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
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
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.