The History of Organic

In collaboration with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Roger Blobaum, former director for the Ceres Trust and long-time organic advocate, CIAS assisted with the curation of archives documenting the history of the organic movement. The collection is a work-in-progress.

Wisconsin Historical Society Organic Archives
Roger Blobaum receives CALS leadership award. Pictured with Faye Jones, Founder, MOSES. Photo credit: Michelle Miller

Roger Blobaum received the CALS Honorary Recognition Award 2013, for his leadership in organic farming research, education, advocacy, and policy making since the early 1970s.  He served on boards of more than 30 regional, national, and international organic and sustainable agriculture organizations, including the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). His contribution to MOSES includes developing the Organic University, which provides short courses to more than 500 participants annually, and the MOSES farmer-to-farmer mentoring program.  He was a founding director of the International Organic Accreditation Service, a founder and associate director of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association, and a participant in the 5-year process of setting international organic guidelines.  He co-chaired a coalition of national organizations that helped shape the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act and successfully advocated its enactment.  His organic research contributions include developing and coordinating Ceres Trust programs that have awarded more than $6 million in grants to land grant university faculty and graduate student researchers. In honor of his work with FH King Students of Sustainable Agriculture, Blobaum created a fund to support organic farming conference travel for College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) graduate students who are engaged in organic research. Students may receive up to $500 for in-state travel and up to $1000 for out-of-state travel.


Researchers interested in organic agriculture are invited to use the Organic History collection for their work. In 2017, the Wisconsin Historical Society and CIAS partnered to kick off the collection with research on the organic movement by three scholars. Their work was featured at the 2018 Agriculture, Food, and Human Values annual meeting, hosted by CIAS. Also featured at the 2018 AFHV conference was a panel on the history of the organic movement in our region, featuring key CIAS partners. Odessa Piper, founder of L’Etoile restaurant and an Honorary Degree from University of Wisconsin in 2006. Her inspiring commencement address that year tells some of her story in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region and what it took to grow the local food movement.


History of Organic: Narratives of Colonialism, Food Activism and Biotechnology

Roger Blobaum, moderator

  • Organic Community Discourse around Biotechnology, Virginia Moore, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Organic Agriculture History Project, Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society
  • Safety for Our Souls: Food Activism and the Environmental and Women’s Movements, Annessa Babic, Freelance Writer
  • “Fair Indian Baskets Filled with Corn”: Settler Colonialism, Sustainable Agriculture, and the Twentieth-Century Turn to Asia, Catherine Peters, Harvard University
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Food for People, Not for Profit: The Regional Food Movement in the Upper Midwest

Michelle Miller, moderator

  • Anne Reynolds, Executive Director, University of Wisconsin Center for Coops, Cooperative Hall of Fame
  • Odessa Piper, Taliesin Farm Project
  • Carla Wright, MOSES
  • Jonathan Kauffman, San Francisco Chronicle, author “Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat” (2018)

USDA’s National Agricultural Library

For more information on the history of organic agriculture, see the National Agricultural Library.