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A Visit to the Rodale Institute’s Organic Farm

Kyle Garner, ORGANIC INDIA CEO
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

This spring, I had the pleasure of visiting the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm—a 333-acre farmstead in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and the birthplace of the formal organic farming movement in America. I am excited to share my experience, because this is a place that truly walks the talk. They are not only exemplifying organic stewardship, but fostering an environment for positively charged problem solving at its finest. Any company, research institute or individual can learn a great deal from the Rodale mindset.

The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by J.I. Rodale in order to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. As you think about organic or regenerative agriculture today, remember that the US organic standards have only been around for about 10 years, but the Rodale family has talking about it for almost 70 years. In 1981 they started their first field trials. I have long read about their “Farming Systems Trial,” which is the United States’ longest-running side-by-side study comparing conventional agriculture with organic methods. However, all of their books and reports could not have captured the Rodale experience in the flesh. It is more of a feeling. There is a feeling there that things are as they should be. Everything in its right place, doing the right thing, at the right time.

There is a palpable passion in the air, but not the type of “fight for what is right” passion that can turn people away. There is no fighting at all; no focus on what doesn’t work—just a steadfast vision for what does work. What I loved about it was that they weren’t complaining about all of the problems, obstacles and adversaries, of which there are many, especially in this field. Instead, they were proposing sound solutions and researching them. Their job is to gather data and prove what works. With their research, they educate and empower farmers and scientists on organic farming practices.
In walking around the farm, I could sense an overwhelming connection to nature. From that connection sprouts a genuinely happy feeling amongst the staff, visitors and animals. There is nothing wasteful about the operation, as they operate with the utmost integrity and a true respect for nature. They use greywater in the bathrooms, solar on the rooftops, and fully integrated systems just about everywhere else. Instead of a labor intensive apple harvest, they invite the community to harvest apples free of charge at their Annual Apple Festival. When there is a need to clear a field, they don’t need a tractor, they simply let the livestock pasture as they would have centuries ago. They demonstrate true integration with both nature and the community in every aspect of their operation.

One of my favorite stories is of their recent endeavor to transform a grassy overflow parking lot into a farm plot. Instead of digging it out for the sake of expedience, they let the pigs graze until the land was cleared. After hanging out with the pigs, I can tell you they were delighted to be a part of this project. And as an aside, Rodale Institute research has shown that these organic pasture grazed pigs are healthier and can provide a more profitable operation than those of conventional industrial farm operations, even with the higher costs of feed and humane facilities.

The Rodale mindset is healthy, positive and solutions oriented. That kind of mindset is incredibly powerful and effective. Through their Farming Systems Trial, the Rodale Institute has found that over time, organic yields match conventional yields, and in times of environmental stress, organic outperforms conventional yields. Their field trials show that organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, and use 45% less energy than conventional methods (eliminating 40% of greenhouse gas emissions). Their research also proves that organic farming systems are even more profitable than conventional farming systems.

I am moved not only by the Rodale Institute’s groundbreaking findings and leadership in the organic and regenerative movements, but even more so by their unwavering positivity and commitment to agricultural solutions. As a very small organization, they are doing things that can have a massive impact on the world. It is up to us (individuals, organizations, companies, advocates) to support their research, reapply their methods, share their findings and spread the word. This is an organization deserving of amplification, and I feel personally responsible to contribute energy and support into building their megaphone. ORGANIC INDIA is now a proud supporter of the Rodale Institute, and I look forward to partnering with them as much as possible to advance their impact on the world.

To learn more about the Rodale Institute, visit http://rodaleinstitute.org. Even better, visit their farm or attend their Annual Apple Festival to experience the magic firsthand; a place where everything is as it should be.