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Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, has a long history as a marketing and political consultant, and as a lobbyist (working for family farmers).
While he didn’t grow up on a farm, he ended up taking a summer job during his youth with the International Harvester Company. That was his first farm experience.
Later, he was recruited by JI Case, another large agricultural equipment manufacturer.
“I worked in corporate agribusiness,” he explains.
“Then I had a health crisis in the late 70s; I was acutely exposed to pesticides and it injured my immune system…
I was lucky enough to see the preeminent environmental allergist… Theron Randolph… who recommended that, among other things, I go on an all organic diet; that there weren’t many things we could do to relieve the strain on my immune system while I was healing, but controlling your food and your water intake is something you can take control of.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
At the time, he was operating his own farm implement business, which was in a region dominated by the industrial, chemically-intensive farming model. He switched gears and began gardening and farming organically.
“It caused a major professional shift in my life. I ended up doing consulting work for years, for what are now some of the leading organic companies,” he says.
“[T]here wasn’t really a readily available source for organic food until the early to mid-1980s when it started. It kicked into high gear in the 1990s when genetic engineering became an issue; when people became more synthesized to chemicals in their food.
… I helped launch the Organic Valley brand when they began in the late 80s or early 90s… Then I helped found the Cornucopia Institute eight years ago, when it looked like the wheels would fall off of this movement; when the giant corporate agribusinesses that has squeezed family farmers out of conventional farming, and that were responsible for the deterioration in the nutrient level and the safety of our food, were buying out, on a wholesale basis, all the brands that had launched the organic commercial movement.”