The Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by Jerome Irving Rodale as the Soil and Health Foundation. It continues as a 333-acre working organic crop farm with research trials and a visitor’s center near Kutztown, Pennsylvania. The Institute outreaches to farmers throughout North America and the world to promote economically viable sustainable farming techniques that benefit human health and the environment. Offered on the Institute’s dynamic website are: 1) the online Organic Transition Course (funded by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency); 2) the Organic Price Report, a weekly comparison of U.S. wholesale organic and non-organic prices in various locations; 3) the New Farm webzine, offering stories by and about farmers and researchers practicing cutting-edge organic agriculture; and 4) continuously updated sections containing news and research focusing on how biologically based farming can curb global warming, improve the nutrient value of food and play a role in fighting hunger worldwide.

Mission

The Rodale Institute’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet. It seeks to accomplish this goal through farmer outreach, education to consumers and producers, and through research that demonstrates the organization’s motto that “healthy soil=healthy food=healthy people.”

History

Strongly influenced by the writings of Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale became the force behind organic farming’s mainstream popularization and birth as a social movement in the United States. His enthusiasm took on almost missionary zeal, as in 1942 he began publishing his views and practical advice in his startup magazine, Organic Farming and Gardening. Throughout the magazine’s pages, he avidly promoted a holistic, whole-systems approach to agriculture. J.I. Rodale died in 1971 at the age of 72. His son Robert (Bob) expanded his father’s agriculture- and health-related pursuits with the purchase of a worn-out farm, located east of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, where he and Ardath, his wife, established what is now the Rodale Institute to begin an era of regenerative, organic farm-scale research. Regeneration was a concept Bob developed to propose that any natural system, properly managed, could be productive while increasing its capacity into the future. He wrote that regenerative organic farming, done well, can use its own internal resources to improve soil fertility and productivity over time on a specific farm, rather than relying on expensive—and potentially environmentally damaging—outside chemical inputs.Bob Rodale died in a 1990 automobile accident in Moscow while launching a Russian edition of Rodale’s New Farm magazine. John Haberern—who had been hired by Robert Rodale as a Rodale Press book editor in 1961—took over as president of the Institute. Ardath Rodale became the Institute chairman. Anthony, son of Ardath and Bob, became vice-chairman. Anthony and his wife, Florence, developed outreach efforts to children during their period of active program involvement before Anthony became an international ambassador for the Institute. Board member Paul McGinley, Esq., became co-chair of the board with Ardath in 2005.Powerful testimony by Bob Rodale, John Haberern and farmers and agricultural scientists who swore by their sustainable methods had convinced the U.S. Congress to include funds for sustainable agriculture (first called “Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture)” in the 1985 Farm Bill. This validation of an agroecological approach to farming led to the formation of the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in 1990. Today, federal, state and local governments, as well as land-grant universities and other organizations nationwide are pursuing sustainable and organic agriculture research and education programs.Timothy J. LaSalle, Ph.D., became the first CEO of the Institute in July 2007, bringing decades of experience in academic, agricultural and nonprofit leadership to the task. Under his direction, the Institute champions organic solutions for the challenges of global climate change, better nutrition in food, famine prevention and poverty reduction.

Current Programs

Under the leadership of research director Dr. Paul Hepperly, the Rodale Institute conducts research that seeks to improve the viability, productivity and documented ecological services of organic farming using current agricultural technologies and practices.

Focusing on agronomic (and some horticultural) cropping systems, research trials examine organic and conventional practices, chemical-free weed-management techniques, weed- and disease-resistant crop varieties, compost management and application, soil health, no-till organic planting systems using cover crops and optimal cover-crop uses in organic crop rotations.

A hallmark of the Rodale Institute’s research has been the ongoing Farming Systems Trial (FST). Begun in 1981, the FST compares two organic farming systems—m anure-based and legume-based approaches—to conventional farming methods, using Extension-prescribed chemical and tillage inputs.

Key finding of the FST trials have been that after fields undergo a multi-year transition period to restore biological activity, organic yields are comparable to those of conventional systems; organic yields exceed those of conventional systems in years of drought and other stress [ Peterson, C., Drinkwater L., and P. Wagoner. 1999. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial® – The first 15 years. The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa. 48 p.] ; and organic systems have the capacity to sequester significant amounts of carbon [Hepperly, P., Seidel, R., Pimentel, D., Hanson, J., and D. Douds. 2005. Organic farming enhances soil carbon and its benefits in soil carbon sequestration policy] .

Current experiments also pursue improvements in no-tillage and minimum-tillage systems with the use of Rodale’s “no-till roller/crimper,” which simultaneously rolls and crimps a cover crop, forming a mulch layer into which a cash crop can be planted in the same pass with a special no-till planter.

No-till systems with cover crops can contribute to carbon sequestration by adding to and preserving organic matter (primarily made up of carbon) in the soil, an important component of the Institute’s goal to link organic agriculture with the campaign to mitigate global warming [ LaSalle, T., and Hepperly, P. 2008. Regenerative Organic Farming: A solution to global warming. The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa. 13 p.] .

Other experiments focus on biological pest controls, the use of mychorrhizal fungi [Douds, D., Nagahashi, G., Pfeffer, P., Kayser, W., and C. Reider. 2005. On-farm production and utilization of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus inoculum.Canadian Journal of Plant Science 85,1:15-21.] —hosted by root systems in a symbiotic relationship—to amplify crops’ abilities to uptake nutrients, and time-sensitive planting to avoid insect cycles and maximize the use of Growing degree day(s).

In pursuit of a sustainable, “Greener Revolution” that meets the universal needs of proper nutrition, famine prevention and biologically sustainable solutions to climate change, the Rodale Institute emphasizes sound agronomic practices, farmer participation and resourceful techniques to increase food security at all levels.

An undercurrent to the Institute’s work is the need for productive agricultural alternatives to increasingly expensive pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which various studies have shown to have many dangerous and unpredictable effects on biological systems [ Kimble-Evans, Amanda. 2008. “No such thing as ‘safe’ levels of contamination.”The Rodale Institute. http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080627/n1] .

Regenerativeagriculture emphasizes building soil through natural biological processes in a closed nutrient cycle, rather than a heavy reliance year-after-year on purchased inputs such as synthetic chemicals and, frequently, a subsequent depletion of soil structure and nutrients.

Weed management remains the foremost challenge in organic production, and therefore comprises a major portion of the Institute’s work. This and other issues that are relevant to modern farmers are of paramount importance to Rodale researchers. Staff strive to outreach these findings through field days, online publications, farmer conferences and other educational events.

Collaborations with farmers and agricultural science peers throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as nationally and internationally, enable Institute researchers to replicate experiments across different geographical regions and benefit farmers with opportunities to test new approaches to organic production.

In addition, the Institute forges alliances with national and state-level organic certification programs, industry leaders and elected officials to help shape policy. Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute farm director, currently serves as vice chair of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and Dave Wilson, research agronomist, is a member of the advisory board for Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO), a USDA-accredited certification agency.

Further, the Institute partners strategically with U.S. and foreign government entities, businesses and organizations to promote regenerative organic farming opportunities and to expand the benefits of organic agriculture to more people.

References


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