BioCycle July 2008, Vol. 49, No. 7, p. 4
Just recently, I came across a book that I edited, The New Food Chain, published 35 years ago while I was both editor of this journal (then Compost Science), as well as Organic Gardening and Farming magazine. The New Food Chain: An Organic Link Between Farm and City included essays by Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs, Robert Rodale, Peter Barnes, Gene Logsdon and others. The first chapter was titled, “Organic Force.” The last chapter was titled, “Where Cities And Farms Come Together.” It is remarkable how this collection of ideas and insights are as timely today as they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is startling to realize how we have come so far – organic food and agriculture is a multibillion dollar industry – and yet we have not come far enough, especially with regard to recycling organics back to soil.
The following excerpts are from the chapter I wrote entitled “Organic Force” in the 1973 edition of The New Food Chain:
“The organic idea is basically a simple idea. It only takes a very few words to describe what organic means in the garden … or what it means on the farm. The explanation begins with the soil, gets into the compost heap, the natural cycle, the need to return garbage and sludge and wastes back to the land, the hazards of pesticides and artificial fertilizers to the environment, and the personal health benefits that go with eating quality, nutritious food.”
“Not only is the organic idea basically a simple one, but it is also a personal one. Organic gardeners and farmers have developed countless ways to accomplish what they set out to do – different planting dates, planting methods, varieties, equipment, tilling techniques, composting methods – and on and on. Organic gardeners and farmers are a most individualistic group.”
“Yet more and more in the past few years, some grandiose concepts have been getting mixed in with the compost heap. Though it’s still the same old compost heap as it always was, in the 1970s the heap has come to mean something more. It still is simple. It still is personal. But now, instead of only rating the heap for its ability to make a soil fertile, we talk about it in such terms as social practice and harmony with the environment. To many people, it’s still just a pile of garbage and manure – true, a controlled pile on its way to becoming humus – but nevertheless, just a pile. To others, it’s a vision of a society in harmony with the environment…”
“‘Organic force’ has become meaningful in the marketplace and on the farm, in the supermarket and in the classroom because it has become the codeword for something even more significant than no pesticides, chemicals or additives. The word organic is becoming a linking symbol upon which a consumer can relate to a producer. It is a substitute for national brand advertising via television, newspapers or magazines; the word organic when truly defined cannot have a national brand name because its essence is localization and personalization.”
“The organic concept is a forerunner of how an economic base can be given to idealistic concepts. Organic force is developing models for the survival of mankind. It shows how ecology can be blended into daily living without doing anything special. This organic force may very well be our best reason to be optimistic at this time.”
“How great an impact the organic force will make is the big unanswered question of the moment,” concluded the chapter in 1973. In 2008, while the seeds are planted, we are only beginning to see that impact as the world slowly wakes up to the recognition that the organic idea, this “simple idea,” may be the remedy to so many environmental ills.