Sunday, July 4, 2010
Kutztown, PA: Rodale Institute, Jeff Moyer
There is a certain amount of impulsivity destined to occur on a roadtrip like this. Trav does his best to plan out our route and call farmers and extension agents ahead of time, but every so often we stumble upon an amazing opportunity by way of a road sign. This was the case as we meandered down the Pennsylvania highway toward Lancaster and passed a sign for the Rodale Institute, a well known and highly respected educational/agricultural/technological center.
Trav's defensive driving skills had us whipped around in no time and we wound our way down some back roads to Rodale. We made an appointment to talk with Jeff Moyer, who has been the farm manager since the 1970's, and he took us on an amazing tour of the farm. We learned that the Rodale Institute is a non-profit that has been extremely influential in researching organic methods of farming in a scientific and practical way, and sharing their research findings with the public. J.I. Rodale bought the property in the 1930's because of an interest in the connection between healthy farming practices, healthy soil, and healthy people. Before anyone else really thought about organic farming, especially on a commercial production scale, Rodale saw a connection between what people ingest and how their health is affected. One of the goals of the farm today is to show anyone (long-time farmers, newcomer farmers, gardeners, grandmas, urban farmers, me) that it is just as economically, environmentally, and fundamentally viable to practice organic/sustainable farming as conventional farming.
To practically demonstrate this, Jeff will plant the same crop side by side and treat on conventionally and one organically, then measure how they do. The Institute finds that the organic plots produce as much, and in some cases, more than the conventional plots. Jeff said that a lot of farmers come to the Institute doubting that organic is a profitable way to farm, but they often leave with new ideas about how they can transform their operation to be profitable and sustainable. One thing Jeff mentioned that has really stuck with me is the fact that as consumers, each one of us has so much power. If we want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, then we may either have to grow it ourselves, or pay a local farmer to grow us a real tomato. Our other option is a cheap tomato, a tomato from thousands of miles away that was bred with genes to withstand a 20 mile an hour impact on plywood because it will need those genes to survive its insanely long ride to our grocery store.
The Rodale Institute offers all kinds of workshops covering topics like cover crops, no till farming, organic pest management and how to customize your plot to your needs and space. The Institute provides information and visual aids, and seeing profitable, organic, life affirming farming is worth a trip out there.
Interestingly, Jeff, who has been with the Institute since the '70's, created the no-till crimper for commercial-scale use. The crimper is basically a roller that attaches to a tractor and breaks the stems of a cover crop, such as rye. No-till systems can be applied to organic and conventional crops, reducing the amount of off-farm inputs needed to amend soil and increasing organic matter in a plot.