In recent decades, organic food—the idealistic, natural alternative to industrial agribusiness and processed packaged foods—has grown into a multibillion-dollar business. Fromartz's portrait of the adolescent industry reveals that that success has prompted an epic identity crisis. Big corporations like Kraft and General Mills own the bulk of the market, and half of all organic sales come from the largest 2% of farms, alienating those most committed to producing chemical-free fruits and vegetables on small family farms, and selling them locally. Business journalist Fromartz uncovers the trailblazers' tactics: how Whole Foods Market developed a religion of "moral hedonism," how Earthbound Farm launched a revolution with bagged salad mix and how Silk soy milk became "the number one brand in the dairy case, among all milk and soy milk brands." But if big business is now the muscle of the organic industry, Fromartz demonstrates that small growers remain at its heart. Fromartz's profiles—of pioneers who sell their produce at farmers' markets and foster cooperatively-owned, local distribution networks—deftly navigate the complexities of pesticide issues, organic production methods and the legal controversies surrounding organic certification. This is a pragmatic, wise assessment of the compromises the organic movement has struck to gain access to the mainstream. (Apr.)
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Although initially attracted to organic food from his encounters with it as a cook, business journalist Fromartz scrutinizes this ever--growing industry from an economic perspective. He focuses on the raising of strawberries, a fruit perpetually in high demand nationwide. Citing the example of a California grower who grew berries both conventionally and organically under virtually identical conditions, Fromartz declares organic farming to be indeed economically viable. Fromartz also examines the use of chemical pesticides, initially lauded as agriculture's great savior until the appearance of Rachel Carson made public their baneful long-term effects. Fromartz finds a different but similarly successful road to economic success in the story of Earthbound Farms, whose leafy mesclun mixes now appear in markets all over the country. Lest today's organic food producers become complacent, Fromartz recounts the tale of Kellogg, a company whose founders cherished lofty aims of spreading health and nutrition but who ironically ended up promoting mass-market, sugar-laden cereals quite contrary to what they had originally envisioned. Mark Knoblauch
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