This past weekend, I was in Pennsylvania for a farm tour and to attend the 7th annual Organic Pioneer Awards dinner at the Rodale Institute. In all of my years covering the organic industry, this was one of the most special days that I have experienced.
With its 333 acres of picturesque farmland, Rodale Institute is where the organic food movement began in our country, 70 years ago. In 1947, J.I. Rodale had the vision to establish this farm and research center, and it continues to do some of the most critical work in our industry today.
These are the five most important initiatives taking place at Rodale:
1) The Farming Systems Trial (FST) is a 38-year study which compares organic grains vs. conventional/GMO grains.
Despite the fact that the GMO-industry tries to convince everyone that its yields are superior, this is, in fact, not the case. Over a long period of time, FST has found that there is no difference in yields. Furthermore, in times of drought, organic yields are 31% higher than conventional.
2) Recently launched, the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) will be conducting a long-term study of organic vegetables and conventional vegetables. It will analyze nutrient density, soil quality, energy inputs and profitability.
While most studies simply take organic and conventional vegetables off of the shelf and do an analysis, VST will be growing both types of vegetables and doing a side-by-side comparison.
3) Also recently launched, the Industrial Hemp Project may prove to be Rodale’s most important research study ever.
Less than 10% of the farms in the U.S. plant cover crops, largely because they do not have value in the marketplace. However, hemp does have value in the marketplace.
So, not only could farmers be planting a cover crop that brings in revenue, but these hemp cover crops help sequester carbon and put nutrients back into the soil.
Furthermore, hemp grows so quickly that it shades out weeds and acts as a weed suppressant. If weeds are reduced, this would also decrease the amount of synthetic chemicals that conventional farmers use.
Rodale Institute planted hemp in June and harvested them in August, and within two months, the crops were already 12 feet tall! This is all with no fertilizer or pesticides.
Rodale is only 1 of 16 sites in Pennsylvania to get a permit this year to grow hemp, the first time that it could legally plant hemp in nearly 80 years.
4) This is the one-year anniversary of the Organic Farmers Association, an organization that I have written about in previous Organic Insider newsletters, and it just hired its first Washington, D.C. lobbyist, Mark Rokala, who has a background in sustainable agriculture.
5) The Regenerative Organic Certification, which will be led by Rodale Institute, was just formalized and will be introduced this week at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. (See below for more details.)
In future newsletters, I will go into more depth as to why this certification is vitally important. In short, it will not only help protect organic, particularly if the USDA continues to drag its feet on matters such as allowing hydroponics in organic, but the certification will also help to raise the bar for organic.
Fortunately, the Rodale Institute realizes that it must do more than just focus on organic farming.
That is why it is developing studies which aim to prove that regenerative organic agricultural practices not only lead to improved soil health but also to improved human health. If we can get to that point, the conversation completely changes.
Please go visit the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania as soon as you can. It is an incredibly special place, and for those of us who care deeply about organic, it is our home.
Rodale is open to the public and hosts farm tours, events, apple festivals, and workshops year-round. Feel free to get in touch with Maria Pop (firstname.lastname@example.org), Education Outreach Manager, for more information.
In closing, I want to send big congratulations to the three recipients of this year’s Organic Pioneer Awards — Tom Beddard of Lady Moon Farms, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, and Dr. Kathleen Delate of Iowa State University. They are true leaders in our industry. And huge thanks to Dr. Bronner’s, who has donated $100,000 to the Rodale Institute this year.
(Farmhouses at the Rodale Institute.)
(Where the Farming Systems Trial is being conducted.)
(Ross Duffield, Farm Manager, surrounded by hemp plants at Rodale.)
(Maria Rodale, Chairman and CEO of Rodale Inc.)
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* In last week’s Organic Insider, I discussed how the Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for not releasing the feasibility study regarding QR codes. This was mandated by Congress as part of the GMO-labeling bill that it passed last summer.
* As a result of the lawsuit, the USDA released the study, which supported the Center for Food Safety’s claims that QR codes are discriminatory. Read more about the study here.
* Just this morning, the Organic Trade Association, which has the reputation of not wanting to ruffle the feathers of the government, sued the USDA for failing to put into effect the Organic Animal Welfare Standards.
* To have these two lawsuits against the USDA within the first 10 months of the Trump administration is a very, very ominous sign. Behind the scenes at the USDA, there must be an all-out assault on organic, which is not entirely unexpected.
* At Natural Products Expo East this week in Baltimore, there are many great events and panel discussions. Here are a few that I am looking forward to attending:
* – Today at 6pm, there is a documentary at the Hilton about homeopathy called Just One Drop.
* – Thursday at 11:30am in room #316 in the convention center, there will be a preview of the fall NOSB meeting. We need as many people as possible to show up and tell the panel that hydroponics and all container growing systems should be banned from organic.
* – Thursday at noon in room #317 in the convention center, there is a panel discussion Retail Innovation in Organic: Finding Opportunity in a Growing, Fractured Marketplace.
* – Friday at 4:30pm at the Dr. Bronner’s booth (#2419), in conjunction with Rodale, Patagonia, and OSC2, there will be a Regenerative Organic Agriculture Cocktail Hour announcing the new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). To read the recommended framework of the ROC and to comment on it, you can do so here.
* – The Emerging Biodynamic Marketplace is taking place on Friday at 4pm and on Saturday at 8:30am & 1pm in Room 332 at the convention center. There will be a discussion about Biodynamic and also a product showcase.
* Yesterday, Politico reported that Miles McEvoy, who oversees the National Organic Program at the USDA, is stepping down at the end of this month. Until USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue picks McEvoy’s replacement, Agricultural Marketing Service acting Administrator Bruce Summers and acting Deputy Administrator Jenny Tucker will oversee the program.
* On Living Maxwell, I interviewed Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner and former Annie’s president John Foraker, as they announced their move to organic baby food company Once Upon a Farm.
* Both will become co-founders while John will be CEO and Jennifer will be Chief Brand Officer. They will be joining other co-founders Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz.
* Congrats to Greg Fleishman, Once Upon a Farm board member and Co-Founder of Foodstirs, for helping to make this deal happen.