Organic foods have risen in prominence over the past few decades — especially within the produce industry. Now, many grocery stores and other food markets have designated whole sections to organic foods, and in the produce department there seems to be an organic alternative to nearly every offered product, from bananas to spices. Though these fully natural fruits and vegetables are plentiful now, they were once a rarity in stores across the world.
Here is a brief history of the organic produce industry.
A longstanding tradition
Organic farming, or natural agriculture, has been practiced for thousands of years; it dates as far back as prehistoric times and is the “world’s oldest and most resilient agroecosystem.” During these humble beginnings, primitive means of agriculture were introduced and leveraged toward the growing, maintaining, and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. These methods included forest gardening and the use of animals for hard labor — two approaches that would be improved and reimagined for years to follow.
Alternatives and changes
Fastforwarding to the 1940s, this approach quickly changed following the industrial revolution, which produced alternative means of farming and produce production. Organic farming, however, was streamlined through the advent of non-chemical farming methods, which stood as a reaction to the industry’s growing dependence on fertilizers, pesticides, and other synthetic means of product protection and preservation.
These viewpoints became more prevalent during the 1970s — a product of increased environmental awareness and growing consumer demand for organic products — and as a result, the organic produce industry, as a whole, grew. At first, organic implementation was subject to a decentralized approach, giving each state the ability to develop their own standards “based on production practices and constraints in their region.” This approach was eventually pushed away by the 1990 Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) which aimed to develop a national standard for organic food production. Final rules for these laws were finally written and implemented during the fall of 2002.
The success of the modern organic produce market is the product of the industry’s thriving market, which continues to grow annually. Organic foods — especially produce — are coveted by a wide range of consumers thanks to their touted health benefits and low risks from long term consumption. The demand originally ignited during the 1970s has only increased to this point, leading to a total shift in not only consumer expectations, but in the ways stores have changed their layout and marketing to accommodate them.