“Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!”
Walt Whitman, from the poem “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” in Leaves of Grass (1855)
As each of us engages in the exciting and challenging task of building the organic and sustainable foods industry, it’s important to look back for inspiration to the pioneers who laid the foundations of the organic movement. There are certainly many accomplished and dedicated organic stewards today, but everyone in organic in 2017 stands on the shoulders of giants. Below are 5 such giants upon whose work we have all prospered and grown as we work to create a more organic and sustainable future.
Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925)
· Philosopher, educator and founder of the Biodynamic Agriculture movement.
· Extremely wide-ranging and broad field of interests, with over 40 books and more than 300 collected lectures. Also designed buildings as an architect and contributed to advances in medicine.
· After WW1, developed and brought to the public the principles of Biodynamic Agriculture, the first systematic program for organic agriculture.
· Conducted the first public lectures on the principles of organic agriculture in 1924, published in 1928 as “The Agricultural Course.”
Sir Albert Howard (1873 - 1947)
· Worked as an agricultural adviser, lecturer and teacher for decades, including over 20 years as Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India.
· Considered the father of modern composting. Studied the depletion of soils and the importance of building soil health. Identified superior systems to conserve and build soil health, including composting and soil improvement programs in Indore India which he expanded in India and brought to Europe as “The Indore Method.”
· Emphasized the connections between healthy soils, plants, animals and people.
· Published “An Agricultural Testament” in 1940, in which he presented the principles of organic agriculture to the general public. In this book Howard emphasized the importance of maintaining humus, keeping water in the soil, and the beneficial role of Mycorrhiza.
J.I. Rodale (1898 – 1971)
· Born in NY City; moved to rural Penn; founded the Rodale Press in 1930.
· Inspired by the writings of Sir Albert Howard, he established the Rodale Organic Farming Experimental Farm in 1940, which operates successfully to this day conducting important research in organic farming. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
· Founded Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942, followed by other successful publications.
· The Rodale organization created and operated one of the first functioning organic certification programs, decades before the passage of the National Organic Program. A number of current organic farms were first certified organic by Rodale.
· Many of today’s organic industry leaders got their inspiration from Mr. Rodale’s publications.
Lady Eve Balfour (1898 - 1990)
· Despite the comforts and privilege of her family (her father was an Earl and her uncle was Prime Minister), she moved to a farm and dedicated herself to sustainable farming methods and improving agriculture.
· In 1939, she created and managed the Haughley Experiment, the first long term side by side comparison of organic and chemical agricultural systems.
· Published “The Living Soil,” her best-known book, in 1943, which had a major influence on organic farming pioneers in the UK and was a catalyst for the founding of the Soil Association in the UK.
· Co-founded the Soil Association in the UK in 1946 and was its first president. The Soil Association continues today as the leading UK organic association and organic certification agency.
Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)
· Trained as a marine biologist and worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; became a full-time nature writer in 1950.
· Began to seriously question the efficacy of chemical pesticides by the 1950’s and gathered significant evidence regarding the environmental problems created by chamical pesticides.
· Published “Silent Spring” in 1962, an inspirational (and controversial) book which jolted the public out of complacency, gained a wide public following and was a major trigger in the eventual banning of DDT.
· “Silent Spring” also helped inspire and motivate a generation of food and ag leaders to create our modern natural products industry.