|History of organic farming - The history of organic farming - is one of methods and markets. It is also largely the history of the organic movement,
which began as an insiders group of agricultural scientists and
farmers, and later expanded to become a grassroots consumer cause.
Initially, organics focused on the methods, as a definite reaction
against the industrialization of agriculture, and remained below the
awareness of the food buyer. Only when the contrasts between organics
and the new conventional agriculture became overwhelming, did organics
rise to the attention of the public, creating a distinct organic
market. World War II marks the two phases.
|Pre-World War II - The first 40 years of the 20th century saw simultaneous advances in
biochemistry and engineering that rapidly and profoundly changed
farming. The introduction of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine ushered in the era of the tractor, and made possible hundreds of mechanized farm implements. Research in plant breeding led to the commercialization of hybrid seed.
And a new manufacturing process made nitrogen fertilizer - first
synthesized in the mid-1800s - affordably abundant. These factors
changed the labor equation: there were some 600 tractors in the US
around 1910, and over 3,000,000 by 1950; in 1900, it took one farmer to
feed 2.5 people, where currently the ratio is 1 to well over 100.
Fields grew bigger and cropping more specialized to make more efficient
use of machinery.
In England in the 1920s, a few individuals in agriculture began to speak out against these agricultural trends.
Consciously organic agriculture (as opposed to the agriculture of
indigenous cultures, which always employs only organic means) began
more or less simultaneously in Central Europe and India. The British
botanist Sir Albert Howard is often referred to as the father of modern organic agriculture. From 1905 to 1924, he worked as an agricultural adviser in Pusa, Bengal,
where he documented traditional Indian farming practices, and came to
regard them as superior to his conventional agriculture science. His
research and further development of these methods is recorded in his
writings, notably, his 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament , which influenced many scientists and farmers of the day.
In Germany, Rudolf Steiner's development, biodynamic agriculture,
was probably the first comprehensive organic farming system. This began
with a lecture series Steiner presented at a farm in Koberwitz (now in
Poland) in 1924. This lecture series, published in English as Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture ,
was the very first publication anywhere on organic agriculture. A
number of farmers interested in finding a healthier approach to farming
attended the course, and several farms began working with a
biodynamic/organic approach. Steiner emphasized on the farmer's role in
guiding and balancing the interaction of the animals, plants and soil.
Healthy animals depended upon healthy plants (for their food), healthy
plants upon healthy soil, healthy soil upon healthy animals (for the
In the early 1900s, American agronomist F.H. King
toured China, Korea, and Japan, studying traditional fertilization,
tillage, and general farming practices. He published his findings in Farmers of Forty Centuries (1911, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0486436098).
King probably did not view himself as part of a movement, organic or
otherwise, but in later years his book became an important organic
In 1939, influenced by Sir Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment
on farmland in England. It was the first scientific, side-by-side
comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she
published The Living Soil ,
based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. Widely read,
it led to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group,
the Soil Association.
The coinage of the term organic farming is usually credited to Lord Northbourne, in his book, Look to the Land (1940), wherein he described a holistic, ecologically-balanced approach to farming.
In Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka, a microbiologist working in soil science
and plant pathology, began to doubt the modern agricultural movement.
In the early 1940s, he quit his job as a research scientist, returned
to his family's farm, and devoted the next 30 years to developing a
radical no-till organic method for growing grain, now known as Fukuoka farming.
|Post-World War II - Technological advances during World War II
accelerated post-war innovation in all aspects of agriculture,
resulting in big advances in mechanization (including large-scale
irrigation), fertilization, and pesticides. In particular, two
chemicals that had been produced in quantity for warfare, were
repurposed to peace-time agricultural uses. Ammonium nitrate, used in munitions, became an abundantly cheap source of nitrogen. And a range of new pesticides appeared: DDT,
which had been used to control disease-carrying insects around troops,
became a general insecticide, launching the era of widespread pesticide use.
At the same time, increasingly powerful and sophisticated farm
machinery allowed a single farmer to work ever larger areas of land.
Fields grew bigger, and agribusiness as we know it today was well on its way.
In 1944, an international campaign called the Green Revolution
was launched in Mexico with private funding from the US. It encouraged
the development of hybrid plants, chemical controls, large-scale
irrigation, and heavy mechanization in agriculture around the world.
During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a topic of scientific
interest, but research tended to concentrate on developing the new
chemical approaches. In the US, J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing, particularly to consumers through promotion of organic gardening.
In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring ,
chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment.
A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read
around the world, Silent Spring is widely considered as being a
key factor in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its
author are often credited with launching the worldwide environmental movement.
In the 1970s, global movements concerned with pollution and the
environment increased their focus on organic farming. As the
distinction between organic and conventional food became clearer, one
goal of the organic movement was to encourage consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans like "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" .
In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, widely known as IFOAM, was founded in Versailles,
France, and dedicated to the diffusion and exchange of information on
the principles and practices of organic agriculture of all schools and
across national and linguistic boundaries.
In 1975, Fukuoka released his first book, One Straw Revolution ,
with a strong impact in certain areas of the agricultural world. His
approach to small-scale grain production emphasized a meticulous
balance of the local farming ecosystem, and a minimum of human interference and labor.
In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups
began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic
production. This led to legislation and certification standards being
enacted through the 1990s and to date.
Since the early 1990s, the retail market for organic farming in
developed economies has been growing by about 20% annually due to
increasing consumer demand. Concern for the quality and safety of food,
and the potential for environmental damage from conventional
agriculture, are apparently responsible for this trend.
|21st Century - Throughout this history, the focus of agricultural research, and the
majority of publicized scientific findings, has been on chemical, not
organic farming. This emphasis has continued to biotechnologies like
genetic engineering. One recent survey of the UK's leading government
funding agency for bioscience research and training indicated 26 GM
crop projects, and only one related to organic agriculture. 1 - This imbalance is largely driven by agribusiness in general, which, through research funding and government lobbying, continues to have a predominating effect on agriculture-related science and policy.
Agribusiness is also changing the rules of the organic market. The
rise of organic farming was driven by small, independent producers, and
by consumers. In recent years, explosive organic market growth has
encouraged the participation of agribusiness interests. As the volume
and variety of "organic" products increases, the viability of the
small-scale organic farm is at risk, and the meaning of organic farming
as an agricultural method is ever more easily confused with the related
but separate areas of organic food and organic certification.
In Havana, Cuba
a unique situation has made organic food production a necessity. Since
the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and its economic support, Cuba
has had to produce food in creative ways like instituting the worlds
only state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production.
Called organopóos, the city is able to provide an ever increasing amount of its produce organically. If the U.S. embargo is lifted, however, the future of organic urban growing here may be in peril.
|History of Composting and Organic Agriculture
|Allways happened naturally ! - Long before people inhabited the planet, composting was just something that happened. In every swamp, forest and meadow - wherever there was vegetation - there was composting.
Then, sometime in the distant past one of our ancestors noticed that crops grew better
near piles of rotting manure and vegetation. The discovery was passed down to succeeding
generations. Composting, that perfectly natural process that just happens, became
something our ancestors learned to use.
|1,000 years before Moses - One of the earliest references to compost use in agriculture appears on a set of clay
tablets from the Akkadian Empire in the Mesopotamian Valley 1,000 years before Moses.
The Romans knew about compost, the Greeks and the tribes of Israel both had a word for
it. There are references to it in the Bible and Talmud.
|15th century - There are also references to composting in medieval church texts and Renaissance
literature. William Caxton, a 15th century printer, spelled it 'compostyng.' Hamlet
advises, "do not spread the compost on the weeds, to make them ranker."
|The Chinese systematically applied the principles of composting. Crop wastes were laid
on roads and pathways to be crushed by passing carts and then returned to the fields
with human and animal manure.
|In New England in the 19th century, Stephen Hoyt and Sons used 220,000 fish in one season
of compost-making. Their method: spread a layer of "muck" (marsh and swamp mud) one third of a metre
thick, then a layer of fish, then a layer of muck and so on. They combined 10 to 12 loads
of muck to every load of fish until the pile reached a height of 1.8 metres. Then they
turned the pile until composting was complete.
|The early 20th century, and especially the post Second World War period, can be described
as ushering in a new "scientific" method of farming. Scientific farming called for the
application of nutrient-rich chemical fertilizers. Combinations of muck and dead fish
didn't look very effective beside a bag of chemical fertilizer. For farmers in many
areas of the world, the new chemical fertilizers replaced compost.
|Sir Albert Howard, a British government agronomist, went to India in 1905. He stayed for
29 years and experimented with different ways to make compost before settling on the
Indore Method. This method calls for three parts plant material to one part manure, with
materials spread in layers and turned during decomposition.
Publication of Sir Howard's book, An Agricultural Testament (1943), generated renewed
interest in organic methods of agriculture and gardening. Howard's work and the research
it has promoted has earned him recognition as the modern-day father of the organic method.
J. I. Rodale, in North America, carried Howard's work further. He established the Farming
Research Centre and Organic Gardening magazine. Now, organic methods in gardening and
farming are becoming increasingly popular. Even farmers who rely on expensive fertilizers
recognize compost's value for plant growth and restoring depleted and lifeless soil.