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The Origins of the Organic Movement

by Philip Conford

(Floris Books, £14.99, www.florisbooks.co.uk)

At last, a thoroughly researched history of the organic movement! Jonathan Dimbleby’s introduction to this paperback sets the tone by expelling popular myths that organic farming is a modern phenomenon. The roots of the movement stretch back at least a century ago, and its valuable history is explained over the next 240 pages.

From pre-industrialised British scientists to eminent academics from India, Africa and the USA, the story of the organic movement is methodically told. This book is authoritatively researched, with extensive glossaries and appendices. As a reader, you feel entirely confident that the facts being absorbed are authentic to a ‘T’.

The lives and ideas of great pioneers like Sir Albert Howard and Rudolph Steiner are thoroughly examined and discussed, including the background to the biodynamic movement. The first president of the Soil Association was Lady Eve Balfour, an incredible achievement in itself as a woman in 1946. A devout Christian, Lady Balfour was the niece of a British Prime Minister, Sir Arthur Balfour.

One of the main American organic pioneers was Jerome Rodale, founder of the present day Rodale publishing empire. Inspired by Sir Albert Howard’s ideas, Rodale starting farming organically in the early 1940′s. A deeply committed advocate of both organics and biodynamics, Rodale published many books and magazines for the US market, often reprinting the ideas of eminent Europeans. Rodale’s ‘Prevention’ magazine was first published in 1950 with the mission statement:

to alert the big-city dweller to the possibilities of obtaining wholesome food either through selective buying or through finding a minute plot on which to grow a few vegetables

It is insights like these that inspire modern organic food farmers and eaters. Feeling a connection with like-minded people from the past strengthens our resolve to continue and evolve their work and ideas. All history books are manuals for future possibilities. Although very academic, this book is alive with such inspiration.

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