Dig Deeper

Rodale Institute Supports “Just Label It” and Mandating Labeling GMOs

Studies show that more than 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods. Yet for twenty years the U.S. have been denied that right. The Just Label It campaign was created to advocate for the labeling of GMO foods.

GMO foods include any plants or animals in which their genetic makeup (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally or through traditional breeding methods.

The first GMO crops were approved in 1996. Today, more than 90% of GMO soy, roughly 85% of GMO corn and several other GMO crops are grown in the U.S. Meaning that over 70% of the processed foods we eat contain genetically modified material, unknowing to the vast majority of the U.S. population.

Since popularity of GMO crops have increased over the past eight years, impacts are not yet known resulting in no creditable claim whether they are safe from a long-term perspective. However, there are reasons for concern. In the 1990’s, FDA scientists warned that genetically modified was different than traditional breeding and posed risks of introducing new toxins or allergens. Since then, several National Academy of Sciences studies have also confirmed theses same risks in our food and environment. Another concern is the lack of testing by independent scientists. The government’s approval of GMO crops have been based on studies conducted or funded by the companies of theses patented organisms, concluding that GMO food is “substantially equivalent” to its non-GMO counterpart. Studies from these companies have later been deemed false.

One of the first GMO crops approved for human consumption was corn with insecticide constructed into its DNA. Chemical companies insisted that the insecticide would be broken down in human saliva and not survive more than a few seconds in the GI tract. A study published in 2014 revealed that the insecticide did survive as it was detected in the umbilical-cord blood of pregnant women. Because the U.S. does not label GMO foods, scientist cannot conclude the link between GMO food intake and acute or chronic effects in humans and consumers cannot make informed choices about their food.

At Rodale Institute, along with advocating organic agriculture we also support the production of non-GMO foods. Rodale Institute’s elimination of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones, grants us as a certified organic and non-GMO farm. Organic farmers attribute to human health and reverse climate change by using farming methods that encourage soil health, clean air, clean water, and sequester carbon.

In the 1940’s, our Founder, J.I. Rodale, stated that "one day the public will wake up and pay for eggs, meats, and vegetables according to how they were produced." Certainly meaning that Americans have a right to know what products were genetically modified.

Consider joining Just Label It in their pursuit to mandate labeling of GMOs on food packages and oppose any legislation that would preempt state GMO labeling laws in the absence of a national, mandatory GMO labeling standard.

Sign the Farmer Sign-On Letter in Support of GMO Labeling here.

GMO statistics and facts from www.justlabelit.org.

Organic Allentown Farmers’ Market Intern


We're hiring! Join our team and contribute to research and education on organic agriculture!

Job Title: Rodale Institute Organic Allentown Farmers’ Market Internship

SUMMARY: The Organic Allentown Farmers’ Market intern works on assigned projects as designated by the Organic Allentown Program Manager. Examples of duties may include community outreach for our Organic Allentown programming, data/survey collection, and assistance with planning market entertainment and activities. The internship spans a 20 week market season from June through October, and is 25 hour work week, Wednesdays through Saturdays, at $12.00 per hour.

* Assist the Organic Allentown Program Manager with the planning and operation of the Rodale Institute Organic Allentown Farmers’ Markets.

-Assist with the operation of the Organic Markets.
-Maintain cash drawers of the Organic Markets.
-Assist with the scheduling of musicians, entertainers, and artists.
-Build relationship with community organizations, and foster their participation at the organic markets.
-Maintain an informal written journal of the guest experience at the market.
-Document markets with photography and video for use on social media.
-Canvas Allentown neighborhoods distributing farmers’ market promotional materials.
-Distribute surveys and other forms of data measurement tools.

* Experience in customer service.
* Proficiency and experience with Microsoft word, constructing emails, and social media content.
* Ability to lift up to 50 lbs. packages multiple times during the market hours of operation.
* Ability to communicate in Spanish preferred.
*Interest in organic agriculture or other environmental sustainable issues is a plus.

* High School diploma or G.E.D. required.

Travel for this position involves trips to Rodale Institute, the City of Allentown, and the greater Lehigh Valley.

All individuals interested in the Organic Allentown Farmers’ Market internship should apply directly to the Organic Allentown Program Manager’s email jesse.barrett@rodaleinsitute.org. Applicants should include their resume, three references, and submit their application package by 5:00 PM on Monday, 05/16/2016.

Jesse Barrett – Rodale Institute – Organic Allentown Program Manager
(Off.) 610.610.1474

Blooming Prairie Foundation Supports Rodale Institute Project

The Blooming Prairie Foundation (BPF) awarded Rodale Institute $10,000 to support the “Nutritive Quality Assessment of Organically and Conventionally Grown Oats” project.


This project serve the purpose of determining  if organically-managed oats can provide healthful products for consumers and increase farm income through the sale of high value products. By adding information on nutrient density to the 35 years’ worth of data from our Farming Systems Trial (FST), this research project is hypothesized to definitively show that organic agriculture is not only better for the environment, but better for human health.

The objectives of this project are to analyze the nutrient density of both organically and conventionally grown oats, measure the nutrient density of the soil, determine the nutritive quality of conventional and organic farming systems by examining the nutrient density of oats and the soil and the potential impacts of various farming practices, educate farmers, extension agents, scientists, and the public about the nutritive quality of farm production systems, and reduce agrochemical use through demonstrating regenerative organic agriculture builds soil health, which provides more nutritious food.

Top USDA Official Talks Latest in Organic Crop Insurance at Pennsylvania Farm

A top official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency took to the road this week to get feedback from farmers in Pennsylvania on how new enhancements to federal crop insurance are helping organic producers.

USDA Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon (left) and Jason Forrester talk about planting plans on one of Forrester’s farms in Chambersburg, Pa.

USDA Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon (left) and Jason Forrester talk about planting plans on one of Forrester’s farms in Chambersburg, Pa.

Associate Administrator Tim Gannon visited two farms in Chambersburg, Pa., on Tuesday (April 19). He was accompanied by other RMA officials as well as Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture. The group met with Jason and Tony Forrester, cousins who have multiple farms in the Chambersburg area. Both have federal crop insurance policies that cover certified organic crops including corn, soybeans and wheat.

“I don’t ever bat an eye at paying my premium,” said Jason Forrester, who has nearly 900 acres, all certified organic or in transition. “If not me, I know some farmer, somewhere, is going to need it.”

Last year, USDA reported that U.S. certified and exempt organic farms sold a total of $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014, up 72 percent since 2008. There were more than 6,000 organic crop insurance policies in effect in 2014.

“Since 2009, USDA has strengthened programs that support organic producers as they grow, thrive and respond to increasing consumer demand for organic products,” said Associate Administrator Gannon.

“There’s such a high market demand for organics,” said Deputy Secretary Smith-Brubaker, who herself is a producer in Pennsylvania.

“You don’t even have to advertise your organics. They come to you,” said Forrester, who sells some products to a local creamery operation right down the street from one of his farms. “And I’ve got a guy in Oregon who is bugging me for my corn.”

(From left) Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Hannah Smith-Brubaker, USDA Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon, Jason Forrester and Tony Forrester talk about crop insurance for organic farmers at one of their farms in Chambersburg, Pa.

(From left) Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Hannah Smith-Brubaker, USDA Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon, Jason Forrester and Tony Forrester talk about crop insurance for organic farmers at one of their farms in Chambersburg, Pa.

Among the changes discussed Tuesday for 2016 was the Contract Price Addendum, which allows producers transitioning to certified organic to cover their production of 73 eligible crops at a higher price than traditional crops. Also in 2016, RMA continued to add to the number of crops eligible for an organic premium price election.

“That’s now up to 57 for the 2017 crop year,” Associate Administrator Gannon said.

“We got a lot of good feedback today,” Gannon said. “RMA is constantly seeking input from producers on how we can improve crop insurance products, which have become such a huge part of the safety net available to American ranchers and farmers.”

Ask the farmers, and they’ll tell you that organic producers sometimes have to march to the beat of a different drum.

“We get some good-natured grief from some of our neighbors,” Tony Forrester said. “They’ll come over and say ‘What’s going on? You started planting yet?’”

More information on risk management tools available for agricultural producers is available at the RMA website. That includes a fact sheet on the Contract Price Addendum and other information specifically geared toward organic and transitioning farmers.

Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. Producers can contact a local crop insurance agent for more information about the program. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers or here on the RMA site.

Organic Farming Research Foundation Awards Grant to Rodale Institute

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has awarded a $14,991 grant to Rodale Institute. Requested by Gladis Zinati, Rodale Institute Associate Research Scientist, this grant will fund the project “Field Evaluation of Designed Compost Extracts for Organic Weed Suppression” beginning May 1, 2016, and ending August 1, 2017.


There is a need for practical and cost-effective technology to reduce weed pressure for organic vegetable growers. The goal of of this project is to evaluate the impact of using designed compost extracts (DCE), as an alternative, to reduce weed pressure, soil degradation, and yield losses of field-grown organic cabbage crop and the germination-inhibitory compounds of DCE.

From 2013 to 2014, Rodale Institute conducted laboratory and greenhouse trials, funded by OFRF, which showed that chemically- and biologically-DCE with lower nitrate levels and greater nematode-to-protozoa ratios significantly reduced lambsquarter weed seed germination by 32% without affecting crop seed percent germination.

However, it is essential to assess the efficacy of using DCE on weed suppression, cost savings, and soil health when applied to field-grown vegetable crops as well as report on the germination-inhibitory substances (phenolic compounds and flavonoids) of DCE inhibiting weed seed germination.

Objectives of this project include; identifying and quantifying the phenolic acids and flavonoids in designed compost extracts to pinpoint the phytochemicals that are potentially involved in the suppression or enhancement of weed germination, demonstrating and evaluating the efficacy of field applications of the DCE at two rates on weed suppression, soil health and crop yield when compared to the grower’s standard method (hand-weeding and cultivation) for growing cabbage, identifying and quantifying the phenolic acids and flavonoids in soils samples that received DCE versus those treated without DCE, predicting yield losses in relation to weed density in various treatments, and publishing the results at Rodale’s Annual On-Farm Field Day, CSA field tours, and web articles.

Rodale Institute Awarded Grant From Chipotle Cultivate Foundation

Earlier this year, Rodale Institute received a $98,036 grant from the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation to support the Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST)®.

The Farming Systems Trial (FST)® at Rodale Institute is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and chemical agriculture. Started in 1981 to study what happens during the transition from chemical to organic agriculture, the FST surprised a food community that still scoffed at organic practices. After an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system. Over time, FST became a comparison between the long term potential of the two systems.

As the world population grows, farmers will not only need to meet increasing demands of food, but also keep nutritional values high. Recently, it has been proposed that the nutrient quality of food has declined from baseline values to which food has been compared for decades. This decline in nutritional value is thought to be associated with changes in the soil in which crops are grown.

Few research sites exist globally that have both organic and conventional production practices set up side-by-side in the same soils with a rich data history needed to make this type of scientific comparison possible. Rodale Institute’s FST project is one of those sites.

This grant will aid the FST project in analyzing the nutrient density of both organically and conventionally grown oats, measuring the nutrient density of the soil, analyzing the links between the soil health of the systems and crop nutrition, and disseminating information generated within this project to a broader audience.




Bat Research for Organic Insect Pest Management

Last month, the Rodale Institute was awarded a $15,000 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Research Partnership Grant to begin Bat Research for Organic Insect Pest Management. The two year project titled “Investigating Bat Activity in Various Agricultural Landscapes to Develop Organic Insect Pest Management” will begin this spring. The objective of this study is to assess bat populations and activities using acoustic monitoring equipment at sites under a variety of land uses and to identify tools to enhance bat activities for Integrated Pest Management (IPM).


Agriculture and wildlife have never been mutually exclusive but rather can support the vitality of each other when managed properly. Management strategies employed by farmers over large parcels of land impact both on- and off-farm ecosystems and wildlife. Regenerative organic agriculture uses natural, biological processes, such as predator-prey relationships, biological nutrient cycling, and crop diversity, to reduce weed and insect pests while saving labor, money, and natural resources. Understanding how to put these processes into practice to maximize efficiencies and their positive outcomes requires documented success, tools, and outreach. A better understanding of land use and bat presence can help farmers attract bats and use their abilities for pest management, freeing up time and money, increasing their product value, and reducing pollutants in the environment while supporting ecosystem services.  In addition to acoustic monitoring, this project will also involve the installation of a variety of styles of bat boxes and the measurement of their occupancy rates.  These occupancy rates can offer another tool for farmers to attract and maintain bat populations on their farms.


Kate Harms, a scientist at the Rodale Institute will be leading this research.  The project also brings in partnerships with Albright College and regional farmer partners.  Albright College’s Dr. Karen Campbell and biology interns will be providing assistance with this project and farmer partners Quiet Creek Farm and North Star Orchard will be providing research locations. This project is a unique combination of bat researchers, organic farming researchers, and farmers to ensure its success.

“Bats have long provided an economic service to farmers with pest management and with white-nose syndrome decimating bat populations across the US, now more than ever is research and outreach needed to show how we can better utilize the services of bats while supporting their populations.  Bat conservation and organic agriculture have a mutual goal and we would like to connect them," said Kate Harms.

Making Change in the Organic Industry

Guest post by Peggy Miars, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)Untitled-1 (1)

The organic standards are designed to be flexible and responsive to change. As new nonsynthetic alternatives become available, fewer synthetic materials are allowed for organic production. We are always learning about environmental impacts, so allowed materials are continuously reassessed to take new information into account. Organic certification relies on a system of procedures that centers around these changes, ensuring they are incorporated in a timely manner.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is currently preparing for their semi-annual meeting April 24-26 in Washington, D.C., where they will discuss and vote on several materials that are either currently allowed or being petitioned. Discussion topics on the NOSB agenda include carrageenan, peracetic acid and phosphates, several materials for which OMRI was contracted to write Technical Reports. Use the links to access these reports. The NOSB will use the Technical Reports to inform their decisions at the upcoming meeting.

NOSB final recommendations are communicated to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), where these decisions may result in numerous revisions to the detailed organic standards for materials. Certifiers and material review organizations like OMRI are then responsible for communicating and implementing those changes for clients and stakeholders. If the NOP completes rulemaking that removes a substance from the List of Allowed and Prohibited Materials, organic certifiers must then contact all of their clients who use that material. Similarly, OMRI acts swiftly to ensure that products containing prohibited materials are promptly removed from the OMRI Products List©. When the NOP announces a final change to the organic standards, OMRI will initiate a re-review process to determine which products on the OMRI Products List may be affected. Each product is then reviewed for compliance with the revised standard. If a product is no longer compliant, the company is given a chance to reformulate before the product is removed from the OMRI Products List.

iStock_000003884464MediumFrom OMRI’s perspective, smaller changes are also happening on the granular level every day. Products are renamed, reformulated, sold to a new company, and any number of other changes that may impact the more than 4,000 fertilizers, pest controls, and other products on the OMRI Products List. OMRI makes it a priority to identify and track those changes. When a company that makes a blended fertilizer plans to use a new source of kelp meal, they may not see that as an important change. However, OMRI does need to review the manufacturing process for the new kelp meal to make sure it is compliant for use in organic fertilizers. We focus on supplier communication to make sure we hear about and review every change to every product on the OMRI Products List. All in all, OMRI is averaging 65 product changes per month. We also perform random inspections and sampling, and every five years we collect new information for every product to review the product for ongoing compliance. Listing verified products means more than just reviewing each product one time. It is an ongoing process of maintaining accurate information about products and companies, and following up when there are changes.

For most industry-wide changes there are multiple opportunities for farmers, processors, consumers and stakeholders to provide input and give feedback. For the upcoming NOSB meeting, stakeholders with feedback concerning items on the meeting agenda have the option of either providing written comments, submitting oral comments via webinar, and/or providing comments in person during the meeting. Interested parties can check the NOSB meetings webpage for details about how to submit comments for a particular meeting. After an NOSB recommendation is made, the NOP rulemaking process involves public comment opportunities as well.


For industry stakeholders who would like to see a change to the organic standards, petitions to add or remove an allowed material are accepted year-round and can be submitted by anyone for consideration by the NOSB. The NOP recently revised the guidelines around the petition process. More information is available through the NOP webpage about filing a petition.

The organic standards belong to the industry and consumers. All stakeholders are welcome to stay current by signing up for NOP email updates or for updates through OMRI’s eNews.

USDA Reports Record Growth In U.S. Organic Producers

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a significant increase in the number of certified organic operations, continuing the trend of double digit growth in the organic sector. According to new data, there are now 21,781 certified organic operations in the United States and 31,160 around the world.

"Organic food is one of the fasting growing segments of American agriculture," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "As consumer demand for organic products continues to grow, the USDA organic seal has become a leading global standard. The increasing number of organic operations shows that USDA's strong support for the vibrant organic sector is helping to create jobs and opportunities in rural communities."

According to data released by the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP), the number of domestic certified organic operations increased by almost 12 percent between 2014 and 2015, representing the highest growth rate since 2008 and an increase of nearly 300 percent since the count began in 2002. The total retail market for organic products is now valued at more than $39 billion in the United States and over $75 billion worldwide.

Along with consumer demand for organics, increasingly they are asking for local foods. Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009. Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008.

USDA has strengthened programs that support organic operations over the past seven years, helping to make organic certification more accessible, attainable, and affordable through a "Sound and Sensible" approach. This initiative includes streamlining the certification process, focusing on enforcement and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones.

USDA has also established a number of resources to help organics producers find technical and financial resources to help them grow domestically and abroad. The site www.usda.gov/organic creates a one-stop-shop for operators, and USDA has made market and pricing information for approximately 250 organic products available free of charge through USDA's Market News. In 2015, USDA made more than $11.5 million available to assist organic operations with their certification costs.

The NOP maintains the list of organic operations and leads activities that support organic integrity and market growth. In addition, USDA helps organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation, provide access to loans and grants, fund organic research and education, and mitigate threats from pests and diseases. USDA also administers organic certification cost-share programs that offset the costs of organic certification for U.S. producers and handlers.

The data announced today are publicly available as part of the recently launched Organic Integrity Database, a modernized system for tracking certified organic operations. In the past, USDA published an updated list of certified organic operations once each year. With the new database, made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, organic certifiers can add new operations and report changes to existing operations at any time, allowing USDA to report updated counts of certified organic operations throughout the year. The modernized system will provide data for market research, enable stakeholders to identify market opportunities and make supply chain connections, support international verification of operator status to facilitate trade, and establish technology connections with certifiers to share more accurate and timely data.

Additional information about USDA resources and support for the organic sector is available on the USDA Organics Resource page.

Adding American Kestrel Nest Boxes

American Kestrel

Recently, our friends at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary visited to replace our old American kestrel Nest Box and to add a second nest box. The Institute’s land has been successful at attracting breeding pairs of Kestrels so we added second location to the farm. The American kestrel is a small falcon that utilizes farmland. This bird is in decline and these boxes will be monitored and will be part of Hawk Mountain’s research on the birds. The Institute is happy to support farmland raptor conservation.

Kestrel Babies