Organic Industry Timeline

1920's to 1940's

Writers in the U.S. and Great Britain published influential works introducing the basic idea of organics - that the health of plants, soil, livestock and people are interrelated - and advocating a fundamental approach to farming based on understanding and working with natural systems rather than trying to control them.


Synthetic pesticides and herbicides were introduced to American agriculture in the 1940s, and like many new inventions of the era, were embraced and used wholeheartedly.

1940's to 1950's

A loose network of farmers—including J.I. Rodale, Ehrnefried Pfeiffer of Kemberton Farm School, and Paul Keene of Walnut Acres Farms—shunned chemical agriculture by farming organically and writing about their experiences.


Natural Food Associates (NFA) was formed in Atlanta, Texas, to help connect scattered organic growers with fledgling markets for organically grown foods.


Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring was published, documenting some of the negative consequences associated with chemical use in agriculture. Its publication gave rise to environmental consciousness and a renewed focus on organic agriculture.


Some point to the United States' ban of the pesticide DDT in this year as the start of the modern environmental movement. The organics industry grew appreciably due to an expanding consumer opposition to chemical pesticides coupled with a desire for food that was produced without harming the environment.


In the early 1970s, the growth of the organics industry prompted activists across the U.S. to form regional groups and create organic standards by which to certify farmers and their crops. A group of farmers formed California Certified Organic Farmers, becoming the first organization to certify organic farms in North America.


Safer Way Natural Foods and Clarksville Natural Grocery join forces to open Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas with a staff of only 19.


The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released their report on the carcinogenic growth regulator Alar, which was used on apples.


The organic industry had estimated sales of more than $1 billion and Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the framework to create National Organic Standards.


Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Whole Foods Market, appointed as the sole retail representative on the 14-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).


Organic industry members and consumers—including Whole Foods Market customers—sent over 275,000 comments to the USDA on their proposed National Organic Standards, which included provisions not recommended by the NOSB.


The USDA's Economic Research Service released a major study on the status of organics in the U.S. showing that certified organic crop land more than doubled during the previous decade and that some organic livestock sectors— eggs and dairy—grew even faster.


USDA passes the Final Organic Rule after reinstating prohibitions on irradiation, sewage sludge and genetically engineered seed.


Whole Foods Market ended the fiscal year with 126 stores operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia and almost 21,000 Team Members.

October 21, 2002

Deadline for compliance with the provisions of the Final Organic Rule.