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Organic Farm Folk


J.I Rodale, founder of the Rodale Research Institute and Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, is commonly regarded as the father of the modern organic farming movement. Beginning in the 1940s, Rodale provided the main source of information about "non-chemical" farming methods and was heavily influential in the development of organic production methods. Rodale drew many of his ideas from Sir Albert Howard, a British scientist who spent years observing traditional systems in India. Howard advocated agricultural systems reliant upon returning crop residues, green manures and wastes to soil, and promoted the idea of working with nature by using deep-rooted crops to draw nutrients from the soil.

By the 1970s, increased environmental awareness and consumer demand fueled the growth of the organic industry. However, the new organic industry suffered growing pains. Although there was general agreement on philosophical approaches, no standards or regulations existed defining organic agriculture. The first certification programs were decentralized, meaning that each state or certifying agent could determine standards based on production practices and constraints in their region. An apple farmer in New York has very different challenges than an apple farmer in California, for example.

The downside of this decentralized approach was a lack of clarity about what "organic" meant from state to state. A movement grew to develop a national organic standard to help facilitate interstate marketing. In response, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 to develop a national standard for organic food and fiber production. OFPA mandated that USDA develop and write regulations to explain the law to producers, handlers and certifiers. OFPA also called for an advisory National Organic Standards Board to make recommendations regarding the substances that could be used in organic production and handling, and to help USDA write the regulations. After years of work, final rules were written and implemented in fall 2002.

Although the actual production techniques of organic food have not changed dramatically since the implementation of the national standards, "organic" now is a labeling term that indicates that food has been grown following the federal guidelines of the Organic Foods Production Act. The national standards also specify that any producers who sell over $5,000 annually in agricultural products and want to label their product "organic" must be certified by a USDA-accredited agency. Companies that process organic food must be certified, too.

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