The Top Careers in the Organic Industry

The organic industry is booming, and plenty of jobs are available. However, some fields are hotter than others, with more openings. Also, pay scales differ quite a lot across the industry, so research organic businesses first before you hop on the path toward one specific organic career.

Organic Farmer or Rancher

Cows graze on grass at the Stemple Creek Ranch
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Organic farmers and ranchers are in a huge position of power in the United States, although it doesn't always seem like it.

However, consider that U.S. farmers and ranchers are heavily involved in one of the most productive agricultural sectors in the world, producing food and other goods to meet the needs of both the U.S. and other countries via exports. That's a lot of responsibility. Add organic certification and a booming organic food market into the mix and the responsibility grows even more.

Farming and ranching can be a good career choice, but much more so if you're growing organic rather than conventional. In the 2010–11 Edition Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that conventional farmers will likely lose work, but niche farmers, for example, organic farmers, will prosper.​

Typical Farmer and Rancher Earnings

It's extremely tough to estimate income levels for farmers and ranchers. Not only do incomes tend to fluctuate year to year, but all kinds of issues affect income. Farm product prices, weather conditions, pests, the overall economy, and much more can influence income. If you'd like to estimate income, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps records on typical farmer earnings.

Organic Restaurateur

female organic restaurateur cooking
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Being a restaurant owner is a big goal. There's a lot of responsibility involved. Not only is a restaurant owner responsible for maintaining and running the restaurant, but sometimes the owner is also the restaurant manager or executive chef. Even with employees under you, as the owner, you'll be the one who keeps the restaurant running on a daily basis and it can be stressful.

That said, this isn't a poor career choice if you're interested in organics. Research shows that organic food market is growing in popularity, with no signs of slowing. Plus, consumers are willing to pay more for organic dining. 

Typical Restaurant Owner Earnings

As with any self-employed career choice, earnings can only be estimated. However, in 2008, about 42% of restaurant owners were self-employed, and median typical earnings were estimated at $46,320 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organic Chef

person cooking food on a stovetop
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Job opportunities as a chef, in general, are expected to be good in the coming years—a fact that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics relates to high turnover in the industry. That said, gaining a position as a head chef can be competitive, but worth it in terms of income.

Chefs and head cooks are responsible for directing other employees in the restaurant kitchen but usually are not responsible for tasks not involving food. The best chefs tend to be given free range of the kitchen so that they can use their creativity and knowledge to design new menu items and prepare current recipes.

Organic chefs should be keenly aware of the difference between organics and conventional food items and be prepared to work with local organic ingredients and suppliers. Most chefs go through many years of training before scoring their optimal job.

Typical Chef Earnings

Earnings of chefs or head cooks vary a lot by region and the type of establishment. Upscale restaurants and hotels pay the most, especially in major metropolitan and resort areas. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median annual wage and salary earnings of chefs and head cooks were $38,770 in May 2008. 

Organic Agricultural Manager

Man with a digital tablet in a greenhouse conducting research
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Organic agricultural managers can expect good prospects for jobs and salary in upcoming years. Not only are agricultural managers paid more than farmers from the get-go, but they're usually paid real, nonfluctuating wages.

Agricultural managers don't spend their time on the land as much as they do at a desk. These managers help plan and oversee day-to-day activities of one or more farms, ranches, nurseries, timber tracts, greenhouses, or other agricultural establishments for farmers, absentee landowners, or corporations. Marketing, sales, and bookkeeping tasks often fall to managers.

Typical Agricultural Managers Earnings​

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time, salaried agricultural managers can earn $775, with the middle half earning between $570 and $1,269 per week.  

Organic Niche Retailer

Man shopping, smelling spices in grocery store
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Top executives or owners in the organic retail sector can do well, as long as they choose the right area of the sector. For example, it's unlikely you'll open an organic grocery chain that will kick Whole Foods' butt. They're at the top of the organic food chain—at least in the grocery sector.

However, niche retail operations can do very well, especially if you find a product worth selling that consumers are dying to buy. For example, organic baby goods are super hot right now, and companies such as Earth Mama Organics are doing well. Organic baby food and organic baby clothing are two other hot organic baby market areas.

Organic supplements are a lead organic category after food, with textiles following close behind. I'm estimating that body care products and cosmetics are also up and comers in the organic retail market, especially as larger retailers have started cracking down on non-certified body care products.

Other good examples of companies doing well in a niche area include Mountain Rose Herbs, Yum Earth Candy, and ClifBar. The key is to find a niche market that's not already oversaturated and one that will be popular with consumers. 

Typical Niche Retailer Earnings

Obviously, you'd be hard-pressed to estimate typical wages in the organic retail sector, but the Organic Trade Association notes that organic nonfood products maintained strong growth in 2010, growing by 9.7%, reaching nearly $2 billion in total.

Organic Agricultural or Food Scientist

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that faster-than-average growth is expected in the agricultural and food scientist sector, due to the needed development of new products using biotechnology. Additionally, growth is good because of organics and other environmental issues. People are looking to agricultural and food scientists for help in limiting the negative environmental impact of agriculture.

Agricultural scientists often work on the land, as well as in an office or lab, studying farm crops and animals, along with crop yield, plant diseases, crop pests, and weeds. Some work on soil and water conservation and some are even working on fuel solutions, such as ethanol produced from corn.

This isn't the quickest job path. In most cases, agricultural and food scientist positions require a bachelor's degree in agricultural science at least. A master's degree or Ph.D. is normally required for research positions.

Typical Agricultural Scientist Earnings​

Organic agricultural scientists can make very good wages. The typical annual wages of food scientists were $59,520 in May 2008, with the middle 50% earning between $43,600 and $81,340.

Organic Handler

Cropped view of chef carrying crate of vegetables
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Organic handlers help move organic products through the entire supply chain. In the most general sense, a handler is anyone who handles agricultural products. That said, the term handler can be expanded to include all sorts of careers, such as producers who handle crops or livestock, distributors, marketing companies, packers and shippers, warehouses, brokers, and anyone else who may sell, distribute, or pack organic products.

Not all handler jobs are top notch and hot, but some jobs, such as organic grocery wholesalers or other product merchant wholesalers and organic food distributors, are stable and pay well.

Typical Organic Handler Earnings​

Median annual wages in industries employing the largest numbers of wholesalers were around $47,980 annually. 

Organic Certifying Agent

Food scientist inspecting tomatoes on plants in greenhouse
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As more companies and farms become certified organic, more accredited certifying agents will likely be needed.

Accredited certifying agents make sure that their clients are upholding organic standards. Agents also provide assistance for new certification applicants as well as current clients.

Various organizations, such as the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) and National Organic Program (NOP), offer training for organic inspectors and certifying agents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the body that accredits various state, private, and foreign organizations or persons to become certifying agents.

Typical Accredited Certifying Agent Earnings​

No typical wages were available at this time.   

Organic Landscape Architect

Landscape map drawing with colored pencils
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Employment is expected to fast for organic landscape architects, those who work for companies and those who are self-employed. In fact, job opportunities in this sector are expected to increase by 20% in upcoming years, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment is good because as new construction and communities appear, landscaping is needed. Not only homeowners but public spaces need landscaping. On top of job availability, environmental concerns are increasing, which means more and more people and businesses are demanding sustainably designed construction projects matched with the projects of a landscape architect.

Landscape architects may help design green roofs, help manage stormwater run-off projects, plus, of course, design functional and beautiful green spaces. Restoration of natural places, such as wetlands, stream corridors, mined areas, and forested land, often also play a part in this career choice.​

Typical Landscape Architect Earnings​

Annual wages for landscape architects are good with the middle 50% earning between $45,840 and $77,610. Wages for this career choice are expected to rise. 

Organic Agricultural Sciences Teacher—Postsecondary

Students planting vegetables in school garden during science class
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According to Bloomberg Businessweek, organic and sustainable college programs are on the rise. As the demand for sustainable agriculture classes continues, the pool of schools is likely to widen more. Teachers will be needed as well.

Agricultural sciences teachers often do a combination of teaching and research. Courses in the agricultural sciences, such as agronomy, dairy sciences, fisheries management, horticultural sciences, poultry sciences, range management, and agricultural soil conservation, are typical.

Typical Agricultural Sciences Teachers Earnings​

The average national wage for this position is $81,760. However, because teaching salaries vary greatly by area and topic, you should check out the current full report on this occupation's wages.