AFSIC History Timeline

The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) focuses on topics related to sustainable and alternative agricultural systems, crops and livestock. We work to implement the NAL mission of "advancing access to global information for agriculture."

AFSIC, founded in 1985, is an integral part of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) in Beltsville, Maryland. The Center was initiated by NAL librarian, Jayne MacLean, and funded, in part, by USDA's Low-input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) Program. (The LISA program became the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in the late 1980s.) AFSIC was one of the first USDA programs to focus on sustainable and organic agriculture and produced many ground-breaking bibliographies and related reference guides that enabled researchers, educators and producers to access previously difficult-to-find international research, literature and expertise.

AFSIC was an early participant in the Internet, presenting its services and publications on the NAL Bulletin Board (BBS); Gopher and World Wide Web. An oral history project was started in 1990; several videotaped interviews with sustainable agriculture pioneers were completed including ones with Robert Rodale and Garth Youngberg. AFSIC staff also worked, and continues to work, to provide the National Agricultural Library with one of the best collections of alternative and sustainable- agriculture-related research materials in the world.

The Center continues to receive support from the SARE program. It also works with a cooperative agreement with the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College Park, MD. AFSIC and the National Agricultural Library are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).


Groundwork is laid for the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) at the National Agricultural Library. Jayne T. MacLean, NAL Librarian, becomes its first Coordinator. Working at NAL since 1970, she is a 5-year veteran of the USDA Organic Farming Coordinating Committee and one of the first USDA employees to openly support alternative agriculture. Karl Schneider, NAL Librarian, serves as co-coordinator.


AFSIC becomes operational. "Alternative Farming Systems Information Center addresses non-traditional agricultural practices and systems that emphasize low-input, resource-conserving farming and gardening. Formation of the new center reflects, in part, the increasing concern of farmers and consumers over possible adverse effects of the U.S. agricultural production system. Some areas of concern are the intensive and continuous production of cash grains, the extensive and sometimes excessive use of agricultural chemicals, and the heavy reliance on machine and energy sources for production."

"In Subtitle C of the Food Security Act of 1985 (Farm Bill), Congress recognizes that both enhanced agricultural production systems and sound conservation practices are essential to the long-term viability and profitability of U.S. farms. To that end, the bill authorizes a study of all literature relating to organic agriculture including information and research relating to legume-crop rotations, use of green manure, animal manures, intercropping and erosion control methods, and biological pest control. In addition, the study calls for analysis and dissemination of such literature.

"As the nation's storehouse for the collection and dissemination of agricultural information, NAL will seek the cooperation and advice of area experts to enhance the identification and acquisition of alternative farming systems materials. Center coordinators Jayne MacLean and Karl Schneider are working with the USDA Organic Committee, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Institute for Alternative Agriculture, and others to coordinate services in order to identify, inventory, and assess both needed and already available information resources." Excerpt: "Alternative Farming, Fibers Subject of New Information Centers." Agricultural Library Information Notes (ALIN) 12, no. 1 (1986): 1-4.

AFSIC activities include participation in the annual IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements), Santa Cruz, CA and the initiation of a long-term information (and publication) exchange with Rodale Institute Director, Dr. Richard Harwood.


AFSIC enlists Robert Rodale of Rodale Publishing to be guest speaker at the 1987 Associates of the National Agricultural Library annual meeting in July. His speech is entitled, "Why Regenerative Agriculture has a Bright Future."

"In my opinion, we will need more and better agricultural libraries, but libraries must expect to go through a period of transformation as well. Probably questions will be raised about the relevance of professional literature in agricultural libraries. Can those articles in professional journals and all those scientific books be understood even by other scientists? Is the professional literature meant to be read at all, or is it primarily a storage place for data requiring extraordinary efforts to extract relevant information?

"If information is truly to be a useful internal resource for farmers, professional literature will have to be tested more directly in the real world. Reports of experiments carried out for a short period of time in small plots may not be nearly as relevant to real farming systems as once thought. Farmers themselves may become more sophisticated as researchers. New ways may have to be developed to collect and report research information conducted on farms." Excerpt: "Why Regenerative Agriculture has a Bright Future," by Robert Rodale. Agricultural Library Information Notes (ALIN) 13, no. 8 (1987): 1-6.

ATTRA - Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas national center is established by Congress. AFSIC and ATTRA begin a cooperative approach to information sharing and distribution.

1988 - a banner year for AFSIC and sustainable agriculture

AFSIC is well established, with partial funding allocated through the USDA CSRS / LISA program, a full-time Coordinator, a "visiting" full-time Librarian (Jane Gates, on a 6-month leave from the Strybing Arboretum Library in California), important contacts in place, stakeholder meetings attended and several innovative publications in distribution.
"As part of the Federal Budget passed by Congress in December 1987, an allocation of funds was made to the Department of Agriculture for research, education, and information on low-input or sustainable farming systems. A small portion of this funding was designated for the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) at NAL. The Cooperative State Research Service (CSRS) is acting as the coordinating agency for the program.

"Congress expressed interest in having the Low-Input Farming Systems Research and Education Program* serve as a model of cooperative efforts between Government agencies, private institutions, and farmers. Program officials are directed to produce information products in easily usable formats designed to aid extension workers and farmers in maintaining profitability and productivity while reducing external inputs of energy, fertilizers, and pesticides. Some of the strategies being investigated are alternative pest control methods, use of animal manures and cover crops, and other options for protection soil and water. For its part in the program, AFSIC is focusing on selections to enhance the AGRICOLA database, information products on appropriate topics, and arranging cooperation with outside organizations who have related interests." Excerpt: "Low Input Farming Systems Program," by Jayne MacLean Agricultural Library Information Notes (ALIN) 14, no. 4 (April 1988): 10.

*Jayne MacLean notes that the USDA Secretary's February Memorandum describing agency policies and responsibilities substitutes the term "low-input agriculture" (for the previously used "alternative agriculture") to match the Congressional funding language. "These two designations as well as sustainable agriculture are frequently used interchangeably. The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center will retain its original name." AFSIC Monthly Report, February 1988.

In September, Jayne MacLean and Jane Gates participate in the inaugural meeting of stakeholders in the new USDA Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture research program (LISA) program, now the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. The meeting includes a one-day LISA Information Systems Workshop. Other participants are Joseph Howard, NAL Director; Steve Mitchell, Librarian, University of California, Riverside; Dr. Jill Auburn, Information Analyst, University of California Sustainable Agriculture Program; George DeVault, Editor, New Farm Magazine (Rodale); Dr. Patrick Madden, LISA program Coordinator; Dr. Wesley Jarrell, Director of the Dry Lands Research Center, Riverside, California; and from the USDA Extension office, Dr. Vivan Jennings, Dr. Dixon Hubbard and Dr. Basil Eastwood.

AFSIC also plays an important role in the first International Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Columbus, OH.

Important information products have been completed including:

"LISA and the Librarian" and "Library for LISA" is presented by Agriculture USDA radio program, highlighting an interview with AFSIC's Coordinator, Jayne MacLean. [NAL audiocassette no. 139]

AFSIC also inaugurates its Oral History Interview Series: Leaders in Alternative and Sustainable Agriculture. Conceived and produced by Jayne MacLean, the project features videotaped interviews, conducted by Jane Gates, with notable sustainable agriculture leaders throughout the U.S. The final list of interviewees (taped 1988-1993): James A. Duke, Charles A. Francis, Wes Jackson, Fred Kirschenmann, William J. Lockeretz, Jayne T. MacLean, J. Patrick Madden, Paul F. O'Connell, Robert Rodale, Dick Thompson and Garth Youngberg . These videos are an important legacy from the early days of sustainable and organic agriculture, and remain available from the NAL collection.


Many of AFSIC's print Quick Bibliographies are formatted and posted on NAL's electronic bulletin board (BBS), ALF - Agricultural Library Forum.

"Early Results of the LISA Program, by P.J. Madden and P. O'Connell published in NAL's Agricultural Library Information Notes (ALIN) 15, no. 6/7 (1989): 1-10.

Throughout the first four years of operation, AFSIC's receipt of reference requests remains relatively low - 15-20 per month - but demand for publications, mostly Quick Bibliographies (which are created at a phenomenal rate of about 10 titles per month) are in huge demand with almost 4000 distributed in 1989. Educational and Training Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture is the most requested publication. An article in OMNI Magazine in 1989 citing AFSIC generates 182 letter and phone requests for information.


The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is created under the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, with NAL/AFSIC one of the founding institutions. It is established "to fulfill the mandate of Congress that results of this [SARE] research and other information pertinent to sustainable agriculture be conveyed to agricultural producers, educators, extensionists and researchers in easily accessible forms and styles."

A 1993 article, co-authored by Jayne MacLean and Jill Auburn, describes SAN's purpose: "From the very beginning of the LISA [Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture] program, one of the principal goals was to ensure that new information was conveyed to farmers by all possible avenues. The Congressional hearings preceding passage of the enabling legislation noted that most government publications then available emphasized conventional methods and techniques. As a result, the legislation directed the Secretary of Agriculture to study, collect, and disseminate, to farmers and others, information relating to organic agriculture and alternative farming systems. In addition, Congress designated funds to strengthen the already active Alternative Farming Systems Information Center at the National Agricultural Library (NAL)." "Development of an Information Network for Sustainable Agriculture," by Jill S. Auburn and Jayne T. MacLean. Journal of Agricultural and Food Information 1, no. 3 (1993), p. 25-40.

SANET-MG becomes operational in September, acquiring about 200 members by the summer of 1992. Jill Auburn at University of CA, Davis sends the first SANET message on Oct. 1, 1991.

AFSIC contracts for a Sustainable Agriculture Thesaurus to be developed by Steve Mitchell, Reference Librarian at University of California, Riverside. (Two years later, Mitchell "is unable to complete the project" and the task is never finished.)

Jayne MacLean is appointed to the SARE Operations Committee, and is honored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as "Safe Food Trailblazer."

At the invitation of AFSIC staff, Roger Blobaum, Associate Director, World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSSA), speaks at an NAL Issues and Answers Forum (Nov. 18). His speech focuses on his participation in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, aka "the Earth Summit," held in Rio de Janeiro, June 1992 where he was a key organizer of sustainable agriculture-related NGOs. Speech: "UN Conference on Environment and Development," by Roger Blobaum. Agricultural Library Information Notes (ALIN) 19, no. 10-12 (1993): 1-5.


SAN's first coordinator, Gabriel Hegyes, establishes an office, first at the Henry Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture in Greenbelt, MD, and later in the year, within AFSIC at NAL. The position marks the first Specific Cooperative Agreement with the University of Maryland.


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the American Farmland Trust (AFT) to create a "Farmland Information Center" is signed. "We feel strongly that our MOU with NAL contributed greatly to the successful establishment of AFT's Farmland Information Center and continues to be mutually beneficial for both AFT and AFSIC." Letter to Alvetta Pindell, Head of Reference, NAL, from Timothy W. Warman, AFT, Aug. 2, 2000.

Jayne MacLean retires as coordinator. A well-attended retirement party for Jayne includes performances of custom-crafted songs from ARS scientist, Dr. James A. Duke and recognition from the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) in which Jayne has been active for many years.

Jane Potter Gates, is selected as new coordinator.

Mary Gold begins work as a librarian at AFSIC.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide (AT 93-02), is published.


AFSIC is connected to the Internet via an email account: nalafsic(at) A "gopher" server at NAL is also available and several AFSIC publications are uploaded there. Resources include fact sheet: AFSIC on the Internet.

AFSIC begins is annual participation in the Agriculture Research Service (ARS)/Beltsville Sustainable Agriculture Field Day.

Sustainable Agriculture: Definition and Terms, first edition, published.


Gabriel Hegyes leaves SAN and NAL. His request to move the SAN office to his new location at Kansas State University is denied by SARE.

Andy Clark begins his tenure as SAN coordinator in July.

AFSIC initiates its own World Wide Web site through cooperation with its partner, the University of Maryland, where it is hosted. Various publications are posted at
NAL establishes its own domain, and AFSIC moves there.

Becky Thompson, long-term NAL employee, begins officially working with AFSIC.


USDA "Memorandum on Sustainable Development" adopted; AFSIC becomes USDA Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) member.

AFSIC also serves on the USDA/CSREES Small Farm Program, Program Delivery Strategy Committee, reflective of its long-term commitment to small farm issues.


AFSIC participates in several important conferences including the SARE Ten Year Anniversary Conference, Austin, TX, the first USDA National Small Farm Conference, Nashville, TN and the Second International Women in Agriculture Conference, Washington, DC.

Women in Agriculture and Rural Life: An International Bibliography, a joint Economic Research Service (ERS)-AFSIC writing project, is published to coincide with the Women in Agriculture Conference. Vegetables and Fruits: A Guide to Heirloom Varieties and Community-Based Stewardship, a resource guide in three volumes is also published.


AFSIC is designated an information "Center of Excellence" by the Agriculture Network Information Center (AgNIC) consortium. AFSIC is the primary information provider for Sustainable Agriculture topics. A customized AgNIC-AFSIC Web page is created.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) database of farms and information resources is compiled - a cooperative project between AFSIC, SARE, SAN and CSREES. Four additional AFSIC information products are produced in support of the database introduction. The work is done in response to a request to USDA from Parade Magazine.

AFSIC and NAL host the annual national meeting of the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL). The three-day conference includes many presentations, area tours and meal/lodging arrangements.

AFSIC is reviewed by SARE "Blue Ribbon" panel, August 24.

Jane Potter Gates retires as AFSIC coordinator. Jane's retirement kudos include the Charles R. Long Distinguished Service award from the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) of which she has served as president and vice president. NAL administrators Joe Makuch and Kate Hayes, serve as temporary Acting Coordinators for the next 18 months.


The "troika" of USDA-funded sustainable agriculture information providers is launched. AFSIC, SARE and ATTRA agree to formally cooperate and collaborate to provide more efficient customer service.

USDA Organic Interest Group is also initiated, soliciting members across all agencies. AFSIC / NAL establishes and moderates the USDA-OIG listserv for this informal group. AFSIC hosts the group of about 25 for a meeting at NAL.

AFSIC offices move from the Library's 4th floor to newly renovated office space on the first floor in July. In September, NAL is hit by a tornado that shatters several large windows. Many weeks of cleanup of glass shards, damaged books and scattered paper ensues.

Bill Thomas, specialist in identifying alternatives to methyl bromide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), becomes coordinator of the Center in November.

Librarian Stephanie Boehmer begins work at AFSIC.

AFSIC collaborates on two organic research efforts: Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research (SCOAR), initiated by the Organic Farming Research Foundation; and the USDA Organic Interest Group, later renamed the USDA Organic Working Group, for which AFSIC hosts and moderates a member listserv.

AFSIC hosts the SCOAR Information Working Group at NAL for a two-day work meeting. Participants come from several states to develop plans for the database, OrganicAgInfo, hosted a North Carolina State University.

Organic Production: USDA Publications - Documents Published by USDA Agencies, 1992-2002, published in conjunction with the USDA-sponsored Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Workshop on Organic Agriculture in September.

Mary Gold represents AFSIC at the 14th IFOAM Organic World Congress held in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Organic Roots repository/database of historical USDA publications, 1880-1942, is initiated in collaboration with the USDA National Organic Program, SARE, and the University of Michigan. Nearly 200 USDA Technical Bulletins (6000+ pages) are included in the first phase of development.


AFSIC's first publication published in CD ROM format: Organic Agricultural Products: Marketing and Trade Resources (listings for more than 400 publications, organizations and Web sites). The directory is compiled in cooperation with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The mini-CD format is a big hit with customers.

AFSIC staff attends the International Organic Aquaculture Workshop: Low Food-Chain Candidate Species, Minneapolis, MN and the Texas Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair, Fredericksburg, TX.

AFSIC facilitates the receipt and sorting of more than 1000 books and reports donated by the Henry A. Wallace Center for Agricultural and Environmental Policy to NAL.

The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) office leaves NAL, moving to space across the street at BARC West.


Jayne MacLean ends her work at AFSIC as a volunteer.

AFSIC works with several university and foundation cooperators to complete an Organic Agriculture Consortium (OAC) grant proposal to the USDA CSREES Integrated Organic Program. The proposal is not funded.

New AFSIC publications include the comprehensive, Organic Livestock Production, Selected Citations from 1974-September 2004, and Applying for SARE Grant? an online guide to SARE grant information and proposal writing resources.


Organic Aquaculture, a lengthy bibliography and guide to the topic, is published.

Primary efforts focus on developing AFSIC taxonomy, content, document format options and technical skills to implement the new USDA Web site redesign project. AFSIC staff also assists with work on NAL Web "Landing Pages" - planning, taxonomy and content.

Ann Young retires from NAL. Aquaculture information activities are absorbed by other AFSIC staff.

Second SARE Review Panel is completed.

AFSIC helps organize a national USDA Workshop on Organic Agriculture held in DC.


Launch of new AFSIC Web site using USDA template and NAL-developed content management tool, July 12.

The Rural Information Center (RIC) and RIC staff member, Louise Reynnells, move to the AFSIC office space.

Lots of visitors, discussion of Farm Bill issues and potential collaborative projects including: Organic Trade Association (OTA), ATTRA-NCAT, OFRF and the CSREES National Organic Program leader initiative.

AFSIC is represented with a presentation, posters and display at SARE National Conference, Oconomowoc, WI.


Tracing the Evolution of Organic/Sustainable Agriculture: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography, is updated and expanded.

AFSIC hosts a day-long meeting of the USDA Organic Working Group, arranging tours, presentations and an organic lunch.


20th Anniversary SARE Conference, Kansas City, KS.

Mariette Largess is hired to evaluate, organize and process SARE reports.

Educational and Training Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture directory, 18th edition, is published.

Mary Gold retires from the Center in October.

AFSIC and the National Agricultural Library Collection through 2008:

AFSIC staff has worked to provide the National Agricultural Library with one of the best collections of alternative and sustainable- agriculture-related research materials in the world. Growth of the collection since 1986 - sustainable, organic and alternative farming and/or ranching related* titles (as of July 2008; total = 6695) by publication years:

1986-1990: 1006
1991-1995: 1463
1996-2000: 1339
2001-2005: 1678
2006-2008: 1209

Breakdown of Sustainable and Alternative Agriculture Materials by Topic
The collection as of July 2008
Topic Monographs (including conference papers) Journal / Magazine Articles Total
1) Sustainable Agriculture 944 1791 2735
English 925 1780 2705
Non-English 19 11 30
2) Organic Farming / Gardening 914 2540 3454
English 768 2498 3266
Non-English 146 42 188
3) Alternative Agriculture 731 1429 2160
English 638 1371 2009
Non-English 93 58 151

*NAL Catalog/AGRICOLA search terms used:
1) (sustainable/ sustainably/ sustainability) and (agriculture/ farm/ farms/ farming/ ranch/ ranches/ ranching/ husbandry); 2) (organic/ organics/ organically) and (production/ farm/ farms/ farming/ agriculture/ agricultural/ certification/ certified/ culture/ garden/ gardens/ gardening/ grown); 3) alternative and (agriculture/ agricultural/ farm/ farms/ farming/ crop/ crops/ cropping/ livestock/ enterprise/ enterprises)

Compiled by Mary V. Gold, AFSIC, September 2008