Growing Organic Trend Provides Fuel For The Economy
By: Matthew Kennedy| Organic Living
The decision to go organic, when it comes to what we eat, has become clearer in the minds of the growing appetite of the consumer. What started as an awareness of consumers to reduce the harmful effects of chemicals used in fertilizers and insecticides in the 1960’s and 1970’s has evolved into a multi-billion dollar, global business.
A History of Organic Agriculture
It was an economic crisis in the 1980’s that allowed the organic trend to propel itself to new heights. The downturn in the economy of the early part of the decade brought bankruptcy and foreclosures to many large farms. A few of these farms decided to plant and harvest crops without using the conventional methods of cultivation that called for chemical inputs. The farmers soon realized that buyers were willing to pay more money for the same harvest simply because their were no chemicals added to the production of the crops. These large farms could also produce more than the smaller organic farms that previously existed, creating a more competitive market that helped drive costs down for the consumer. The increase in profit and expansion of the market caused an increasing change in the mindset of other non-organic farmers who were struggling financially, setting off an organic revolution.
As the organic industry was rapidly expanding, the practices and regulations in organic farming did not change to meet the rising expectations and demands of growers and consumers. With more businesses attempting to use the organic label to sell their products, many farmers and distributors were willing to cut corners to increase profits and take advantage of the growing organic market. In 1990, a coalition of organic farmers, consumers, animal welfare activists and environmental organizations helped influence Congress to pass the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). In 1992, the USDA established the National Organic Program (NOP) to develop a standard of rules and regulations for organic production. However, it wasn’t until ten years later, that there was a set of governmental guidelines in place that was agreed upon.
A Growing Business
The days when the organic consumer had to seek out the local organic food market are gone. Over the last decade, organic sales have grown by 20 percent or more each year. In 2004, organic food and beverage sales topped a reported $15 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 1997. Sales are projected to double by the end of the decade. The growing organic food business is beginning to spread to all corners of the country. A trip to the local Wal-Mart will result in an assortment of organic products for the consumer to choose from. While organic food is still more expensive than non-organic foods, most large food chains are attempting to create competition and reduce the price gap. The higher cost of organic goods is creating a choice for most consumers – healthier options vs. saving money.
The fact that many chains are getting involved in the organic business is helping ease people into organics. Stores like Wal-Mart and Stop & Shop that have the overhead in place to provide organic products at a lower cost than most exclusively natural food stores, create more opportunity for the consumer to become engaged in the organic trend.
Consequently, the expansion of the organic market could easily lead to an expanded organic agricultural society even greater than what we see today. In 2005, California had a 27 percent increase in organic livestock production. The number of acres that produces organic vegetables increased 12 percent, according to the California Certified Organic Farmers.
The Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) is a community of farmers, gardeners, land care professionals and consumers that among other things, devotes its energies to increasing the local organic food supply. The association, founded in 1982, has led the charge to increase the local community’s access to the organic market. The NOFA also puts on conferences for the public that address the benefits of conscientious, healthy decision-making habits.
Currently, there are three certified organic farms/produce handlers in Fairfield County. While this number may not seem very high, it does show that there is an active organic interest in the community, and that many are beginning to live a healthier lifestyle.
Connecticut’s organic economy is expanding at an increasing rate due to the acceptance of businesses to adopt more natural, environmentally friendly practices. The chance for businesses in the community to enhance their bottom line, by tapping into the rising interest and support of organic approaches has not been lost on a few rising companies. The market that the organic industry has created lends itself to a cycle of prosperity that allows businesses to showcase their interest in increasing the supply for what their customers are looking for. It is quite clear that many people in the community want to support businesses that are doing good things for the environment and in turn for the community. Many businesses are using this prospect of a built-in market to realize their success.
One such local business looking to benefit from CONSCIOUS DECISIONS by consumers in the area is the vegetarian take-out restaurant, Health in a Hurry. Located on Post Road in the town of Fairfield, Health in a Hurry taps into both society’s desires of wanting something on impulse and wanting something nutritious, and offers the solution. By providing more than the national fast food chain can offer, the restaurant, which opened in 2004, makes it easier for the community to make healthy choices as well as being able to give back to the environment.
“We really wanted to provide a healthy alternative to give to people in the area as far as what they ate. Most of what people say when they pick their food choices is that they want something quick and easy,” explains Sue Cadwell, owner of Health in a Hurry. As Cadwell explains, by providing people with the option of eating healthy and getting it in the same amount of time and convenience made a good business decision. “People really do want to eat healthy. We give them the chance to do that. I’ve always been into eating healthy and wanted a way to help others. It seemed like a natural thing to do to start a business.”
The Future of the Organic Business
Currently, there are ten certified organic restaurants in the state of Connecticut. It is apparent to consumers that buying organic foods is a valuable choice. People are paying more attention than ever to where their food is coming from and how it is produced. With this increased demand and awareness, the way that people eat is bound to change. Eating healthier is becoming more accessible than ever, even for people who don’t have the economic means to do so. Consider that the state’s Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program provides food vouchers to low-income families to purchase produce from farmer’s markets, which usually consist of organic goods.
With the increase of availability of organic cuisine coupled with a rising supply that can keep costs down, the choice to turn to more organic processes is becoming much easier for the public. Making the options easier and more accessible will only create a stronger market for an organic culture that has already begun to spread into the mainstream. The rate that farms and businesses are turning to organic production cannot be denied. With the increasing choice in the organic businesses, the decision to go organic is becoming much easier.