To call organic farming a new business model is somewhat of a misnomer. Organic farming has been practiced ever since the dawn of civilization. In order to understand the recent growth of organic foods in what is perceived big business one must back up about one century. If you guessed that organic farming started with the industrial revolution, more specifically the second industrial revolution (1870-1914) you are probably pretty close.
This second industrial revolution brought on all kinds of new advances in technology, steel manufacturing and Chemistry. People have always known about organic fertilizers and how to rotate crops for optimum yields. The second industrial revolution and the advent of nitrogen-based fertilizer changed all that. In the first quarter of the 20th Century, two Nobel prize-winning chemists Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber developed a process now called Haber-Bosch process that enabled nitrogen to be cheaply synthesized into ammonia. This ammonia is directly applied to the soil or it can be converted into two dry compounds: ammonium nitrate and urea. These compounds can be mixed with water to produce concentrated liquid nitrogen fertilizer. Once applied to the field this will allow for subsequent oxidization into nitrates and nitrites . The problem with these fertilizers is that they are from nonrenewable resources. In the case of nitrogen fertilizers, they are produced from fossil fuels such as natural gas.
Another environmental concern regarding inorganic fertilizers is the potential damage they pose to ecosystems through eutrophication .
The industrial revolution also brought about an increase in so called CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) or ILOs (Intensive Livestock Operations). Confined animal stocking rates have the ultimate purpose to maximize yield while minimizing costs. Confinement at high rates requires antibiotics and pesticides to reduce disease rates in animals. There is of course a big controversy concerning CAFO’s and ILO’s. At the center of the debate is animal welfare, environmental impact, and impact to human health.
It was only a matter of time until people caught on to the possible dangers of these “revolutionary” business practices. The term “organic farming” and the concept of farming the land as an organic whole was first coined in a book appropriately called “Look to the Land” authored by Lord Northbourne in the 1940’s .
In 1962 a little know author named Rachel Carlson published a book that would spur a grassroots movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. For her efforts, Carlson posthumously received the Presidential Metal of Freedom. Her work led to a nationwide ban of DDT and other dangerous pesticides .
As a result of these influential people the “Organic” Farming movement was born. Organic foods are produced to certain production standards. Organics are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge. Animals are raised without antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. Ideally, animals are given enough space to roam the pastures hence allowing for the “Free Range” or “Pastured” label. Genetically modified foods cannot be labeled organic in most countries.
In the past most organic farms were owned by families and that is why organic foods were once only available in small stores or farmers' markets. This has changed dramatically since the early 1990s. Organic foods experienced growth rates of around 20% a year, far ahead of the rest of the food industry. Since April 2008, organic food accounts approximately for 1-2% of food sales worldwide. Future growth is expected to range from 10-50% .
A couple of Organic Food Facts according to Wikipedia :
World organic food sales jumped from US $23 billion in 2002 to $40 billion in 2006.
Organic food sales have grown by 17 to 20 percent a year for the past few years while sales of conventional food have grown at only about 2 to 3 percent a year.
In 2003 organic products were available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and 73% of conventional grocery stores.
Organic products account for 2.6% of total food sales in the year 2005.
Two thirds of organic milk and cream and half of organic cheese and yogurt are sold through conventional supermarkets.
Organic food sales surpassed $1 billion in 2006, accounting for 0.9% of food sales in Canada.
Organic food sales by grocery stores were 28% higher in 2006 than in 2005. 
British Columbians account for 13% of the Canadian population, but purchased 26% of the organic food sold in Canada in 2006.
It looks like we have come full circle with this New Business model of “ancient” agricultural practices.
This post correlates to another post I have published here on the Alternative Medicine Blog. The post is accessible by clicking on:
2. Eutrophication is excessive growth and decay in a given ecosystem. Eutrophication poses serious problems to an ecosystem because of lack of oxygen and severe reduction in water quality, fish and other animal populations.
3. Lord Northbourne: Life and Work http://www.worldwisdom.com/Public/Authors/Detail.asp?AuthorID=43&WhatType=2
4. Rachel Carlson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Carson
5. Organic Foods, Facts and Statistics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food