Organic Farming

The term ‘organic farming’ was first used by Lord Northbourne in the book, Look to the Land (London: Dent, 1940. NAL Call # 30 N81). Lord Northbourne, who embraced the teachings of Rudolph Steiner and biodynamic farming, had a « vision of the farm as a sustainable, ecologically stable, self-contained unit, biologically complete and balanced–a dynamic living organic whole…The term thus did not refer solely to the use of living materials (organic manures, etc) in agriculture although obviously it included them, but with its emphasis on ‘wholeness’ is encompassed best by the definition ‘of, pertaining to, or characterized by systematic connexion or coordination of parts of the one whole.’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.) » [AM Scofield, « Editorial: Organic Farming–The Origin of the Name, » Biological Agriculture and Horticulture (1986)

Organic farming was championed in the United States by J.I. Rodale, beginning in the mid-1940s. « The organic farmer and gardener must realize that fertilization is not the only measure for success. He must treat the soil as a living, breathing entity. He must rotate crops. He must fallow the land at regulated intervals. The organiculturist must not practice one-crop monoculture but must engage in a balanced agriculture with cattle as part of the general program. He must be smart in the ways of soil and crops, observing the reaction of the land to the actions of man. For instance, he must know when to plant, when to harvest, and what varieties of seed to use. Compost alone does not make a successful gardener any more than does gardening without compost. » [« The Organiculturist’s Creed, » in The Organic Front, Chapter 8 (Emmaus PA: Rodale Press, 1948).

As defined by a USDA Study Team on Organic Farming, « Organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests. » [Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming (Washington DC: USDA, 1980), p. xii. NAL Call # aS605.5 U52. Available at AFSIC

The following definition was drafted and passed by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in April 1995. It was developed by a joint NOSB/National Organic Program task force, and incorporated language from the Codex Draft Guidelines for organically produced foods: « Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. ‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people. » [Final Minutes of the National Organic Standards Board, Orlando, Florida, April 24-28, 1995 (NOSB, 1994), p. 50. Available at NOSB

« Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled « organic, » a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. » [What is organic food? (USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program (NOP)).]