Rodale Institute: Dedicated to Pioneering Organic Farming through Research and Outreach
Feb 25, 2017 09:07PM
● By Gisele Rinaldi Siebold
How can a 333-acre farm in Kutztown be a tucked-away destination? It can when it is Rodale Institute. Open to the public, the farm is the center of attraction for tours and hands-on learning. People can attend workshops and plant sales and learn why members of the Rodale Institute community are pioneers of the organic movement. Plus, it’s worth a special trip to visit and learn about the farming techniques and areas of focus that are changing the way land is treated and food is grown.
In 1947, organic pioneer J.I. Rodale founded Rodale Institute to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. He learned about organic food-growing concepts being promoted by Lady Eve Balfour and Sir Albert Howard in England and founded the organic movement in North America. In 1954, he wrote, “Organics is not a fad. It has been a long-established practice––much more firmly grounded than the current chemical flair. Present agricultural practices are leading us downhill.”
For 70 years, the team at Rodale Institute has been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing its findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet. Prior to his death in 1971, J.I. Rodale said, “As farmers, our goal is not to produce crops. Our goal is to produce healthy people.” That statement continues to be the motivation behind the continued research and outreach at Rodale Institute.
“We’re a small organization––we’re only 40 people,” explains Executive Director Jeff Moyer. “But we’re 40 people who want to change the way food is produced around the world, and we’re doing it.” Four core values are at the heart of the work being done at Rodale Institute. “We empower each other to live our mission. Our farm is a destination for inspiration. Our research is a catalyst for change. And, we are a clear voice for informed choice,” notes Director of Communications Diana Martin.
According to Chief Scientist Dr. Kristine Nichols, Rodale Institute has three major focus areas: to expand organic research and organic farming, to adapt to and mitigate climate change and to solve food insecurity by looking at producing high-nutrient dense food. Begun in 1981, the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial is the longest-running, side-by-side U.S. study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods. What they have found is that organic yields match conventional and outperform them in years of drought and environmental distress. New areas of study include rates of carbon sequestration in chemical versus organic plots and new techniques for weed suppression. “I am excited by these findings because I know that what we are trying to promote here can actually feed the world,” enthuses Dr. Emmanuel Omondi, research director for Farming Systems Trial.
Rodale Institute’s experiential, skills-based, hands-on training programs are ideal for aspiring organic farmers and food systems advocates. Students get a unique and comprehensive education by participating in all aspects of the institute’s diverse farm operation, learning from educators in the classroom and in the field alongside their team of experts.
Farm manager Ross Duffield explains why education is key to spreading the truth about organic farming. “There is this general misnomer that organic agriculture is old-fashioned. But we’re employing modern techniques using old-fashioned methods and having good success with it, whether it’s in large-scale agriculture or in small-scale backyard gardens. We can feed the world without the use of pesticides and herbicides.”
For people who want to make a difference, Rodale Institute is an outlet for people in the region, and beyond, to be inspired. And it was created to be a resource for the public. “We are trying to change the world, and we need partners to make that happen, so we welcome everyone—families, school groups, visitors, educators and farmers—to come and discover what we are all about,” explains Martin.
“The way we treat the soil is in reality the way we treat ourselves. We don’t have to feed people for 20 years or 50 years—we may need to feed people for 10,000 years—and we need to improve the health of the soil in order to do that,” says Moyer. With a mission to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet through organic leadership, the team at Rodale Institute is planting seeds for the future.
Rodale Institute is located at 611 Siegfriedale Rd., in Kutztown. For more information, call 610-683-6009 or visit RodaleInstitute.org.
Gisele Rinaldi Siebold is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks edition. Connect with her at [email protected]