The Rodale Institute
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Rodale Institute is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports research into organic farming. The Institute was founded in 1947 by author J.I. Rodale in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. When he died in 1971, his son Robert purchased 333 acres and moved the farm to its current site in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
The Rodale Institute pursues a sustainable, “Greener Revolution,” which is defined as meeting universal needs of proper nutrition, famine prevention and biologically sustainable solutions to climate change. To meet this goal, the Rodale Institute emphasizes sound agronomic practices, farmer participation and resourceful techniques to increase food security at all levels. An undercurrent to the Institute’s work is the need for productive agricultural alternatives to increasingly expensive pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which various studies have shown to have many dangerous and unpredictable effects on biological systems.
Collaborations with farmers and agricultural science peers throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as nationally and internationally, enable Institute researchers to replicate experiments across different geographical regions and benefit farmers with opportunities to test new approaches to organic production. In addition, the Institute allies with national and state-level organic certification programs, industry leaders and elected officials to help shape policy. Furthermore, the Institute partners strategically with U.S. and foreign government entities, businesses and organizations to promote regenerative organic farming opportunities and to expand the benefits of organic agriculture to more people.
Strongly influenced by the writings of Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale became an important force in popularizing organic farming as a social movement in the United States. Starting in 1942, Rodale began publishing his views and practical advice in his startup magazine, Organic Farming and Gardening. In the magazine, he avidly promoted a holistic, whole-systems approach to agriculture.
J.I. Rodale died in 1971 at the age of 72. His son Robert (Bob) Rodale expanded his father’s agriculture- and health-related pursuits with the purchase of a farm east of Kutztown, Pennsylvania. At the Kutztown site, Bob and Ardath, his wife, established what is now known as the Rodale Institute to begin an era of regenerative, organic farm-scale research. The Kutztown site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also known as the Siegfried's Dale Farm.
Rodale proposed the concept of regeneration to argue that any natural system, properly managed, could be productive while increasing its capacity into the future. He wrote that regenerative organic farming can use its own internal resources to improve soil fertility and productivity over time, rather than relying on expensive—and potentially environmentally damaging—outside chemical inputs.
Bob Rodale died in a 1990 automobile accident in Moscow while launching a Russian edition of Rodale’s New Farm magazine. John Haberern, who had been hired by Robert Rodale as a Rodale Press book editor in 1961, took over as president of the Institute. Ardath Rodale became the Institute's chairman. Anthony, son of Ardath and Bob, became vice-chairman. Anthony and his wife, Florence, developed outreach efforts for children during the couple's period of active program involvement before Anthony became an international ambassador for the Institute. Board member Paul McGinley, Esq., became co-chair of the board with Ardath in 2005. Testimony by Bob Rodale, John Haberern and farmers and agricultural scientists convinced the U.S. Congress to include funds for sustainable agriculture (first called “Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture)” in the 1985 Farm Bill.
This validation of an agroecological approach to farming led to the formation of the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in 1990. Today, federal, state and local governments, as well as land-grant universities and other organizations nationwide are pursuing sustainable and organic agriculture research and education programs.
Current programs and experiments
Rodale Institute conducts research that seeks to improve the viability, productivity and documented ecological services of organic farming using current agricultural technologies and practices.
Focusing on agronomic (and some horticultural) cropping systems, research trials examine organic and conventional practices, chemical-free weed-management techniques, weed- and disease-resistant crop varieties, compost management and application, soil health, no-till organic planting systems using cover crops and optimal cover-crop uses in organic crop rotations.
An important part of Rodale Institute’s research has been the ongoing Farming Systems Trial (FST). Begun in 1981, the FST compares two organic farming systems—manure-based and legume-based approaches—to conventional farming methods, defined as methods using Cooperative Extension-prescribed chemical and tillage inputs.
FST found that after fields undergo a multi-year transition period to restore biological activity, organic yields are comparable to those of conventional systems. Additionally, organic yields exceed those of conventional systems in years of drought and other stress. Furthermore, organic systems have the capacity to sequester significant amounts of carbon.
Current experiments also pursue improvements in no-tillage and minimum tillage systems with the use of Rodale’s “no-till roller/crimper” device. The device simultaneously rolls and crimps a cover crop, forming a mulch layer into which a cash crop can be planted in the same pass with a special no-till planter.
No-till systems with cover crops can contribute to carbon sequestration by adding to and preserving organic matter (57% carbon by weight) in the soil, an important component of the Institute’s goal to link organic agriculture with the campaign to mitigate global warming.
Other experiments focus on biological pest controls, the use of mychorrhizal fungi —hosted by root systems in a symbiotic relationship—to amplify crops’ abilities to uptake nutrients, and time-sensitive planting to avoid insect cycles and maximize the use of Growing degree day(s).
- Kimble-Evans, Amanda. 2008. “No such thing as ‘safe’ levels of contamination.” The Rodale Institute. http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080627/n1
- National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Peterson, C., Drinkwater L., and P. Wagoner. 1999. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial – The first 15 years. The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa. 48 p.
- Hepperly, P., Seidel, R., Pimentel, D., Hanson, J., and D. Douds. 2005. Organic farming enhances soil carbon and its benefits in soil carbon sequestration policy
- Sundermeier, Alan, Randall Reeder, and Rattan Lal. "Soil Carbon Sequestration Fundamentals." Ohio State University Extension. http://ohioline.osu.edu/aex-fact/0510.html
- LaSalle, T., and Hepperly, P. 2008. Regenerative Organic Farming: A solution to global warming. The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa. 13 p.
- Douds, D., Nagahashi, G., Pfeffer, P., Kayser, W., and C. Reider. 2005. On-farm production and utilization of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus inoculum. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 85,1:15-21.