The history of organic gardening is actually not that long. Most people trace its origins to the beginning of the 20th century. It particularly became an important idea in the 1950s and '60s, when the age of chemistry came along with some disastrous consequences.
Early Organic Farming
In the very early days, all farming was organic. There were no chemicals made by man that could be used on farmland. Farmers had to work with the plants and the ecosystem to keep pests and diseases under control, and they worked hard at this since failure meant starvation.
Nitrogen fertilizer was first produced in the mid-1800s, but it was not until late in the century that the substance became affordable enough to be in wide use. Mechanization and the development of hybrid seeds led to big changes in farming, making it less labor intensive, more productive and a somewhat easier way to make a living.
Beginning in the early 20th century, people started to speak out against the new ways of doing things. The British botanist Sir Albert Howard is often thought of as the father of organic farming, as he was the first to document traditional farming practices in India and to publicize them as superior to more "modern" techniques.
Rudolf Steiner in Germany is considered to have had one of the first organic farming operations that emphasized the connection between the farmer, the plants, the land and the organisms that live on it. Many other people were championing organic methods at this time, and Lord Northbourne is credited as the person who came up with the term "organic farming," which was used in his 1940 book that talked about the farm as an organism.
Rodale and the History of Organic Gardening
After World War II, the influx of chemicals into the lives of everyday people exploded. These were the days when anything could be cured or improved through the use of chemicals, and the agriculture system was no exception.
As we know now, many of those chemicals weren't the best choices for spraying on or around food, such as DDT, which was famously banned in the United States after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring showed that the chemical was killing birds.
From the 1960s on, chemicals were regularly pulled from use because of studies that showed their harmful effects to people who worked and lived around them, and even to people who ate produce treated with those chemicals.
In the 1950s, the organic movement in the United States got a boost with the help of J.I. Rodale, whose Organic Gardening magazine brought organic farming methods to the masses. The Rodale Institute still publishes the magazine, which is considered the most widely read gardening magazine worldwide, and promotes organic farming methods throughout the world.
Organic Gardening Goes Mainstream
The history of organic gardening starts moving quickly in the 1960s and '70s, at the same time that the more general environmental movement was gaining traction in the United States. In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements was founded, connecting people around the world who wanted to share information on organic principles and techniques.
In the 1980s, groups began pushing for organic regulations, which has led to the rules that we have in many different countries today. More and more land is being farmed using organic methods, and more consumers are buying organic food than ever before.
Organic Gardening in the Future
Now that the market for organic products is expanding, backyard gardeners and large-scale farmers alike are incorporating organic methods for the health of the planet and, potentially, of the people who eat the food.
As time goes on and more people are educated about the benefits of organic food and production through organic agriculture, there's no doubt that more consumers will demand these products, bringing the price down and making organics accessible for all.