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Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew [Hardcover]

Samuel Fromartz
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 5 2006
Who would have thought that a natural food supermarket could have been a financial refuge from the dot-com bust? But it had. Sales of organic food had shot up about 20 percent per year since 1990, reaching $11 billion by 2003 . . . Whole Foods managed to sidestep that fray by focusing on, well, people like me.Organic food has become a juggernaut in an otherwise sluggish food industry, growing at 20 percent a year as products like organic ketchup and corn chips vie for shelf space with conventional comestibles. But what is organic food? Is it really better for you? Where did it come from, and why are so many of us buying it? Business writer Samuel Fromartz set out to get the story behind this surprising success after he noticed that his own food choices were changing with the times. InOrganic, Inc.,Fromartz traces organic food back to its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago. Then he follows it forward again, casting a spotlight on the innovators who created an alternative way of producing food that took root and grew beyond their wildest expectations. In the process he captures how the industry came to risk betraying the very ideals that drove its success in a classically complex case of free-market triumph.

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From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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In 1998, Chensheng Lu, a researcher at the Department of Health at the University of Washington, began testing children in the Seattle area to see whether he could detect pesticide residues in their urine. Read the first page
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3.0 out of 5 stars Myths and People of the Organic Movement Nov. 6 2006
As a vegetarian who eats almost strictly organic food, I thought what a great topic to write a book review on for a University course. Not knowing much what the "organic" label really meant on the food I ate, this book was a welcome eye opener into the organic movement and the players involved. The author Fromartz traveled extensively across the USA while doing research for this book, meeting the farmers and corporations who are responsible for putting "organic" food on our tables. We are introduced to two main ideologies of the organic movement; one being simple agrarianism and back to the land simplicity; another, following big food business that has been quickly infiltrating the organic market in the search for large profits while at the same time watering down the "organic" brand. If you eat organic food, and never really questioned where it came from, this book is truly necessary. If you don't yet eat organic food, but would like to know the truth behind the label, this is an important book for you as well. The author describes the history of the organic movement and how it arose as a reaction to industrialized agriculture, and how now it is in danger of becoming that which it originally rose against.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the organic movement Sept. 23 2007
By Malvin - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Organic Inc" by Samuel Fromartz offers a good introduction to the natural food movement. Written primarily for a popular audience, the book combines research with short histories, case studies and profiles of prominent personalities and companies that have shaped the industry. Although the author's frequent interjections about his own personal experiences and infatuations with organics becomes somewhat annoying, overall the book succeeds in granting insight into the organic movement, its foundational ideals and the possibilities for the future.

Mr. Fromartz provides a brief history of organic farming as an alternative to a deeply flawed agro-industrial production system. We learn that organic methods were developed for ideologically diverse reasons but tends to produce nutritionally superior foods when compared with conventional farming practices. Although yields are usually smaller, the author discusses how organic strawberry farms in California are an example of how organics can outperform when allowing for decreases in energy and fertilizer input.

Mr. Fromartz profiles some of the small organic farmers whose deference to health, environment and community were shaped by the 1960s counterculture. A small but vital network of farmers, distributors and retailers supported a fledgling movement that defined itself by remaining outside the conventional food system. The author describes how such farmers often devised creative marketing strategies by catering to specialty restaurants or selling their produce directly to the public at farmer's markets. As health and safety concerns about pesticides and rBGH growth hormones caught the public's attention, organic farming has become more widespread, emerging as an increasingly important survival strategy for more and more beleagured family farmers.

Mr. Fromartz traces the rise in popularity of pre-packaged salads and refrigerated soy milk to discuss how mass market success has created divisions within the organic community. The development of large-scale organic enterprises has intensified competition and shut down smaller, less efficient producers. Regulation has become a contentious issue, with small farmers seeking to hold large farmers accountable to maintaining high standards. As supermarkets such as Safeway and Wal-Mart have begun to add organic sections to their stores, issues of local production, fair wages and sustainability are heightened. Yet, the author is upbeat in his assessment that small farmers can continue to find their niche by satisfying the needs of the more sophisticated organic consumer.

I recommend this highly readable and informative book to everyone.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Different Food Visions July 14 2006
By Bright Wings - Published on
Can big agribusiness and local organic farming co-exist and thrive? Samuel Fromartz' new book, Organic, Inc., is a fascinating journey through American agricultural movements, starting around the turn of the century, when farming was still a small-town venture and tracing its development into agribusinesses whose products are now found on most American tables - and the movement into locally grown, organic foods, which represents not so much a return to the past as a return to wholeness and healthy living.

The problem seems to be that the organic movement itself is being challenged by the very agribusinesses it once eschewed. There are really few ways to farm sustainably (which will in most cases mean organically and without genetically modified foods or chemicals) AND use the systems that have come to mean "factory farms" - livestock confined for their entire lifetimes in areas so small they cannot turn around or lie down (chickens, for instance, and pigs), never mind see the sunshine or walk around and enjoy fresh air, eating what they would eat if humans were not around.

Agrisystems, as they exist today, are basically unhealthy - and unsustainable. But they are profitable, and make it easy for "food" (if you want to call it that) to arrive at your table packaged neatly and processed to death. Rare are the children being raised today who knows what "food" looks like in its natural state. Do they know what a carrot or beet looks like, while it's growing in the ground? Do they know that the hamburger they eat comes from a being that has a face and makes sounds, and may (depending on your viewpoint) be sentient?

Being removed from the source and sight and smells and knowledge of how your food comes to you - how it was grown, and what has happened to it all along the way - makes for some dangerous possibilities. We cannot know (or control very well, despite so-called legal safeguards meant to protect us) where our food has been, before it reaches our table, unless we have grown it ourselves (which is not easy or possible for most people) or have bought it from someone in our community whose farming practices we know - and could actually go there and see.

Fromartz comes from a reporting background, and knows how to dig out factoids that will leave you breathless for the sheer scope of what has happened to our food and our food production systems. It should leave you with both concern and hope, at the end.

Organic, Inc. Is not exactly the "story of food" but it truly is the tale of two different visions for how food is produced and made available to consumers. One (local biodynamic farming) is sustainable; the other (multinational, corporate agribusiness) is not.

Fromartz carefully traces how we got where we are, without suggesting where we will go in the future. However, his bias for a sustainable natural foods future is clear - and it's one I share. If you care about what you eat, how it got here, and whether you will be able to find more like it tomorrow, you should read this book, think about what it means, and DO something about what you believe is the best course of action for a world where what we eat determines how healthy we and our future generations will be.

Yours for extraordinary dining -- for everyone,

Nancy Boyd

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A place for organic in your life July 17 2007
By Armchair Interviews - Published on
When you think of organic foods, do you mentally picture aging hippies in co-ops, small roadside stands, and stores with counter-cultural values? That image was probably valid until the 1980's, but has rapidly been displaced since.

Organic foods sales grew at 20 percent per year during the 1990s, attracting the attention of the food business. In the process, organic went mainstream and became an accepted niche market at grocery chains and even big-box retailers such as WalMart and Target. The author's real question is whether this represents "progress" or "problem" for fans of simpler lifestyles and all things organic.

The documented answer is some of both. Fromartz is a highly accomplished business journalist who takes a (mostly) unsentimental look at the business of marketing organic foods. Interviewing small and large merchants plus the `man on the street,' Fromartz discovers that organic is profitable and growing, yet at the same time poses a risk to traditional fans who are unlikely to shop at big boxes for the food they know and love. While the mainstream consumer `discovers' organic, the core organic customer may be wondering if she can trust anyone, anywhere, any more. This dilemma, the author notes, resembles putting up "a neon sign for an organic Twinkie."

After an entertaining and excellent investigative look at the business of organic, Fromartz holds out hope that both kinds of organic - mass market and small market - may find ways to thrive. For the core customer, related values like humane treatment of animals, fair market pricing, and sustainable agriculture may become more relevant indicators of value than the simple phrase `organic.' These savvy shoppers may continue to trust the small, unique brands and identities of traditional organic suppliers.

Meanwhile a certain amount of industrialization, mass-market methods and persuasive advertising messages can be expected to boost sales of anything termed `organic' in the aisles of a mega-retailer near you, where the organic business is currently booming.

Whether you like your organic "all natural" or with "always low prices," you'll be likely to find it readily available. Which type you choose will say a lot about your personal values and expectations.

Armchair Interviews say: The good news, from the author's point of view, is that at least you'll get to choose! In a free market, our choices define our future opportunities.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine business exploration of the entire industry; not just one company June 19 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Organic food has grown at a rate of 20 percent yearly in a sluggish food industry, yet many still can't define what makes food organic, why it's better, and how it fits into the food industry. Here to answer these and more questions is ORGANIC INC: NATURAL FOODS AND HOW THEY GREW. Samuel Fromartz is a business journalist: his reporting delves into the heart of the organic food industry and concept, tracing changing consumer choices, educational processes, organic food's anti-industrial roots over a century ago, and those who fostered new approaches on food production. A fine business exploration of the entire industry; not just one company.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the food chain for your own good Jan. 11 2011
By E. Hanner - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sam Fromartz has written a very good, easily read book about what is wrong with the food supply in today's world. If you have been on the fence about whether it matters if you spend a little more for Organic groceries, this book is for you. Read and understand what goes on behind the scenes in the factory suppliers of vegetables. Do you think it's alarming the asthma and allergy instances among children are skyrocketing? Read and inform yourself before the next trip to the grocery.
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