When did the organic food movement begin?

How did organic agriculture come about?

Biodynamic economy and natural agriculture

The life reform movement wanted to achieve a natural and natural way of life. She ran self-catering gardens with the aim of achieving high food quality, according to the following principles [5]: largely livestock-free cultivation, technologies adapted to small businesses, biological understanding of soil fertility and humus management. The life reform movement remained a temporary phenomenon. Nevertheless, Ewald Könemann (1899-1976), one of their pioneers, ensured that important findings found their way into the development of organic agriculture in the following years. Concerned about the quality of food and the decreasing fertility of the soil and animals, anthroposophical farmers, veterinarians and researchers asked the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), for advice [6]. With the "Agricultural Course" held by Steiner at Pentecost 1924, the biodynamic economy was established. It distinguishes the following special features: anthroposophy as a (understanding) basis, use of biodynamic preparations, compulsory keeping of ruminants and observance of cosmic rhythms. Their principle of viewing every agricultural operation as an individuality and a kind of organism became the starting point and principle of all organic agriculture. A second principle, which is still essential today, was established by the biodynamic movement in the 1960s: the production and processing process specified and controlled in private-sector guidelines is documented with a trademark 'demeter', under which the products are marketed [7 ].

Organic farming and first expansion phase

The botanist and politician Hans Müller (1891-1988) wanted to secure the existence of small-scale family businesses in Switzerland. He won over businesses that are as independent as possible from purchasing additional resources, for which he considered the preservation of soil fertility through careful and intensive use of the farm's own fertilizer to be essential. Müller's wife, Maria (1894-1969), developed the practical implementation and thus laid the basis for organic farming. Scientifically, this development was flanked by Hans-Peter Rusch (1906-1977) and his hypothesis of the cycle of living matter (microorganisms) through the links of the food chain (soil - plant - animal - human). The increasing environmental damage caused by agriculture in the 20th century became a problem for conservative individualists among farmers who cared about religious, ethical and health issues. The ideas of organic farming aroused great interest among them; In 1971 they founded the 'Association for organic-biological farming' in southwest Germany (since 1979 Bioland). 'Dropouts' came from the environmental movement as new organic farmers. Now, for the first time, there was an alternative to biodynamic farming, the ideological background of which had previously been a barrier for many, and there was a first wave of conversion to organic farming.

Diversification, Promotion and Government Protection

As a result, further cultivation associations emerged: Biokreis (1979, regional focus), Naturland (1982, initiative of scientifically oriented farmers and consumers) and Ecovin (1985, viticulture). All associations came together in 1988 in the Working Group for Organic Farming (AGÖL). This defined the minimum standard of organic agriculture in common basic guidelines and represented political interests.

In 1989, organic farming was first funded by the EU by the state. This made it an even more economic alternative, which initiated a second wave of conversion, to which large-scale East German businesses made a significant contribution. These were initially organized primarily in the organic association Gäa, which was still founded in the GDR in 1989, and in the Biopark association that emerged in 1991 after the reunification of Germany. In 1996, Ecoland was created as another regional association. In parallel to the cultivation associations, processors and traders founded their own associations: Association of Health Food Stores (1927), Federal Associations of Natural Food Manufacturers and Retailers and Retailers (1988, merger to form the Federal Association of Natural Foods Natural Goods in 2013), Association of Organic Food Manufacturers (2001), Association of Organic Supermarkets (2005) and the Association of Ecologically Committed Grocers and Druggists (2017). To protect consumers and honest market participants in a rapidly developing market, the organic food industry has been subject to state regulation since 1991 through the EU organic regulation.

In 2002 the AGÖL dissolved. As a new cross-sector umbrella association of all cultivation, processing and trade associations, the organic players founded the Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BÖLW) in the same year, which has been the political representation of the sector as the German umbrella association since then.

Although the pressure on conventional agriculture to operate in a more environmentally, climate- and animal-friendly manner has increased in the last few decades, the environmental problems continue to worsen. At the same time, demands are growing: Agriculture should not only secure the right to food, but at the same time be resource-friendly and also produce energy and raw materials for industry. A dispute has broken out over whether this can be achieved sustainably with further industrialization or with organic agriculture. But not only the authors of the World Agricultural Report [8] and Felix zu Löwenstein [9] come to a clear conclusion: the world will eat organically or not at all.

Photo header: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H0828-0206-002 | Health food store on Karl-Marx-Allee, Berlin 1969


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[1] Haber, W. (1996): Importance of agriculture and forestry for the cultural landscape. In: Linckh et al .: Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry. Expertise. Springer publishing house. Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 1-26.

[2] Gerber, A. (1999): Environmentally compatible land management in agricultural vocational training. Situation analysis and perspective development using the example of Baden-Württemberg. Margraf Verlag, Weikersheim. Pp. 12, 25 ff.

[3] Bauemer, K. (1986): Environmentally conscious farming: Back to the ideas of the 19th century? In: Reports on Agriculture 64, pp. 153-169.

[4] Bauemer, K. (1995): Aims of agricultural and environmental research. Announcements of the German Soil Science Society 78, pp. 215-230.

[5] Vogt, G. (2000): Origin and development of organic farming. Ecological Concepts 99th Foundation for Ecology and Agriculture (SÖL)

[6] Klett, M. (1994): Aspects of the history of consciousness on the development of biodynamic agriculture in the 20th century. In: Lebendige Erde, 5, p. 338.

[7] Gerber, A., Hoffmann, V. and Kügler, M. (1996): The knowledge system in organic farming in Germany. On the creation and transmission of knowledge in the diffusion process. In: Reports on Agriculture 74, pp. 591-627.

[8] International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (2008): "Agriculture at a Crossroads" (World Agricultural Report)

[9] Löwenstein, F. zu (2011): Food Crash - We will eat ecologically or not at all. Pattloch Verlag, Munich.

Inhetveen, H., Schmitt, M. and Spieker, I. (2003): Pioneers of organic farming. Challenges for history and science. In: Freyer, B. (Ed.): Organic farming of the future. Contributions to the 7th scientific conference on organic farming. Vienna, 427-430.