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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 16, 2017 1:00 am

Demand driving organics

Ricky Kemery

Question: Do you believe that having organic food in grocery stores is really necessary? I am skeptical.

Answer: The organic gardening movement began long ago with research accomplished by a scientist named Sir Albert Howard during the 1920s and '30s in colonial India.

Sir Albert created the layered system of composting we still use today.

J.I. Rodale read Howard's work and coined the term “organic gardening”' beginning in the 1940s. The Rodale Institute was created to research organic gardening techniques and still exists today. According to the Rodale Institute, crops can be grown just as efficiently using organic techniques.

Several studies show enhanced nutritional qualities of organic grown produce.

Research at the University of Missouri beginning in the 1950s, and continuing into the present, shows the nutritional quality of organic vegetables is increased over crops grown in a conventional manner.

For many years, the interest in organic gardening from the general public was low, except for a brief period in the 1960s. The release of Rachel Carson's book “Silent Spring” in 1962 did raise awareness and concern about the use of pesticides.

One issue that always plagued the organic gardening movement was that the term “organic gardening” was misused and not defined. Some organic gardeners believed that no conventional pesticides or fertilizers be used when growing food; others thought earth-friendly pesticides were OK to use.

In the mid- to late-1990s the Clinton administration gathered experts from far and wide to develop standards for organic gardening. It was a tough process. Eventually standards were developed to grow certified organic crops. Finally a labeling process was developed so that folks were aware of crops grown using these methods.

All of this came about because of the general public's increasing concern over the quality of food. The development of genetically-modified food, the increased awareness of pesticides and their potential harmful effects and increased awareness of food additives with potentially harmful effects were all factors. Americans were on the move literally, and being healthy was important. In addition there was an increased distrust of experts because of food related illnesses and access to more information from the internet.

Slowly, organic food began to appear on grocery store shelves across the country. Organic sales in the U.S. totaled around $47 billion in 2016. In 2007 there was less than 20 billion in sales nationwide. Organic food now accounts for more than 5 percent of total food sales in this country.

The question is not whether foods grown organically are necessary; it is that the public demand for healthy food changed what foods are available in our groceries. Organic food may not be a choice for everyone, but I think it is good that American consumers do have a choice in what kind of food is available for their families.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.