A Brief History of Organics

The Organic Golden Age
15,000 B.C. -
1866 A.D.
No need for third party certification in Sumeria.
1867 First Pesticide invented to combat grape mold with the invention of the "Bordeaux Mixture", suddenly there are two styles of agriculture: chem and non-chem
1874 DDT invented
1888-1974 William Albrecht, Chair, Soils Dept., U of Missouri, promoted increasing soil organic matter, major soil elements, and soil trace minerals to improve nutritive value of forage and connected the decline of animal and plant health to poor soils. Introduced the concept of connecting human health with the health of soil.
1902 California passes first state law regulating pesticides 35 years after the invention of pesticides as consumers demand regulation and protections.
1910 Congress passed the Federal Insecticide Act, essentially a labeling law concerned with protecting consumers from ineffective products or deceptive labeling. It contained neither a federal registration requirement nor any significant safety standards. California's parallel legislation, the State Insecticide and Fungicide Act of 1911, was also primarily concerned with mislabeling and adulteration, but went beyond federal law in that it required pesticides be registered (with the University of California) before they could be sold.
1924 Rudolf Steiner published Agriculture and the whole systems approach to farming, combining a spiritual awareness with practical concepts. Holism, brought to Steiner from Von Goethe (1749-1832), had a profound impact on the evolution and character of organic farming and forms the basis of Biodynamic Agriculture, embraced widely in Europe, and particularly in Germany, where many biodynamic farms and products are commercially available.
1927 A public outcry in great Britain about arsenic-treated fruit coming in from the U.S. had led to the threat of a British embargo. In response, the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry (precursor to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) set the first federal limits on allowable pesticide residues on harvested fruit. These limits - called tolerances - applied only to arsenic residues on apples and pears in interstate commerce and for export. In 1927, the California Legislature passed the Spray Residue Act to control residues of arsenic-based sprays on fruits and vegetables.
1930's "Country Life Movement" brought city dwellers to the country for a simpler life. Louis Bromfield hailed the "observant and intelligent farmers, school teachers, bureau or academic men and woman, watching and living with their soil and learning from it."
1935 The Soil Conservation Service was established to conserve fertility, prevent soil erosion, and promote good land use.
1939 Bromfield establishes Malabar Farm in Ohio, which became the most widely known experimental farm in the US where traditional agriculture practices, crop rotation, and livestock manures demonstrated how to restore worn out soil and build healthy, productive farms.
1939 Lady Eve Balfour, a farmer and science educator for ordinary people, established the first ecologically designed agricultural research project on a whole farm, which was her own farm, to "fill the gap of evidence" on which the benefits of organic husbandry were based. She observed and documented how the farm functioned as a whole, including nutrient cycles and biological quality starting with soil building and the affects on growing produce and on animal health.
1940 Sir Albert Howard, considered to be the founder of the modern organic movement, writes An Agricultural Testament. Coins the term "organic" and defines the contrast between modern, chemical-based agriculture and ancient sustainable farming practices that utilizes available waste materials to build and maintain soil fertility and humus content. He introduces "the Law of Return" in which he advocates reusing organic waste materials, including sewage sludge, to build soils and introduces composting technology. Howard also introduces the symbiotic relationship, "the living bridge," between the plant root system, the soil, and mycorrhizae and bacteria to support the health of crops, livestock, and mankind.
1940 J.I. Rodale, influenced by Sir Albert Howard, established his 60 acre experimental organic farm in Pennsylvania to demonstrate a chemical free agriculture. "Organic" was used to describe the natural method of gardening and farming that emphasizes the organic composition in the top six inches of the soil profile. "Organiculture" described the natural life, avoiding synthetics from farm to factory. The Rodale Press became the leading publisher on the subjects of popular health, nutrition, and organic gardening.
1940 Lord Northbourn publishes From the Land, establishing the term "organic farming"
1940 Ehrenfried Pfeiffer flees the Nazi regime to settle in Pennsylvania, establishing the Kimberton Farm School, a biodynamic model farm where many early organic farmers learned their methods and practices.
1940 After World War II, many new synthetic organic pesticides found their way into agriculture, including agents that controlled nematodes and weeds, that defoliated plants and preserved wood, and that stimulated or retarded plant growth. These chemicals, along with new, high-yield plant varieties, chemical fertilizers, irrigation technology, and mechanization, helped prompt the so-called "Green Revolution." For several years following the war, pesticides were viewed as miracle chemicals. They substituted for higher-priced, labor-intensive weed and insect control methods and pest reducing practices. This chemical trend immediately reduced labor needs, provided more effective control, and increased yields.
1909-1980 Alan Chadwick an applied, aesthetic horticulturist had an incalculable impact on organic farming. Best known for the biodynamic French intensive school of horticulture, establishes the Garden and Farm at U.C. Santa Cruz, engaging thousands of students. The Garden and Farm later became the Agroecology Program and the first project to focus on what would be known as "sustainable." It pursued research on organic production techniques. Chadwick was also influential with the general public at the San Francisco Zen Center's Green Gulch retreat in Marin County.

The Pesticide Era
1942-1962 DDT eliminates malaria in the US and a major shift to chemical-based farming commences. Growers experimented with the new products, applying them in a variety of ways on a variety of crops, sometimes with insufficient knowledge of their effects or toxicity. Benefits were immediately apparent - healthy plants and increased yields. However, there were problems as well.  Drift caused damage to non-target crops and killed livestock and honeybees.  Improper applications caused injury and death to workers and others.
1943 Edward Faulkner publishes Plowman's Folly to present his critique of modern science and technology based farming and his ecological based approach, encouraging societal permanence. Introduced "trash farming" or trash mulch culture, applying large amounts of organic matter (weeds, crop residues, and green manures) to rebuild soils. He was also the premier advocate for no till farming and conservation tillage farming and harshly criticized the soil abusive moldboard plow.
1943 Lady Eve Balfour publishes The Living Soil to document and share the results of the 4 year study on her farm. This multidisciplinary, holistic approach to farming and food production crated a new perspective to food, agriculture, and health. This work and discussions that followed initiated the Soil Association of Britain, which continues today to be one of the leading organizations in the UK, active in organic food and farming and certifying organic produce.
1948 Henry Wallace, former VP under Roosevelt, embraces ecology and as Secretary for the USDA, commits to soil restoration while the Dust Bowl raged, blowing an estimated 300 million tons of topsoil away.
1949 Aldo Leopold invents and defines land ethics, and publishes a series of essays, Sand County Almanac, calling for all Americans to appreciate ecology so that they would act freely in an ecologically responsible manner toward the natural world.
1949 Legislation in 1949 in California led to the State's first regulations governing pesticide handling and imposing restrictions on certain pesticides with the potential to cause injury to people, crops, or the environment. Permits were required to possess or use these pesticides. California's regulations continued to be fine-tuned throughout the 1950s as an increasing number of newly developed but highly toxic chemicals were introduced to the market. Detailed regulations were adopted including buffer zones to protect adjacent crops and residences, and restrictions on nozzle sizes, wind velocities, and other factors to limit drift.
1954 Helen and Scott Nearing publish Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, a handbook that inspired many. Modeling a lifestyle of sustainability, ecological agriculture, and self reliance, the Nearings built their house, grew their own food, and reinvigorated homesteading.
1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring revealing how widespread the use of pesticides and herbicides had become, detailing the affects on the food chain which sparks the inception of the Environmental Defense Fund.

A rise in organic farming across US
1964-1974 Farmers cite Howard's and Carson's book as influential
1970 DDT becomes first pesticide banned in the US
1972 The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is established and dedicated to spreading information about organic agriculture globally.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) began licensing agricultural pest control advisers, later requiring training and continuing education. Adviser licensing was directed at setting standards for professional conduct for those who advise growers on pest control methods by requiring that pest control recommendations be in writing, making advisers legally accountable.
1979 California passes a new law establishing a legal standard for organic production.
1980 US Organic Sales: $178 million
1985 Organic Trade Association is formed from what began as the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA) with a group of determined individuals seeking a way to build a trusted identity for organic products has become the nearly 1,600 member Organic Trade Association (OTA). Sir Howard's "good idea" becomes an official US movement
1990 California passes Organic Food Production Act and US Organic sales reach $1 billion
1997 The USDA publishes its' long awaited national organic program rule, but the proposed regulation includes provisions for genetically engineered organisms, irradiation, and biosolids (sewage sludge). The organic industry is outraged and the USDA received 150,000 consumer comments in opposition, the most it has ever received on a proposed rule.
2000 US passes USDA Rule on Organics establishing the first set of federal standards for the industry. California's OFPA was (and is) precedent. US Organic sales reach $7 billion
2002 The Wedge attains organic certification and joins 17,000-year old agricultural tradition.
2008 Organic cropland in the US is over 4.8 million acres. California leads with the most certified organic cropland, with over 430,000 acres, largely used for fruit and vegetable production. Other states with the most certified organic cropland include Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. And, according to Organic Monitor estimates, global organic sales reached $50.9 billion in 2008, double the $25 billion recorded in 2003.
2009 Organic Industry sales reaches $26.6 billion in the US with the highest sales from conventional grocery stores