review by Jack KIttredge
Obach, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is a student of social movements who has also written about the labor and environmental movements. As any scholar would, he starts with a history of the organic movement, beginning with Jerome Irving Rodale and his concerns about synthetic fertilizers, already used in agriculture in 1942 when “Organic Farming and Gardening” was first published, and the proponents of natural and spiritual approaches to farming such as Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Eve Balfour and Ralph Borsodi. Come the nineteen sixties and seventies, of course, the advent of Rachel Carson and Cesar Chavez’ indictment of agricultural chemicals and the growth of the counterculture seeking an alternative to a cor-rupt commercial society came together to create the back-to-the-land movement of food coops and communal farms.
Organic sales, going from the insignificant output of a fringe movement in 1971, when NOFA began, to a still small but obviously growing market worth $1 billion in 1990, not only selected for hardworking and business oriented farmers but also was attracting the attention of outsiders. At first denouncing organics as a ‘food fad’ and threat to good nutrition, establishment figures such as Cornell’s Kenneth Beeson and Harvard’s Jean Mayer and Frederick Stare (whose self-interest in extensive ties to the food industry Obach neatly exposes) were quick to rail against the movement as ‘anti-science’.
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