broader, anti-pesticide, anti-war,
anti-agribusiness sentiment born out of the late 1960s and 1970s.
In the early 1900s, Sir Albert Howard, a British colonial officer with
the lengthy title of Chemical Botanist to the Government of the Raj at
Pusa in India, carried out a variety of noted agricultural experiments.
The area of India where he worked was so poor that local farmers could
not afford to buy fertilizers imported from other areas. Observing the
reaction of properly grown varieties of plants subjected to insects and
other pests, Howard found the primary factor in soil management was a
consistent supply of fresh humus prepared with vegetable and animal
wastes, and that maintaining soil fertility was the fundamental basis for
its health. He felt that crops grown on land treated in this way resisted
the pests that were rife in the region, and that this resistance was passed
onto the livestock when they were fed on such crops. He felt that
adapting a species through breeding to local conditions was a preferred
method to using chemicals to force a western strain to grow.

Howard essentially reinvented the compost pile and propagated methods to
best use the natural resources of India. He studied the root systems of
plants which had been largely ignored as unimportant by botanists,
discovered the mycorrhizae fungi symbiotic relationship with some plant
roots, and especially eschewed the fragmented approach of current
agriculture research which separates soil, crops, livestock and humans.


By 1916 Howard was lecturing that chemical fertilizers were a waste of money, maintaining that organic matter combined with good aeration was enough to allow microbes to provide sufficient amounts of nutrients to feed the world.


In his landmark 1940 book, "An Agriculture Testament," he argued that
relying on artificial fertilizers was unwise, as it could not maintain
and perpetuate farmland indefinitely. Though he had many adherents, some
of his research was flawed and he was at the time widely ignored by the
mainstream. An extraordinary scientist, Howard's many advances for the
cause of organic agriculture caused him to be considered the founder of
the modern organic movement.

Another organic pioneer, Rudolf Steiner, introduced the tenets of
Anthroposophy, which combined science with philosophy and spirituality.
Steiner gave a series of lectures on the subject of agriculture from his
Anthroposophic perspective. His whole systems approach to farming coupled
spiritual concepts with practical ones, and his lectures, compiled in his
1924 book "Agriculture," were the basis for forms of agriculture called
Biodynamics. While some of the applied techniques of biodynamics, such as
the widely adopted biodynamic composting techniques, have had a profound
impact on the evolution and character of organic farming, much of its
philosophy demanding dedicated spiritual commitment has not caught on
with many organic farmers in the U.S. However, throughout Europe, and
particularly in Germany, there are thousands of biodynamic farms and
biodynamic products commercially available.

American Pioneers

While Henry Wallace is remembered more as the vice-president under
Franklin D. Roosevelt during WW II, and Progressive Party candidate for
president in 1948, he possessed a deep passion for land and ecology.
Serving as Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, he was at the helm
of the USDA commitment to the health, conservation and soil restoration.
Wallace began as USDA chief while one of the worst ecological disasters
in the nation's history, the Dust Bowl, was raging. Caused by prolonged
drought in the early 1930s, 1934 alone saw more than 300 million tons of
precious topsoil blow away.

The Soil Conservation Service was established under him in 1935, with the
primary aim, according to Wallace, "to conserve fertility, prevent soil
erosion and promote good land use. He was especially concerned that,
unlike all other aspects of the nation's economic life such as labor and
capital, the "voiceless land" could not speak for itself. Though few
shared his views at the time, Wallace favored natural resource planning
on a national scale, with decisions based on conservation and long-term
social values rather than on market prices. Fortunately, many of
Wallace's conservation concerns were integrated into federal government
policy for lasting value to the soil.

As Head of Soils for the University of Missouri, William Albrecht
(1888-1974) was a leading promoter of the idea that improving the soil by
fertilization and increasing the organic matter improved the nutritive
value of forage. His extensive experiments with growing plants and
animals substantiated his observations that a declining soil fertility,
(due to a lack of organic material, major elements, and trace minerals)
was responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions of
animals fed deficient foods from such soils, and that mankind was no

In the 1930's, a 'back to the land' movement, known then as the 'Country
Life Movement,' began in which city dwellers chose to move to the country
in favor of a simpler life. Perhaps the best remembered and most
influential leaders of that movement is author Louis Bromfield, who
hailed the "new agriculture developing slowly in America for the past 30
years," wherein "observant and intelligent farmers, school teachers,
bureau or academic men, men and women in back gardens or an acre or two
have been watching their soil, living with it, feeling it under their
feet, learning from it."

One of the most successful American authors of his time, Bromfield
received a Pulitzer Prize in 1927, at the age of 31, for his acclaimed
novel "Early Autumn." In the 1930s, he became a wealthy expatriate living
in France, writing such novels as his fictional family biography, "The
Farm." Tired of life in Europe and sensing the upcoming conflict,
Bromfield returned to his native Ohio in 1939 and used his wealth and
interest in agriculture to create Malabar Farm, named for the coast in
India, which became the most widely known and publicized experimental
farm in America.

Over the next 20 years, Bromfield wrote a series of five books
documenting his work at Malabar Farm which poetically captured the love
and rapture that can come from farming in harmony with nature.
Demonstrating to neighboring farmers - sometimes thousands at a time -
how traditional agriculture practices, crop rotations, livestock manures
and old fashioned care for the land could restore worn out soil and build
healthy productive farms, Bromfield was an eloquent advocate and
spokesperson for the organic farming movement.

Also from this era, self-labeled experimental farmer, utopian social
critic and best-selling author Edward Faulkner is remembered for his 1943
book Plowman's Folly and his ideas about permanent agriculture. He put
forth a timely critique of current farming practices and the negative
applications of science and technology while presenting solutions based
on ecologically-based husbandry that stressed societal permanence as a goal.

Faulkner attacked the tradition in America of abusing soil through the
continual use of the moldboard plow as a tool for soil preparation. He
devised a plan to heal the earth from past abuses through a concept he
called trash farming or trash mulch culture. Faulkner's proposition was
to incorporate large amounts of organic material (weeds, crop residues,
green manures) into the soil to rebuild it much as ancient peasant
agricultural societies had done for centuries.

Faulkner's theories about trash farming and social change represented a
bold shift in U.S. agricultural practices towards greater stewardship ecological
accountability and were broadly circulated and discussed by prominent
national figures and ordinary citizens. The moldboard plow that he
decried has completely vanished from American farming.

I believe the most influential individual who impacted the movement back
toward organic farming systems in the 20th century was J.I. Rodale, who
came to the field without any agricultural experience or training.
Heavily influenced by Sir Albert Howard's book "An Agricultural
Testament," Rodale rebelled against chemical agriculture by writing about
and discussing organics. In 1940, he purchased a 60-acre experimental
organic farm near Emmaus, PA, to demonstrate his ideas. Also in 1940,
Austrian biochemist Ehrenfried Pfeiffer fled the Nazi regime and,
settling in Kimberton, PA, established the Kimberton Farm School, a
biodynamic model farm. Pfieffer became a protégé of Rudolf Steiner in
1921, and Kimberton Farm is where many early organic farmers learned
their craft.

Rodale first used the word "organic" to describe the natural method of
gardening and farming, mainly because compost, humus and the organic
fraction of the soil were emphasized so strongly. In 1942, he began the
magazine Organic Gardening and Farming, declaring that this method was
more than just a way to husband the soil and grow plants and animals. He
proclaimed that to be "organic" was more than just a way to know and
understand the lessons of nature in all ways, and to use that knowledge
to evaluate all of the "blessings" of science and technology.

What good was it, he asked, to grow food without using chemical
fertilizers or pesticides, and then to process that food so that its
content of vitamins and minerals would be seriously depleted? Not caring
if he was labeled an extremist or crackpot, Rodale created what might be
called a "strict constructionist" interpretation of natural life under
the banner of organiculture. If it is synthetic, avoid it, he said. If it
goes through a factory, examine it with special care. Follow the dictates
of the cycle of life when growing things, he advised, and you will be
blessed with foods of surpassing taste and quality that are less troubled
by insects or disease. Rodale Press went on to become - and still
remains - the leading publisher on the subjects of popular health,
nutrition and organic gardening.

Lady Eve Balfour distinguished herself by her ability to communicate and
demystify science and bring it back to earth and into the hands of
ordinary people. Equally notable was her moral leadership and courage in
her work at a period when her ideas ran against the grain of the
mainstream thought. Balfour studied agriculture at the University of
Reading and started farming in Suffolk in 1915. In 1939 she started a
unique and pioneering experiment which was the first ecologically
designed agricultural research project on a full farm scale.

According to Balfour, "It was set up to fill the gap in the evidence on which
the claims for the benefits of organic husbandry were based. It was decided
that the only way to achieve this was to observe and study nutrition
cycles, functioning as a whole, under contrasting methods of land use,
but on the same soil and under the same management, the purpose being to
assess what effect, if any, the different soil treatments had on the
biological quality of the produce grown thereon, including its nutritive
value as revealed through its animal consumers. " This work had never
been done before. Balfour's research was published by her in 1943, in her
landmark book "The Living Soil."

Through her multidisciplinary, holistic approach she illuminated the subject
for many people and created a new approach to food, agriculture, and health.
Out of the meeting convened to discuss her work in 1946 was formed the
Soil Association in Britain, and Lady Balfour continued her pivotal comparative
studies between organic and conventional farming on her own farm.

Today the Soil Association continues to be one of the leading organizations in
Britain active in organic food and farming, certifying the organic produce in that
nation. See:

Aldo Leopold was one of the ecological movement's seminal figures, having
helped invent and define the notion of the land ethic. His "Sand County
Alamanac," published posthumously in 1949, began as a series of essays on
the changes of seasons and their effect on ecological balance. Leopold
called for nothing less than a revolution in human consciousness and
proposed an ecological conscious as the basis for collectiveresponsibility.
He wanted a land ethic to be part of the hearts and minds of all Americans
so they would act freely in ecologically responsibleways. As a moral
philosopher and teacher, Leopold turned the science ofecology into a didactic
statement aimed for the moral instruction of his fellow citizens.

Helen and Scott Nearing (1883-1983) inspired a generation of people
desiring to get back to the land through their lives, books, and work as
homesteaders. Scott Nearing was in the 1920's a Progressive
reformer/Socialist critic/University Professor/noted author who lost his
job due to his radical politics. After he and his partner Helen became
practicing homesteaders in the 1930's, they went on to write in 1954 a
best-seller, "Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a
Troubled World," a practical handbook about sustainable living as an
antidote to consumerism and environmental destruction. The Nearings built
their own homes, grew their own food, and achieved virtual cult status in
the following years, providing an inspiration to a legion of young people
who in the 1960's and '70's were seeking a simpler life based on the
principles of a sustainability, ecological agriculture, and self-reliance.

Writer Rachel Carson had a profound impact with "Silent Spring,"
published in 1962, and it became her best-selling book. It revealed just
how widespread the use of pesticides and herbicides had become, exactly
what the poisons were doing to plant and animal ecology, and how residues
were traveling in the food chain from ponds and topsoil into the nation's
diet. She successfully bundled the diverse aspects of information about
pesticide abuse and ubiquitous exposure, biological magnification, and
environmental impact into one book that flowed and was understandable to
the general public, not steeped in science.

Carson had reluctantly begun a war against the better-living-through-chemistry
crowd in agriculture and government. Her previous books,
("The Sea Around Us," "Under the Sea Wind," and "The Edge of the Sea"),
written with her biologists eye and poet's soul, dealt with the ecological webs
connecting oceans and shore life.

After it was released, Silent Spring became an instant bestseller.
By the end of 1962, more than 40 bills in different state legislatures
had been introduced governing the regulation of pesticide use. The book
is still in print. Silent Spring was the impetus for the founding in 1967
of the Environmental Defense Fund, which later led the battle to ban DDT.
Silent Spring has been called one of the most influential books of the
20th century, and Carson was selected by Life magazine as one of the 100
most important Americans of the 20th century.

Alan Chadwick (1909-1980) is largely credited as the founder of the
biodynamic/French intensive school of horticulture. This innovative
method synthesized traditional horticulture practices and observations
from the Greek, Chinese and roman cultures on through 19th century French
market gardens-folk techniques with modern scientific validity.

As an applied, aesthetic horticulturalist, he had an incalculable impact on the
development and growth of the organic farming movement. Chadwick ignited
countless students who observed and engaged in his technique, most
notably practiced at University of California at Santa Cruz and the San
Francisco Zen Center's Green Gulch retreat in Marin County.

Chadwick's emphasis on working with nature, rather than overpowering it, struck a
chord among the young people he worked with. The Garden and Farm at UC
Santa Cruz served as a magnet for students interested in small-scale,
organic agriculture practices and continues to inspire and teach young
people from around the world the methods that Chadwick introduced. The
early activities of the UCSC Farm and the Garden very much presaged what
would become the mass movement toward organic farming and sustainable
agriculture, and evolved into the Agroecology Program which was the first
University of California project to focus on what would come to be known
as "sustainable " agricultural systems, and to pursue research on organic
production techniques.

Organica is Aubrey Organic's quarterly published in Florida: 110,000 copies distributed to organic food stores across the land...although few seem to make it out here to California,...soo here ya go..You shouldknow for the final version I also included Lord Northbourn, 1896-1982,who coined the term 'organic farming' in his 1940 book "From the Land"