CARI: Center for Applied Rural Innovation


Date of this Version



Published by the Center for Applied Rural Innovation, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 2005


Copyright © 2005, the authors. Used by permission


Organic farming includes growing food and fiber — animals, agronomic crops, horticultural fruits and vegetables, related products — as one dynamic and rapidly evolving component of our complex U.S. food system. Even as more farmers are moving toward organic certification and participation in an environmentally sound and economically lucrative market, questions arise about the long-term social impacts and sustainability of a set of practices that has gone from a movement to an industry. Consolidations in the organic trade have brought multinational corporations to the table, as they have observed a grassroots activity that has grown by 20% per year for the past two decades, and that now includes a segment of the food system that has over $11 billion in annual sales in this country alone.

The quest is broadening in our search for local and secure food systems. Beyond the threats of terrorism, insecurity of long supply lines, and dependence of a global food chain on inexpensive fossil fuels, there is growing concern about how food can be produced locally. This implies local ownership and management, use of foods that are in season, promotion of closed materials cycles, and distribution of benefits from the food system in ways that the current organic certification system cannot assure. In this set of resource materials for 2005, we present organic farming in the context of family operations, environmental soundness, and social accountability. Why do farmers convert to organic production, and what is its future? Why is local food security and connecting people to their food supply important? Are these idealistic questions that have no connection to “science-based organic farming” or do they help open a rich and productive discussion about the whole future of our food system?

Here we present publications about production practices for organic crops and animals, about processing and marketing, and about the certification process. But we also open the debate about the future of organic farming, and what some alternatives might be that can enhance the future of family farming and locally secure food systems. There is a fine line between education and advocacy, and we attempt at every turn to identify what is established through science and where opinion enters in. To assume that science is value free is a myth, yet we introduce ethics, philosophy, and social values into this discussion to provoke further discussion and hopefully promote progress in establishing a long-term, sustainable, and equitable food system.