October 12, 2006: I have learned much from
my time at The Rodale Institute over these past seven months.
My education here has had many facets, a diverse experience
that will allow me to build upon all kinds of new information
no matter where I go or what I do. Of course, the Rodale name
is almost synonymous with organic, but this organization has
its arms around many other good things which have been shared
Fortunately, Rodale has science researchers who educate as well as guide their
interns. Working with pleasant, dedicated people encourages
enthusiasm for the tasks at hand resulting in careful, quality
work of which everyone can be proud. This is essential in
deriving correct and complete data for analysis.
The Institute reaches out to audiences ranging from young
children who can visit the on-site demonstration garden (or
stay at home and learn from www.kidsregen.org),
to presidents and top representatives of national and international
NGOs and private companies, to American universities.
Because of Rodale’s long history and current accomplishments,
it attracts many curious visitors and conducts successful
field days geared toward farmers, scientists and the general
pubic. I’ve learned to network and to help complete
my puzzle of the food system through these sessions and workshops.
These collaborations are vital in the never-ending quest to
educate a wide audience about a sustainable food system.
A perfect example of collaborating, networking and outreach
is the field day we participated in at Cedar Meadows Farm
Meadows Farm Field Day for more on the event). This was
a joint effort of Penn State’s Cooperative Extension,
The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
and Steve Groff, who runs the Lancaster County farm. Rodale
staff presented findings from field experiments made possible
through collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection, USDA-ARS and the Natural Resources
Farmer research network
Rodale purposefully works with a network of farmers because
it knows you cannot expect growing conditions to be the same
in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, as everywhere else. We collaborate
with farmers in and outside of Berks County, other parts of
Pennsylvania and across the country. Our “on-farm research”
means we conduct planned and measured experiments in their
It seems that many farmers are more apt to get their knowledge
from across the fence and in the field rather than through
reading scientific journals. Which means doing this kind of
outreach is important. When farmers and researchers share
first-person experiences, other farmers are more than willing
to listen, learn and possibly adopt new practices that can
save them money, time, increase their profits and protect
and enrich their soil.
If the farmer never receives the information, or doesn’t
trust his source, then nothing happens. The confidence that
comes from farmer-to-farmer information helps people get beyond
simple curiosity in a sustainable idea to actually implementing
it on their farm.
A bonus the interns experience here is the opportunity to
attend workshops with other interns on other organic farms.
Called the Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance
of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SAITA), this exchange program
allows us to learn from other interns and also take our turn
and share with others what we actually do here. Their topics
of interest are different from our current predominant focus
on cash grain crops and cover crops. Some of the topics covered
this season included creating, maintaining and flourishing
as a CSA, and developing educational programs geared toward
Diversity in marketing
An interesting concept that goes along with organic farming
in general is not to put all your production and marketing
eggs in one basket. By this I mean that organic farmers tend
to have several diversified crops, maybe even different varieties
of one crop. The farms we visited not only had CSAs but also
sell at farmers’ markets, restaurants, auctions, to
other CSAs and maybe even form some sort of organic cooperative.
I have learned that diversity in the marketplace is as important
as diversity in the field.
Dedication to producing organic food by nurturing healthy
soil is a common tie I found among many people connected to
organic agriculture. Whether it be picking 10 to 12 hours
a day to get the produce in CSA members’ tummies or
braving the pollen-infused fields of corn and soybeans on
a nice, hot and humid 90°F day in order to gather biomass
samples, the thought that no chemical inputs have been splashed
or scattered and that one can grab the fruit and eat it right
off the plant—without fear of the quiet warnings from
the FDA about washing pesticide-coated foods—is astoundingly
You know that some sort of dedication lives in a person when
they hold an academic degree. This type of dedication translates
to the organic farmer, who must be smart enough and clever
enough to learn to work with nature. Since they spend most
of their time in their fields, they see problems as they happen
and must learn by observation, trial and error—and,
of course, from other organic farmers.
An advanced degree won’t necessarily teach me or anyone
else these skills; what’s needed is focus and dedication.
So I will continue to observe and to combine all my experiences
to make a complete picture, which I’ll share. Learning
by doing and communicating real examples will hopefully help
others understand and support not only organic farms but other
businesses and organizations ready to embrace these ideals.
As for me, I will support organic and local farmers, organic
agri-businesses, and the notion that being sustainable is
the best way to live.