INTERN JOURNAL
A full plate of field tests and fungi
One of our interns explains why the research we do here at The Rodale Institute should matter to you.

By Aaron Fox

Editor's NOTE

This season our three interns will be taking turns tracking their observations and sharing what they are learning helping out the research department here at The Rodale Institute.

This next generation of farmers offers insights into what motivates them to go against the tide when so many farm families struggle to keep up-and-coming generations interested in farming.

As they will tell you, it’s a combination of love for the land, good food, sharing community, and a sense of purpose that keeps them going.

--NF Editors

July 13, 2006: Mychorriza, miniscule fungi associated with the roots of plants, exemplify much of what scientists know about symbiotic relationships. But how does this affect you?

The Rodale Institute, collaborating with other research centers, has found an increased level of mychorrizal fungi in organically farmed soils. This amplified amount of fungi helps the organic crops take up natural soil nutrients and makes the plants more drought resistant.

The benefits the fungi provide offer a better alternative to the heavily irrigated and fertilized conventional foods that fill most supermarket shelves. The majority of our fresh water and scarce natural resources go into producing those conventional foods. Doesn’t depending on mychorrihzal fungi and other organic techniques sound like a better alternative than relying on finite resources?

I am one of three Rodale research interns responsible for tending to the experimental plants in some of these mychorrihzal experiments. We are the ones in the field marking out test plots, digging up buried data collectors, removing the weeds from a section of an experiment, cutting squares of crops for biomass analysis, collecting soils, taking temperatures and counting plants.

This work may sound tedious, but it is scientific research—experimentation, accumulation of data, repetition—and it is important…to you! My digging may effect what ends up on your dinner table. The information from the data collector I have dug up may show us a way to keep crop nutrients in the soils rather than in our waters where they are currently accumulating, wreaking ecological havoc and destroying seafood stocks in places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Research has amazing potential to make a positive change. I left my last job in Ecuador because I saw that my work was not making that change. Every morning in the Amazon basin, I would see motorboats filled with logged endangered trees pass by my research station. Many Ecuadorians chided me for working in a pristine forest because they saw no value in land that had not been cleared. I left Ecuador and came to The Rodale Institute because of its reputation for making an impact on the environment and human health through regenerative agriculture. The backbone of that reputation comes from decades of dependable research.

Major corporations and small farmers alike are now noticing the work being done by the research team here. I no longer have to worry if my labor is worth the hard work and sweaty conditions. The research here is making the positive change I have been looking for.

Nowhere is this constructive impact more apparent to me than at the collaborating farms we visit. We work with farmers who are attracted to the developments and innovations coming out of the Institute. These hardworking farmers take time out of their non-stop schedules and put some of their limited land toward our research. They are confident that their contribution will benefit the development of future techniques and equipment they themselves can use.

The potential for The Rodale Institute to have an even greater influence is huge. Why stop at having onsite research at Pennsylvania farms? Why not spread the work of the research department worldwide? And why not bring more students to the experimental fields at the Institute to inspire future generations of farmers and researchers?

Scientific research can make farming, the environment and our lives better. The research team I am interning with here at the Rodale Institute is making that impact. And the possibilities for an even more powerful influence are waiting to blossom.