The Development of the Organic Network

Linking People and Themes, 1945-95

Philip Conford; Foreword by Jonathon Porritt

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Quick Look

  • This is the most thorough account of the modern British organic movement so far
  • Examines the industrialisation of agriculture and food production in the post-war decades, and the organic network's response
  • Fascinating reading for anyone with an interest in Green issues, food quality, and the future of farming in Britain

This book continues the survey of the British organic movement. Wide-ranging but closely detailed, Conford describes the movement's various organisations, journals and leading personalities, exploring what links them together.

234 x 156 mm
Floris Books
Biodynamics & Organics
480 pages
Publication date:
21 Apr 2011


In this far-reaching book, Philip Conford continues the survey of the British organic movement which he began in The Origins of the Organic Movement (2001). This second volume covers the period from 1945 to the mid-1990s, by which point the movement was about to enjoy a much higher public profile than previously. This is the most thorough account of organic history to appear so far.

Wide-ranging but closely detailed, the book begins by examining the ways in which agriculture and food production became increasingly industrialised and technological during the post-war decades. In response to these developments, the organic movement urged an approach to agriculture based on awareness of ecological restraints and of the finitude of natural resources, seeking to co-operate with nature rather than dominate it.

Conford describes the movement's various organisations, journals and leading personalities, looking at their attitude to farming, horticulture, health, science, the environment and consumerism, considering in particular what links them together into a conjoining network. He also discusses the controversial areas of the movement's political and religious affiliations.

The book will interest anyone concerned about Green issues, food quality, and the future of British farming.


'Once again Philip Conford has produced a book in which the clarity and elegance of the writing parallels the clarity and elegance of his thought. In a tour de force mercifully free of theoretical musings he examines the complexities, tensions and contradictions within the modern organic movement and in considering its varied dramatis personae reflects upon the broader philosophical issues. A wide-ranging and often controversial account, it is essential reading for all those concerned with Green issues, food quality and the modern history of British agriculture.'
-- Richard Moore-Colyer, Professor of Agrarian History at the University of Wales

'An authoritative, comprehensive and wide-ranging account of the development of organic agriculture and horticulture during the second half of the twentieth century. The author identifies the key individuals and organizations responsible for transforming organic growing from an unappreciated fringe activity into the force it is today, detailing its philosophical, scientific and spiritual underpinnings. Conford explores the influence on, and cross-fertilisation with, the environmental movement, the wholefood tradition, and issues such as animal welfare, vegetarianism and food safety. Thoroughly enjoyable, utterly engrossing, and magisterial in scope, this book should be read by everyone who cares about how our food is produced.'
-- Alan Gear, former Director of the Organic Gardens, Ryton

'Philip Conford is the great historian of the organic movement, and this book brings the story almost to the present day. Anyone hoping to understand the idealism, contradictions, and fundamental importance of the movement must read Conford's work.'
-- Eric Schlosser, journalist and author of Fast Food Nation

'Philip Conford is without question our movement's most authoritative living historian. It has been a source of great comfort to me to know that as a chapter of agricultural history in which I have been personally involved has unfolded, Philip has been there quietly observing and accurately recording the events.

In bearing witness to this important story, it touches me, that despite the strength of his own opinions in relation to what he has observed, which occasionally almost surface between the lines, as my army uncle used to say, 'he keeps a lid on them', his first allegiance always being to the truth.'
-- Patrick Holden, Director of the Sustainable Food Trust and former Director of the Soil Association

'With his extensive knowledge. Insight and intellect, Phillip Conford should be considered a "treasure" to the organic movement. No one else is able to write with such authority or such a broad view on our movement, past and present.

This book really is a must for anyone who considers themselves a part of the organic network. It's likely this will become one of the classic texts on organic food and farming, sitting alongside the likes of The Living Soil and An Agricultural Testament in its importance and impact on the network in the present and future.

The combination of story-telling with reasoning is the real strength of this book, underpinned by true academic rigour and extensive research.'
-- The Organic Grower Magazine

'My congratualtions are in order and a very important contribution has been made to this period of the history of the organic movement, much remarkable information is included to support the notion that a deep influence is exerted on our western society to change its ways.'
-- Star & Furrow

'Our movement is lucky to have such a trustworthy and reliable biographer in Philip Conford, a regular Living Earth contributor. His second volume of British organic history covers the period fromm 1945 until the mid-1990s with a compelling mix of storytelling, insight and aplomb. This is a great read for anyone interested in food and farming, but also a reminder that the roots of the organic movement run much deeper.'
--The Soil Association

'If you have a thirst for background knowledge you will find this thick volume irresistible. Not only is the text well researched, thorough and informative but the author provides detailed appendices on leading figures, groups and recorded interviews; this in addition to endnotes, bibliography and indez to make it a worthy reference book. Moreover, the writing style of the main text is engaging, combining statement of fact with personal opinion in a most palatable form...Philip Conford is well qualified to produce this master work.'
--The Organic Living Association.

'Conford's hugely impressive and assiduous book is more than a who's who of the organic movement, though it is that too. It frames some of the most powerful forms of anti-establishment agricultural and environmental thinking along with an effort to demonstrate the scentific rigour that was brought to the table; moreover, it connects the discussions and influences to give an important picture of the challenges and development of one of the most important agricultural movements of our age.

Without a hint of sentimentality or bias, Conford has written a deeply sensible book, separated from the distracting passions of modern media, and which proves to be one that is indispensible for anyone who wishes to discuss organic farming in the UK. Though it doesn't deal explicitly with scientific theories (that's not the point), it does provide you with everything you could possibly need to know on the post-war era in organic farming, and to see just what its key figures were up against. In Jonathan Porritt's introduction to the book, he suggests 'these battles with every aspect of orthodoxy and 'establishment thinking' provide an inspiring testament to the work of countless champions over the decades.' This is the lingering impression that the book gives us, and for that Conford is to be congratulated: it is a powerful legacy to the organic innovators.'
-- Mark Newton, The Ecologist

'Two words in the title encapsulate what this erudite book does. It describes, in prophetic, countercultural astonishing detail and depth, how this movement continued in the late 20th-century age of industrial farming. And it does so by describing the key contributors and their efforts as a network, which indeed the organic movement was and remains ... I sincerely recomment this learned and inspiring book.'
--Green Christian, Winter 2011

'The Development of the Organic Network upholds the organic movement and demonstrates how it works for a better world in the fields of nutrition in its widest sense; from social improvement to soil improvement, in short, where it lives up to its ideals. Philip Conford's peasant philosopher approach warns against organic products at any price and takes issues with a few of its entrepreneurs ... His is a balanced view. I thoroughly recommend this book where the full context of this organic movement is recent times is explained and covered.'
-- Vivian Griffiths, New View

'This is the magisterial sequel to the author's earlier book, The Origin's of the Organic Movement ...Encyclopedic in its scope, this book will surely remain a reference for many years to come.'
-- Scientific and Medical Network Review

'Conford's mastery of the myriad of strands, events and, above all, personalities, of these fifty years of organic matters is monumental; and he writes with a clarity and verve that makes the period alive and vivid ... If Philip Conford's work turns out to be the definite organic history then we will have been well served.'
-- Mother Earth

'The subtitle of Philip Conford's book on the history of the UK organic movement is"'Linking People and Themes, 1945-95", which he does in an awesomely comprehensive and insightful way. Conford's mastery of the myriad of strands, events and personalities, of these 50 years of organic matters is monumental. He writes with a clarity and verve that makes it alive and vivid... If Philip Conford's books turn out to be the definitive organic history then we will have been well served... his overall synthesis of the strands, ideas, links and events - which he calls the "Organic Network" -- rings true and clear and is compelling and educative.'
-- Laurence Woodward, former Director of the Elm Farm Research Centre

'Most remarkable is the way in which Conford demonstrates the rich interactions between the organic movement and wide range of other tendencies in intellectual endeavour, social and economic change, and political struggle. As such, the book implicitly raises a number of important questions and possible routes for further research... The organic movement has much to thank Conford for in making available an accessible starting point for this endeavour.'
--Agricultural History Review, 62:1 (2014)

'It is quite impossible in a brief notice to do adequate justice to this substantial volume. It confirms Conford's position as the pre-eminent historian of the organic movement, at the same time providing a platform for tracing the rather rough passage of movement over the past two decades. If it is essential reading for people involved in organicism and Green politics, the fact that it offers many fascinating glimpses of the doings of individuals on the fringes of social and cultural history suggests that it is deserving of a wide readership among all those interested in the changing pattern of the first five post-war decades.'
--Richard Moore-Colyer, Rural History 26 (2015), 1


Philip Conford (b. 1948) holds the posts of Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Reading and Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester. He is a leading authority on the history of the British organic movement, which he has studied for more than a quarter of a century, and his book The Origins of the Organic Movement was published in 2001. He has contributed regularly to the journal The Organic Grower and to the Soil Association's magazine Living Earth, and is on the editorial board of the Association's twice-yearly journal Mother Earth.

You can also visit the author's own website at

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