As the demand for organic produce continues to grow, more and more farmers are seeking assistance and resources that can get them on the path to adopting regenerative organic methods. And the leaders and staff of the Rodale Institute’s Southeast Organic Center are taking on the important mission of fulfilling that need.
The center’s virtual open house on November 17 provided participants with insights on its goals and accomplishments as a research and education facility that is informing farmers and the general public about how regenerative organic farming can make for a healthier planet and population.
Jeff Moyer, CEO, Rodale Institute
Jeff Moyer, CEO of Rodale Institute, opened the event by noting that the institute was established in 1947 and that its founder J.I. Rodale began the organization by writing the phrase, “Healthy soil equals healthy food equals healthy people” on a blackboard.
“With those few words, he initiated changes in the way people eat and farmers farm,” Moyer said.
Moyer went on to describe some of the institute’s initiatives, including its trials related to farming systems, vegetable systems, and watershed impact, along with its Regenerative Organic Certification program, which will establish a new standard for products that build on the word “organic” to encapsulate regenerative practices, animal welfare, and social justice.
“One thing we know is that the world needs organic farmland,” Moyer said. “We take our responsibility to make that a reality very seriously, and we are investing our resources in many ways to make that possible.”
“One thing we know is that the world needs organic farmland. We take our responsibility to make that a reality very seriously, and we are investing our resources in many ways to make that possible.” -Jeff Moyer
He also noted that the research that has been done at Rodale Institute’s farm in Kutztown, PA, is furthering efforts to increase the number of farms that use organic production methods and that while organic production has historically been low in southern states because warm weather there creates challenges related to pests, disease, and even weeds, Alabama and South Carolina have seen increases in organic farmland of more than 200 percent from 2011 to 2016 and other southern states have seen their certified organic farm count more than double.
“By developing solutions for farmers and serving as a beacon of education and an aid to farmers considering transitioning to organic, we literally are changing the world,” Moyer said, adding that Rodale Institute sees the work being done at the Southeast Organic Center as an integral component to the growth of the organic industry.
Kristie Wendelberger, Southeast Organic Center Research Director, Rodale Institute
Kristie Wendelberger, Southeast Organic Center research director, then talked about the mission of the Southeast Organic Center’s facilities at Many Fold Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, GA.
“We’re here to help organic farmers,” she said. “Our whole purpose is to listen to organic farmers, answer your research questions. We are open to collaborating on research projects that you are writing proposals for and are interested in, [and] we’re open to collaborating with you on projects that we are writing proposals for and interested in. We are here to help organic farmers transition to organic agriculture. If you are on your way to transitioning, or if you already are transitioned and you just have questions and needs, we’re here to help you with that.”
She explained that the institute is helping farmers on experimental design, analyses, and answering questions, such as what varieties grow best in different climates.
“By developing solutions for farmers and serving as a beacon of education and an aid to farmers considering transitioning to organic, we literally are changing the world.” -Jeff Moyer
“We plan to emulate [the work we've been doing in Pennsylvania] here in the Southeast to be able to demonstrate the value of organic farming,” Wendelberger said. “It really is a holistic approach that’s not just for the soil, not just for healthy eating, but for the whole environment.”
She also talked about the institute’s collaborations with universities, extension agents, and other agricultural entities. These initiatives include the Beginner Farmer Internship Program as well as a consulting program that will help farmers transition to organic by connecting them to resources that can answer their questions in a scientific way.
“Our whole purpose is to listen to organic farmers, answer your research questions. We are open to collaborating on research projects that you are writing proposals for and are interested in, [and] we’re open to collaborating with you on projects that we are writing proposals for and interested in.” - Kristie Wendelberger
Experimental design, she noted, is an important aspect of what they are doing. “It’s easy to put plants into the ground, and you know that those plants grew or didn’t grow, but when you can put it in in a way that’s experimentally sound, and then you perform analyses to then really look at what is happening and whether there really is a difference in the way you grow your okra in this way versus growing it in a different way,” Wendelberger said.
Jeff Tkach, Chief Impact Officer, Rodale Institute
Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer for Rodale Institute, wrapped things up by talking about the optimism and collective spirit he is seeing among Georgia’s farming community and how people in the agricultural industry are facing an opportunity to become healers.
“Soil can be something that unites us, and I believe that our moment has come—organic’s moment has come,” Tkach said. “And we are here, at this moment in history, to create history in the Southeast through the work of Rodale Institute in partnership with many other organizations.”