Today, a lot more people are interested in what they are eating. Organic food was once the sole domain of specialty markets; but now, raising and selling organically-grown foods is no longer the business solely of flower children in tie-dye overalls, transporting their wares in Volkswagen micro buses.

Research has shown that retail sales of natural foods is the fastest-growing segment of the grocery industry, accounting for 10% of the more than $300 billion in annual sales. According to the “Organic Market Overview Report,” organic sales have increased by more than 20% per year for six years in a row, and have risen to a record $2.8 billion per year.

Organic Foods Production Act of 1990

The federal government has outlined steps toward regulating organic, or “natural” foods. Over three-dozen states and private sectors created standards to certify organic foods. Their guidelines maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products:

  • The term certified organic means that farmers must grow produce for three years without the application of synthetic pesticides or chemicals. An independent agency unaffiliated with the grower, the processor, or the vendor inspects the farm, its equipment, and any processing facilities. This organization then issues them a certificate certifying the farm’s produce as “organic.”
  • Producers of organic foods are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
  • Livestock can be certified organic if they have been raised on organic feedstuffs (grains and other products grown under certified organic conditions) for at least one year.

Organic agriculture practices use methods to minimize pollution from air, soil, and water. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities-soil life, plants, animals, and people. A.C. Gallo, the president of Bread and Circus, a division of Whole Foods Market, said, “I think a lot more people are interested in what they are eating; and even from an environmental standpoint, how environmental agriculture and sustainable agriculture are better alternatives for our environment.”

The Organic Food Business Moves Forward

Health issues are not the only factor driving the market; so are the beautiful produce displays typical of whole foods stores. Boredom with conventional grocery stores seems to be driving the grocery market. A wider group of the population is currently shopping at natural-food stores and looking for good quality food. Whole Foods Market saw close to $500 million in revenues last year, and expanded its 47-store franchise. Its purchase of rival chain Fresh Fields added another 22 stores, plus more than $200 million in sales.

The Whole Foods Market success has come despite the healthy price tag associated with organically-grown product, which can cost, on the average, 20% more than non-organic products. Organic produce, since it is grown without synthetic pesticides or chemicals, is more labor-intensive. Organic crop yields are often not as high as those grown under non-organic conditions, and fewer farmers (only about 4%) use organic methods and sustainable agriculture practices; therefore, the price of organically grown produce reflects the greater demands of the grower. But many shoppers are willing to pay the price: “I have to pay a little bit more, but I know the quality is first-rate, and I am willing to go for that,” said one shopper.

Also, organic farmers are reaping the benefits of technology, linking up with customers to sell their organic crops over the Internet. As more consumers demand this new generation of natural food stores, so does the competition. And with that comes higher quality, better variety, and more organic.

Organically Grown Produce is Healthier (and other reasons to go organic):

  • Even though the nutritional content of a particular vegetable doesn’t change, the lack of synthetic pesticide residues on organically grown produce contributes to a safer product. Organic produce is not covered in a cocktail of poisonous chemicals. The average conventionally-grown apple has 20-30 artificial poisons on its skin, even after rinsing. Fresh organic produce contains on average 50% more vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other micro-nutrients than intensively farmed produce.
  • Farmers who intensively-rear dairy cows and farm animals feed them daily a dangerous combination of antibiotics, growth-promoting drugs, anti-parasite drugs, plus many other medicines, whether the animals have an illness or not. These drugs are passed directly to us-the consumers of their dairy produce and meat. This is likely to be a contributing factor to meat-related diseases like coronaries and high blood pressure.
  • Although organic food seems to cost more, it is not really more expensive than intensively farmed foods, as we pay for conventional foods through our taxes. Every year, we spend billions of dollars cleaning up the mess that agro-chemicals make to our natural water supply.
  • Intensive farming can seriously damage farm workers’ health. There are much higher instances of cancer, respiratory problems, and other major diseases in non-organic farm workers. This is particularly true in developing countries, and for agro-chemical farms growing cotton.
  • Going organic is the only practical way to avoid eating genetically modified (GM) food. And by buying organic food, you are registering your mistrust of GMO’s and doing your bit to protest against them.
  • Getting back to nature doesn’t have to mean a trip to the country. Urban vegetable gardens are giving city dwellers a taste and tour of life on the farm.
  • Organic produce simply tastes so much better! The fruit and vegetables are full of juice and flavor.