Organic, INC: Natural Foods and How They Grew

by Samuel Fromartz

Published by Harcourt

294 pages, 2006





Turning Green

Reviewed by Adrian Marks


Which of the following statements are true?

Organic foods are better for you.

Organic foods taste better.

Foods grown organically are better for the environment.

Organically grown foods are better for children.

Organic foods are the fastest growing segment of the retail food market.

According to Samuel Fromartz -- a business writer who has contributed to Business Week, Fortune and Inc. -- the right answer is: all of the above, at least in some cases.

Fromartz's first book, Organic, INC., brings us a whole new perspective on organic foods: how they get to us, what's good about them and what aspects of the organic movement we should embrace as well as which we would do best to rid ourselves of.

What's refreshing here is Fromartz's no-nonsense approach -- this is a seasoned business journalist, after all. His reportage in Organic, INC. is tempered by his very genuine and personal appreciation for foods that are good and created in a pure way.

I am not an agrarian writing about the deep meaning of the land, nor a gardener focused on the best organic methods, nor a nutritionist in pursuit of the ideal diet, nor an environmental advocate preoccupied with ecology. I am a consumer who began to buy organic food, and then wanted to understand why. I sought to parse the myths from the realities and meet the people who were feeding me.

Fromartz may be a consumer, but he isn't just a consumer. As a seasoned journalist, he knows how to find the answers to his questions. More: he knows how to present them in a way that isn't fraught with the dabble of stardust that can accompany and trivialize the writing of some well-intentioned agrarian ecological types.

Without the stardust, Organics, INC. isn't for the faint of heart. There are statistics here and even those of us already interested -- and even invested -- in organic foods will find some of them staggering. You come away from Fromartz's book both confirmed in the idea that organic foods are good, but also aware that the people getting all that organically labeled material to a market near you are probably not the Birkenstock and hemp-clad activists you might have envisioned. At least, not entirely. While it might be a movement that started out homespun, today the organic food market is the largest growing segment of the food industry. Fifty-five per cent of shoppers claim that, if organic produce is available, they'd prefer it. That sort of growth and desirability factor has meant that big money has entered this fray along with the hemp-wearers, in some cases even edging them out.

Fromartz looks at this vibrant industry from all angles. We join him in the fields of strawberry growers and the milking parlors of organic dairy producers. We see the history of the fledgling history coming to a shaky but determined start in the early part of the twentieth century. And we meet the new age operators, like Whole Foods Markets who, at the time of publication, had 172 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and whose sales had gone up 20 per cent per year between 1990 and 2003 when it reached $11 billion.

Perhaps the thing that comes clearest from Organics, INC. is the fact that those waiting for the organic food craze to pass had best not be holding their breath. | May 2006


Adrian Marks is a January Magazine contributing editor.