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 with me.
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
A perfect example of collaborating, networking and outreach is
the field day we participated in at Cedar Meadows Farm (see Cedar
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 Conservation Service.
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 growing conditions.
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
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
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.