Most of us equate organic with natural and healthy, but when pressed, would probably be unable to explain what differentiates organic foods from their counterparts, other than their higher price. And yet more and more of us are choosing to go organic. Sales of organic food have risen about 20 percent a year since 1990, reaching $11 billion in 2003. Business writer Samuel Fromartz offers some guidance in navigating the complex world of organics in his new book Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew.
Fromartz's journalistic approach, as well as his personal passion for the topic, makes his book an easy read. Through compelling business snapshots of natural foods players like Whole Foods Market, Earthbound Farm bagged salad mix and Silk soy milk, he charts the growth of organic food from its anti-industrial origins. His most compelling portraits are of the small farmers at the heart of the organic foods movement. I am a consumer who began to buy organic food, and then wanted to understand why, he writes. I sought to parse the myths from the realities and meet the people who were feeding me. That's a noble cause, yet few of us have the time or inclination to rise at 3:30 a.m. to shadow Jim and Moie Crawford, partners in the Tuscarora Organic Growers Co-op, as they load their truck in Hustontown, Pennsylvania, and make a two-and-a-half hour trek to a farmer's market in Washington, D.C. Thanks to Fromartz, we don't have to; he sketches out the big and small players in the organic marketplace and their struggles.
Rooted in a patchwork of ideologies and movements from the pesticide backlash to the late '60s counter-culture movement to the current trend toward eating locally the organic industry is now at a crossroads, Fromartz believes. Growth cannot occur if the ideals become compromised, but the ideals can't come to fruition without the growth, he writes. Expect to observe how it all plays out in the aisle of your supermarket soon.