Selected Organic History Milestones

1911    F.H. King, former chief of USDA’ s Division of Soil Management, wrote Farmers of Forty Centuries, a classic that described how people in China farmed the same fields for 4,000 years without destroying their fertility.

1940    The first use of the term “organic farming” was in Look to the Land, the book by Lord Northbourne that called for looking at farms as living organisms. It also advocated an ecologically balanced approach to farming.

1940    Ehrenfried Pfeiffer left Germany and settled in Pennsylvania where he established the Kimberton Farm School, a model farm where many early organic farmers learned about biodynamic methods and practices.

1942    J.I. Rodale established Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine, which emphasized natural methods of building and maintaining healthy soil. Rodale is widely recognized as the father of the organic movement in America.

1943    Sir Albert Howard published An Agricultural Testament, which emphasized the importance of soil fertility and composting. He followed up in 1947 with The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture, which emphasized the importance of humus in improving soil fertility.

1943    Lady Eve Balfour published The Living Soil, which described the first study comparing the efficacy of organic and conventional farming. She later founded the Soil Association, the first group to advocate for organic farming.

1962    Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment and is widely credited with helping launch the contemporary American environmental movement.

1966    Senator Gaylord Nelson introduced the bill to ban the manufacture of DDT that was finally passed and signed into law in 1972.

1971    Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine led an attempt in California to set up the nation’s first organic certification program. Two years later it abandoned this hands-on effort, providing funding instead to support a farmer-led effort to establish California Certified Organic Farmers.

1972    The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was established to spread information about organic agriculture worldwide.

1979    California passed a new law establishing a legal standard for organic production. This was the first of more than 25 state organic laws and programs adopted over the next 10 years.

1980    Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming, prepared by a USDA study team, recommended research, extension, and other initiatives to support organic farming. USDA appointed an organic farming coordinator and mailed 20,000 copies of the report to farmers who requested them.

1981    The new Secretary of Agriculture fired the organic farming coordinator, ordered all remaining copies of the 1980 report destroyed, and began a 10-year period of official hostility to organic farming.

1989    The first Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference was convened in Sparta, Wisconsin, with Faye Jones of OCIA as organizer/coordinator.

1989    The Biodynamic Farm, written by Herbert Koepf, described the biodynamic method developed by Rudolf Steiner in Germany in the 1930s.

1990    Despite strong USDA opposition, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law.

1992    The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was appointed and began a series of 15 input meetings around the country. This was the first phase of the formal process of implementing the new national organic legislation.

1996    The 15-member NOSB submitted a plan to USDA and recommended its adoption as a proposed OFPA implementation rule. The implementation plan had the support of the organic community.

1997    USDA responded with a proposed rule that ignored many of the NOSB’s recommendations, overturned others, and opened the door to use of sewage sludge, irradiation, and GMOs in organic production. It also challenged the NOSB’s control of the list of approved input materials.

1998    The organic community’s response was a document listing more than 60 proposed rule problems, a demand that USDA withdraw the rule and do it over, and an outpouring of more than 278,000 negative comments.

1999    Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) was founded and Faye Jones was named its Executive Director.

1999    Codex Alimentarius, a joint UN commission for global food standards, completed the process of developing international organic guidelines.

2001    The USDA adopted a final rule that made the federal government responsible for guaranteeing organic integrity, accrediting organic certifiers, and developing and enforcing standards. It was implemented in 2002

Prepared February 2, 2014. rjblobaum@gmail.com. www.rogerblobaum.com