In recent years, organic food sales have jumped 17 to 20 percent annually, while sales of conventional food have stalled at a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent.
Touting organic farming as a new business model, however, is somewhat of a misnomer. This practice has been in operation since the dawn of civilization. To understand organic farming’s current rise as big business, let’s examine its roots during the second phase of the Industrial Revolution (1870-1914).
The second industrial revolution introduced advances in technology, electricity, steel manufacturing and chemistry. Many of these innovations, however, presented risks to human health and the environment. While the advent of nitrogen-based fertilizers substantially increased produce and profits, they are derived from nonrenewable resources and may be harmful to the environment. Inorganic fertilizers also pose a threat to ecosystems through excessive growth and decay.
This era also stimulated an increase in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs, a practice also known to negatively impact the environment. These agricultural facilities house a large number of animals in a confined area for up to one year in an effort to maximize yields while minimizing costs. Confinement at this level requires the use of antibiotics and pesticides to reduce disease in animals.
It was only a matter of time until people realized the possible health hazards associated with these revolutionary business practices. In light of these environmental threats, Lord Northbourne, an agriculture expert, coined the phrase “organic farming” and articulated the concept of farming the land as an organic whole in his book “Look to the Land” in the 1940s.
Two decades later, Rachel Carlson’s book, “Silent Spring,” spurred a grassroots movement that led to the creation of the EPA and facilitated the ban of DDT and other dangerous pesticides.
The organic farming movement was born as a result of these industry pioneers.
Organic foods are produced to certain production standards. They are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste or sewage sludge. Animals are raised without antibiotics and the use of growth hormones, and ideally are given enough space to roam pastures. In most countries, genetically modified foods may not be labeled organic.
In the past, organic foods came from family owned farms and were available only in small grocery stores or farmer’s markets. This has changed dramatically since the early 1990s. As we have become more health conscious, we have altered our menu choices.
In response to our new lifestyle, organic food is now offered in abundance. It’s available everywhere from the local grocer to the large supermarket.
It’s a trend that is here to stay.
Organic food sales have outpaced the rest of the industry and will continue to grow by an estimated 10 to 50 percent over the next five years. Today, we have come full circle with this new business model of ancient agricultural practices.