Staying connected
OPX intern finds her passion for physical fitness, economics and sustainability all lead to the same bright future.

By Alexandra Fehring

editor's NOTE:

The Rodale Institute interns take turns tracking their observations and sharing what they are learning as they help out the various departments 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.

--NF Editors

September 14, 2007: This summer has been both a cornucopia and summation of my life desires and path. Let me explain this further.

To begin, I was raised in Ohio, in an extremely active and healthy family, who were very supportive about whatever I chose to do in my life. So, I took advantage of this supportive freedom by trying everything—ballet, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, skiing, pole vaulting, learning Spanish, practicing vegetarianism, cycling, body building, modeling, competing in triathlons, painting, and more. But when applying for college and looking into the future, I began to realize the importance of sustainability in my life. This included the opportunity for top-level employment after graduation, networking, running track, staying healthy, and living in a peaceful, clean environment. It also included having the opportunity to do whatever I wanted and being around people who shared these values. This epiphany brought me to the Lehigh University, a place with an outstanding reputation for delivering a first-rate education and an environment providing ample opportunies to expand my mind and life.

During my second year at Lehigh, I had lost interest in being part of the track team due to my own dissatisfaction with my performance. I began to question why I was even there. This brought me back to my first motivation: my future sustainability and success. With this focus, I declared my major in economics, with an environmental science minor. My physical training outlet became triathlons, and an internship opportunity led me to The Rodale Institute. I’ve come to see that by following what I have a deep passion for, all of these varied facets of my life have become interconnected and harmonious.

Through my studies in environmental science, I have always been interested in biological and global atmospheric processes (think global warming, carbon footprints, life adaptations, nitrogen fixation, etc.). Already, this interest is enough to make me feel at home at The Rodale Institute. Although I am no scientist or farmer, I like to explore the bigger picture of why things are the way they are. How do all of those environmental processes affect our day-to-day lives and our future? This is where economics enters the picture. I like to think of economics as a guide to living both efficiently and prosperously, for, in my mind, the two are not mutually exclusive. Through economics we learn why things are the way they are, how they will react in the future, and what we should do now to plan sustainably for that future. This goes for everything from buying food, clothing, cars, houses and land to paying rent, taxes and educating ourselves and our children. The application of economic theory and methods to environmental issues and problems—e.g. global warming, drought, La Niña, invasive species—requires detailed analysis in order to improve our management strategies. The contemporary environmental debate is constantly changing, and both new and relatively unexplored topics are continually emerging.

Here at The Rodale Institute, I am doing what I have always wanted to do. Working with organic prices from The New Farm Organic Price Index (OPX) allows me to see trends in the future of organic agriculture and the influence agriculture has on other facets of the U.S. economy. The biggest issue I have come across is the increased demand for fuel alcohol, namely corn ethanol. Here I have learned a lot about “King Corn” and the long reach of the Corn Belt into all sectors of the economy. Recently, the increased demand and prices have decreased subsidy payments for corn used for food, feed, and other residuals, focusing mainly on the acreage of corn harvested for fuel production. This drives up the price of other commodities, and bolsters the organic price premium, adding value to an environmentally friendly and safe production process.

Everyone here at Rodale has made me feel so welcome and valued since the day I walked in. I begin my senior year at Lehigh University working part time at the Institute doing research and analysis, and I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity because I have truly come into my own this summer. Transitioning from living at home to all by myself with a full-time job seemed so easy. I want to take what I have learned from this internship over the summer and continue my education after college. Right now I am involved with using upper-level statistics and econometrics to gain a better understanding of and insight into the pricing and correlations of agricultural products. From here who knows where I will end up. I know for sure that it will be with sustainability, health and happiness at the forefront.