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
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.