Dig Deeper

#BeeAware! It’s National Honeybee Day

Sometimes we need a red flag to set change into motion – a momentous event that incites passion and calls us into action. CCD or colony collapse disorder, a crisis affecting bee populations worldwide, demands our global attention and serves as a reminder that our behaviors as a society have far-reaching consequences. Since 2006, beekeepers have noted colony losses of from 30-90% each year and researchers postulate that widespread pesticide use, habitat loss and disease are possible factors.

In our collective hope to promote education on environmental sustainability and bee conservation, we at Wedderspoon and Rodale Institute have chosen National Honeybee Day to celebrate the myriad ways that pollinators, and bees in particular, contribute to our food systems and lives.

We have compiled a list of ways you can effect positive change in your local communities, no matter where you call home!

  • Banning pesticides and chemicals from your garden is the most important action you can take to help pollinators. These toxic additives can linger in gardens for days after use, damaging soil, killing pollinators and natural predators, and worsening pest activity. Understand that a certain amount of pest activity is not only normal but also beneficial and reflects the natural ecosystem’s ability to work in harmony.
  • Instead of relying on conventional fertilizers, focusing on soil maintenance and switching to compost or compost tea to support fertile soil will serve as important steps in making your garden organic. In turn, pollinators will thank you with the gift of healthy, lush plants and abundant crop yields.
  • When it comes to bees’ diet, diversity is key. Selecting plants with different growing seasons ensures the bees are fed a constant and varied selection of pollen and nectar. Try to plant an assortment of different colors, shapes and sizes of plants in your garden to attract a mix of pollinators and provide them with lots of foraging opportunities!
  • It’s important to offer bees and other pollinators enough native species to keep them satisfied. Native species, unlike non-native plants, have evolved alongside these pollinators and are specially suited to their dietary needs. Be sure to investigate your grow zone so you can educate yourself on the plants best suited to your region.
  • Not only do herbs add color, aroma and flavor to your garden (and kitchen) but they also supply the bees with some of their favorite foods! Bee-friendly herbs, grown without chemicals, are a low-cost and easy way to provide for pollinators regardless of how much space you have available. A window box full of culinary herbs like borage, oregano, rosemary, mint and thyme will attract bees as will ornamental sages and fragrant lavender varieties.
  • Create natural habitat for bees by leaving branches, dead trees, bare ground and natural shelters rather than landscaped and manicured lawns. The majority of native bee species nest underground, so make sure to allow them space to burrow in soil, rather than covering with heavy mulch. If you’re feeling creative, embark on a build-your-own bee habitat project!
  • Lastly, make sure to choose organic and Non-GMO products whenever possible to support organizations and individuals who are also supporting the cause. Reach out to local farmers to find out more about your local food system and write your congressmen about banning toxic chemicals like neonicotinoids from our gardens and homes!

DIY Skincare at Rodale Institute

Sabrina Mastronardo
Communications Coordinator, Rodale Institute

Browsing the skincare isle in any pharmacy, grocery store, or makeup counter, it becomes obvious that we fight many different battles with our skin. Serums, washes, and medications promise to cure acne, heal rosacea, and prevent aging wrinkles.


Calendula can be incorporated into any skincare regime because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits.

Discontented with these stubborn skin conditions, many seek help from Rachael Pontillo, listened aesthetician and author of Love Your Skin, Love Yourself and holisticallyhaute.com. But instead of directing her clients to the latest brands, technologies, or prescription pills, Pontillo counsels them to look to the garden. With natural herbs and foods, Pontillo says, the healthiest and best-looking skin can be achieved.

At Rodale Institute’s Healthy Herbal Traditions II workshop on August 29, Pontillo will share her top DIY herbal skincare products through a series of tutorials. During the three-hour course, participants will make a bottle of calendula-infused oil and a small jar of calendula salve to take home. Pontillo’s guide will teach attendees about their unique skin and how to adjust products for changes in season, age, and condition.

“I want to encourage people to find peace with their skin,” Pontillo says, hoping to change the mindset that skin should be attacked with lasers, peels, and harsh exfoliants. Rather, Pontillo works from a natural topical, nutritional, and emotional standpoint to transform her clients’ skin health.

The workshop will focus on incorporating calendula, a plant known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits, with a skincare regime. Using calendula grown, harvested, and dried from Rodale Institute’s own Boiron Medicinal Garden demonstrates that natural skincare products can be easily grown in the backyard. Pontillo similarly encourages her clients to grow their own herbs when possible.

“It’s so simple to do, especially with container and small-space gardening. And it’s fun,” Pontillo says. She will also include a lesson during the workshop on how to know which herbs are best to plant for skin and how to use them properly.

According to Pontillo, skin is an outer representation of inner health.

“What you put into your body, you get on the outside,” she says, alluding to the importance of nutrition. The “Trifecta,” Pontillo’s name for the sugar, dairy, and gluten-heavy foods in our diet, can trigger acne, rosacea, psoriases, and even other medical problems associated with inflammation in the body. Portillo suggests finding the right balance of these foods that work with your body, which could keep conditions at bay, and always advises clients to eat vegetables for positive skin effects. The workshop will include time for conversation about this crucial step towards skin health.

The Healthy Herbal Traditions II workshop will be held August 29, 2015 from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm. For more information on the Healthy Herbal Traditions II workshop or to register, please visit http://rodaleinstitute.org/event-registration/?ee=119

Four Farmers’ Fields: Melons

By Renee Ciulla

If strawberries are the fruit that kick-off summer, then melons are the fruit that marks summer’s continuation. The sweet, warm flesh of a sun-ripened melon lures farmers to harvest them by intriguing aromas wafting through the air. In the US, melons are grown from Maine to Florida and Montana to Arizona with a wide assortment of varieties.

Elmwood Stock farm in Georgetown, KY is a owned by a Kentucky family who has been farming in the region for over six generations. Owner Ann Stone shared her experiences growing mouth-watering melons. Melon seeds are sourced from High Mowing Seeds and are grown in varieties including PMR Delicious, Emerald Gem, Haogen, Sugar Baby and Triple Crown. Additionally, they test several new varieties of specialty melons and seedless watermelon each season, “trying to land on the reliable go-to melon.” It can be a challenge, since customers prefer an icebox size melon (rather than large), and according to Stone, there are not many organic options in that size that perform well in their location and growing conditions. She is appreciative of ongoing research related to disease tolerance for specialty melons as they enjoy trying new varieties.

Regarding production, all Elmwood’s watermelons are transplanted. For the other melons, first crops are transplanted but later crops are directly sown in multiple plantings during the season in different areas of the farm. At Elmwood, plastic mulch is used over drip irrigation with row cover as well as paper with straw mulch for weed control between rows in the path. Animals at the farm contribute to the fertility of the soil. The Stone family has beef cattle and sheep that are part of a multi-field, multi-year planned rotation; a field is in permanent pasture for 5 years, while livestock are rotationally grazed and build up nutrients. Then they plow the field and plant crops for 3 years with different families of vegetables each year, depending on their nutrient needs (heavy feeders the first year and those less dependent on high fertility the third year). Following this planting, the fields are placed back into permanent pasture or alfalfa for the next 5 years. They use cover crops during the cropped years. They also make compost that is compliant with organic rules that is used in their transplant media as well as fields.

Stone cites main pests as the cucumber beetle and squash vine borer, and diseases include powdery mildew and downy mildew. They have attempted to use row cover to protect the melons from the pests with little success. They have also experimented with using transplants rather than direct seeded or multiple plantings in different fields. Other attempts include sourcing resistant varieties, utilizing beneficial insects and crop rotation, all with limited success. Environmental concerns are few, but sometimes conditions in the spring are too wet which delays the first transplants and direct seeding. In general, Stone feels that the greatest challenge in regards to growing organic melons are insects that bring disease and fungal diseases during humid summers.

The melons are hand-harvested daily when ripe, and then either delivered directly to the end user or stored in their on-farm cooler in bulk bins. Melons are never stored longer than 2-3 days. The ripeness of melons is determined largely through trial-and-error with each variety. For most types of melons, the Stones watch the color change of the tendril located on the vine opposite the stem.

The melons are sold as part of Elmwood’s CSA farm share program and at farmers markets. Pricing is per melon rather than by pound: $3, $4 or $5 each depending on melon size and type. At Elmwood they have found that the smaller sized melons preferred by customers isn’t very profitable for them as the pricing is too low when considering the costs of production. “Furthermore,” states Ann, “our local markets are flooded with conventionally-grown melons that keep the price for melons low in the customer's mind, making it difficult to receive a higher retail price even though it’s organic. Since it is a very desirable item in the CSA shares we will continue to grow them primarily for the CSA until there is more demand for organic melons in the area.”

Out in Woodland, CA, Robert and Debbie Ramming of Pacific Star Gardens grow a mix of organic vegetables and fruit located right outside Sacramento, CA. Their favorite melon is Ambrosia cantaloupe sourced from Peto Seed in Woodland. Robert also has tried experimenting with an eastern style muskmelon from Harris Seeds, and Juan Canary from Johnny’s Seeds or High Mowing Seeds. Pacific Star Gardens is located in the Sacramento Valley and has Class 1 soil (prime agricultural land with one foot of topsoil with silt underneath). Tillage occurs every three years and cover crops every 2-3 years. Black plastic mulch is placed down for the first planting (around March 10th ) because it helps warm the soil, but afterwards no black plastic is used. Row cover is also used on top of the plants for the first 2-3 plantings (which also increases temperature). The Rammings plant every 2 weeks until the end of June. The compost used is OPC granulated chicken manure from a company based in WI. They spread 800 lbs per acre. Additionally, one ton of gypsum is used per acre every 3-4 years.

All melons at Pacific Star receive irrigation through drip tapes. For planting they use a mechanical transplanter from the company Market Farm Implement in PA, which is also where they also source their black plastic mulch. The Rammings own a machine that pokes holes into the plastic and then the plants are placed in. There are 6 rows of melons, all 200 feet long, totaling about 1/7acre. The goal is to harvest organic melons from the end of May until October.

The worst pest they battle is the cucumber beetle. In dismay, Robert states, “…there is not much I can do at this point. I’ve tried using yellow sticky tape but it unfortunately caught the beneficial insects too. I’ve also tried to encourage bats which are known to eat cucumber beetles.” The other pest has been cottontail rabbits so coyote presence has been encouraged as well as the use of squirrel traps. Environmental concerns have been less of an issue. There is certainly no excess rain in California these days, but the drought has not been an issue yet since they use drip tape and the water table has stayed high enough. Others near Robert, however, have been going dry. There have been hail storms (most recently in April which was rock salt size). During Easter in 2013 the hail was the size of the tip of a finger for 20 minutes and destroyed much of the farm.

When the melons are ready for harvest they are picked off the ground and either put in harvest totes (for fragile melons) or on pallets (for hardier melons such as cantaloupes). In Robert’s experience, Honeydew and Charentais melons don’t “slip” off of the stem as quickly as others do. The rest of the melons are harvested at “full slip” when the melon easily breaks from the stem, changes color and the leaves begin to die back. The melons go straight to the market and are harvested every day once they begin to ripen. When kept in the shade, they are able to keep for 3-4 days. After that the Rammings leave them for the birds or fed to the pigs. They found that selling melons wholesale wasn’t worthwhile. The melons are sold at four farmers market and a roadside stand. They do not include melons in the weekly veggie boxes. As far as profitability, compared to other vegetables on the farm they are cost-effective, but are not as lucrative as the u-pick fruit. The retail price is around $1.25-1.50/lb. The Rammings found that it is easier to organize melons in the farm stand by weight (priced as each) than when customers were placing the melons on the scale, trying to keep them from rolling around. The greatest challenges for their melon production right now are the pests but regardless of these nuisances, Pacific Star Farm will continue to produce their outstanding melons.

In 2001, five Amish vegetable farmers near the Clarion River in western PA decided to worked together to market their certified organic produce to Pittsburgh grocery stores. Today they have developed into a cooperative of 15 horse-powered family farms called Clarion River Organics, located north of Pittsburgh near Clarion, PA. All of the contributing farms are certified organic and work to maintain healthy soils as their main means of pest and disease control. By relying on horses for power and ice houses for storage, these farms use smaller amount of fuel and electricity.

The manager of the cooperative, Zeb Bartels, explained that the farmers grow Jade Star, Yellow Doll, Leopard, Little Baby Flower, Athena, and Galia and purchase most of their seed from Seedway and Johnny's Seeds. All of the farms are Amish and therefore use horse equipment. Most of the melons are planted with a waterwheel planter on black plastic with drip tape. Fertility is done with manure (various kinds produced on the farm and chicken manure bought in) and foliar feeding. The main melon pest at all of the farms is the cucumber beetle which eats at the melon’s rinds, making them either unsellable or limiting storage time. The melon vines are usually wiped out by bacterial wilt after the harvest. So far there have been no environmental concerns.

During harvest time which begins in August, watermelons are placed into bins on a horse-drawn wagon and then stored at ambient temperature in the produce shed. Cantaloupes and Galia melons are harvested into bins or cases and stored at 36º in ice houses. Melons from this unique cooperative are sold to grocery stores, at farmers markets and for the CSA. Regarding profitability, Bartels notes that they fall in the middle range because of loss from insect damage and the tendency to rot in storage. The melons sell for around $0.65/lb wholesale and $1/lb retail. The greatest challenges are related to overall quality with watermelons and storage with cantaloupes. “We've had a lot of cantaloupes look good on the outside and then the customer tells us they are rotten on the inside,” lamented Bartels.

Carpio, ND up in the north-western corner of the state is home to North Star Farms. The operation has been owned and operated by Marvin & Ilene Baker since 2004. The Bakers offer a full line of vegetables, flowers and herbs to their customers as well as unusual products such as cotton, Inca tomatoes, hops and sugar cane. Melons are also a popular item at the farm and many types are produced. For watermelon lovers there is Sweet Dakota Rose, Cherokee and All-Sweet. Cantaloupe eaters enjoy choosing from Hale’s Jumbo, Hale’s Best, Kiara (a Charentais melon), Sweet Granite and Granite State. And for honeydews there is Arava and Green Flesh. The melon seed is sourced through a number of locations including High Mowing Seeds, Seeds of Change, Prairie Road Organic Seed, Johnny’s, Peaceful Valley and Sustainable Seed Co.

At North Star Farm, everything is done by hand, with the exception of hiring a 7-foot tiller in the spring. Soil fertility prep is done by using winter rye or buckwheat as a green manure. The Bakers reported that fertility has been very good all these years and believe it is related to a savvy rotation. Fortunately for the Bakers, after 11 years in business they have not had to irrigate. “There was one day though,” remembers Marvin, “that the temperature hit 106 degrees. Yes, that day I pushed 84,000 gallons of water on the plants.” Unlike most melon growers, there have been no pest issues with their melons. They feel that they control most pests through their diligent rotation. They have noticed Colorado Potato beetles on the leaves of some of the melons, but never became a concern. “To be honest,” shared Marvin, “the common house fly is probably the biggest nuisance, but doesn’t do any damage.” Environmental concerns do exist though. Produce is grown on the banks of the Des Lacs River in northwestern North Dakota and floods have been a recurring problem. Usually, heavy rain in the month of June floods the fields. In 2014 the Bakers lost 80 Dakota Rose watermelon plants and in 2013 more than 100 Arava honeydews. This spring has been the driest in 10 years so they are hoping they don’t see the reverse.

All the melons at North Star are hand picked, placed in wooden crates and stored in refrigerators unless it is cold outside. If cool outside they remain in the crates in the garage and temperature is monitored to prevent freezing. Melons are not stored for long because part of North Star’s mission is to deliver within 24 hours of picking. Melons have never been stored for more than five days, and are sold through the CSA at the Minot Air Force Base and in Minot at the North Prairie Farmers’ Market. They always sell quickly and are very popular. According to Marvin, “They are not terribly profitable. In fact, we grow them more as a service just to complement the other produce, and I love cantaloupe so I perhaps eat up some of that profit.”  At North Star, they have found the greatest challenge lies in finding varieties that will perform well just below the 49th Parallel. Dakota Rose and Cherokee have done fairly well and, despite poor germination, All Sweet produces large melons. The other challenge is the short season. “Carpio, ND is a lot like Alaska,” explained Baker, “we have two months of long summer days in which massive growth occurs. We have 16 hours and 2 minutes of daylight on June 21. Our last frost historically is May 10 and our first frost in the fall is September 15.”

Clarion River Organics http://www.clarionriverorganics.com/
North Star Farms www.northstarorganic.com
Pacific Star Gardens http://www.localharvest.org/pacific-star-gardens-M51199
Elwood Stock Farm http://www.elmwoodstockfarm.com/



Native Plants found in the US

By Renee Ciulla

The Prickly Pear is a native edible of the Southwest.

As the local food movement gains traction across the nation, people are becoming more in tune with the soil and hands that produce their food. Equally important, however, is considering the wild, edible, native plants of a particular area which contains historical, environmental and nutritional significance. John Kallas, a wild food expert, teacher and nutritionist in Portland, OR, claims that wild greens are one reason why the Mediterranean diet has produced some of the healthiest people in the world — those with low rates of heart disease, dementia with old age and cancers. Kallas has reviewed the research on the nutritional content of wild greens concluding that they tend to be more nutritious than supermarket spinach and lettuce. Mustard garlic has the highest levels of nutrients of any leafy green ever analyzed, and is high in vitamin A, beta carotene, zinc, manganese and fiber.

In the past, there were seven main regions in the United States, each with correlating native plants. Native agriculture was most advanced in what is now the South, but signs were evident in all regions. Native Americans used farming techniques such as irrigation, terracing, crop rotation, and planting windbreaks to harvest enough crops to dry and store for the winter. While farming was an important source of food for Native Americans, gathered wild plants also accounted for a substantial amount of their meals.


The Prickly Pear is a common native edible in the Southwest. Its leaves can be eaten at any time of the year. Another example is the Pinyon tree which offers a crop of nuts. Pine nut crops are affected by spring runoff, elevation, soil conditions, and proximity to a water source. Pine needle tea is another use of the pine, and is very high in Vitamin C. This tea was used to treat scurvy by simmering a handful of diced, green needles in a cup of water for twenty minutes. The Yucca (Yucca baccata) has large fruits which can be collected when ripe in late summer and roasted on coals.

Desert Tortoise Botanicals, a company based in the Southwest town of Tuscon, AZ, provides access to local medicinal herbal preparations. The products are carefully handcrafted from ethically wildcrafted and organically grown herbs. Also located in Tuscon is Native Seeds/SEARCH, a non-profit focused on seed conservation. Since its founding, they have been dedicated to conserve the rich agro-biodiversity of the arid Southwest because of its genetic and cultural importance.

“What began as a humble operation with seeds stored in chest freezers has grown to a state-of-the art conservation facility, a host of innovative programs and educational initiatives, and an organization recognized as a leader in the heirloom seed movement,” says Joy Hought, research and education program manager at Native Seeds/SEARCH. The organization has nearly 2,000 varieties of rare or endangered arid lands seeds in their seed bank including corn, beans, squash, herbs, and fiber and dye plants. They promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by distributing seeds to traditional communities and gardeners worldwide. Hought stresses the importance of seed saving: “Local food, food security, food sovereignty, sustainable farming – none of these are possible without good seed. Good seed means seeds from varieties that provide high nutrition, that are adapted to the environments of sustainable systems, and that are ethically developed and produced. All of the incredible crop genetic diversity that we enjoyed a century ago was a product of individual gardeners and farmers saving seed, year after year. The simple act of seed saving is one of the quietest revolutionary actions we can each take to create the world we want.”


One of the more intriguing plants native to the Southeast is the Persimmon, also known as the Date plum. It is found in clearings, meadows, fields and dry woods or pine lands and has small yellow-orange to orange-red fruits which sometimes look like a miniature pumpkin. As they mature their bark becomes dark and breaks up "into square scaly thick plates, reminiscent of charcoal briquettes," according to the Virginia Tech Forestry Department. The fruit can be eaten dry, cooked or raw, and are quite sweet due to high glucose content, though they are not as tasty before they are properly ripe. Many suggest waiting until after the first frost to pick persimmons, and many also advise avoiding the skin entirely.

Wild strawberry, Fragaria viriniana, grows near woodland borders and open slopes. The fruits are small, ranging from a half inch to an inch and a half in diameter, and grow in trailing vines and produce small white flowers with five rounded petals. Arrowhead, Sagitraria latifolia, is found among canals and shallow water. According to the Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook, Lewis and Clark recorded eating Arrowhead during their journeys in the 1800s. To harvest, one usually wades in shallow water for the arrow-shaped leaves and pulls up the tuber of the plant which resembles a potato. It can be used as a potato, as well, and can be peeled, roasted or diced. Wild onion, Allium Canadense, is closely related to wild garlic. It is good for immune system support. Wild onion is often found in meadows, fields, moist or shady woods and thickets. Its leaves are long, flat, and grassy looking. It can grow two feet tall with pink or white flowers at the end, which turn into the bulbs. These are best gathered in early spring, and used to cook with or made into pickled onions. The American Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) is a common, widespread shrub with clusters of white flowers and many small black or purple berries. Elderberries, inedible when fresh and raw, are used instead for making jelly, preserves, pies and wine.


Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) were enjoyed by Native Americans and early settlers in this region. With enough sun, trees can grow up to 40 feet, though most are the size of shrubs between 8-20 feet tall. The fruit, which resembles a stubby banana and grows in a cluster, is also called custard apple. It's yellowish-green until late fall, which it matures and darkens to nearly black. This is when the fruit should be picked. Pawpaws are rich in vitamins A and C. Wild Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a tough perennial that withstands poor sandy soils and was introduced in the United States by early settlers. It flowers in May to mid-June on long feathery stems, but should be harvested before that stage. In early spring the tender thin shoots between 6 and 12 inches tall can be harvested. Prickly Pear and Persimmon, both previously described as native to the Southeast,  can also be found in the Mid-Atlantic region.


Common plantain (Plantago major) grows in disturbed areas and is an easy edible and medicinal plant to identify. Plantain works as an antibiotic for cuts and is best eaten when the leaves are small in the spring. As the growing season progresses the leaves become bitter and the noticeable "veins" on the plant’s leaves become stringy. Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is found in yards and fields. The leaves can be used as a coagulant, and the flowers and leaves in teas as a diuretic. For stopping the flow of blood, yarrow can also be useful by crushing up the leaves and placing them over the cut. Several types of "prickly lettuce” can also be found in the wild of the Mid-west. Examples include chickweed, mallow, dandelion, shepherd's purse, nettle and sow thistle. Siberian elm, a common street tree in the Midwest, can produce thousands of pounds of delicious small green seeds, called samaras, which must be eaten before their edges start turning brown.


Three species of serviceberry are native to the West region, and are enjoyed for their nutritious and delicious flavor, similar to a blueberry. The bearberry fruit is also edible, raw or cooked. Native Americans often fried or dried the berries for edible use. The Okanogan-Colville cooked them with venison or salmon, dried them into cakes and enjoyed with salmon eggs. Another wild edible is Valerian. The root is usually cooked and requires a long steaming; the Indians would slow-bake it for two day until dry. The whole plant, but especially the root, is antispasmodic, hypnotic, sedative, stimulant, urine-inducing, and has agents that relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, and powerful agents that affect, strengthen, or calm the nerves.

Wild Licorice also provides edible roots that can be eaten raw or cooked. They are long, sweet and fleshy, and when slow roasted are said to taste like sweet potatoes. These roots were used for food by the Montana and Northwest Indians. They can also be used as a flavoring in foods or chewed raw, making an excellent tooth cleaner. Blackfoot Indians used wild licorice leaves to make poultices for earaches. All parts of the plant are medicinal, but the roots are the most active part and are said to have been used for toothache, fever and to strengthen the voice for singing by the Keres and Bannock Indians.


In the Northwest, several wild edibles are available. One example is Bedstraw (Galium Spp), a good source of vitamin C. It is recommended to harvest Bedstraw before fruiting and tastes best when cooked. Bitterroot (Lewisia Rediviva) is known for its root which is edible when cooked, has a very bitter taste and is best when gathered just before the flower blooms. The root is prepared by removing the dark outer layer and the orange-red core and can be dried for storage. Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) has young leaves which are edible raw. The older leaves are more suitable for seasoning a dish. Mountain Sorrel (Oxyria Digyna) has edible leaves when raw or cooked. The leaves can be chopped into a water-sugar mixture to make a lemonade-like drink. Sorrel is another plant in this region, and was traditionally boiled with berries or salmon roe and poured into thin cakes. Miner's Lettuce (Montia Perfoliata) is completely edible, including the roots. This plant grows in moist shaded woods and fields. Salsify or Oyster Plant (Tragopogon Spp.) is a unique wild, native plant whose roots are edible raw. They can be dried and ground and surprisingly roasted as a coffee substitute. The young leaves can be eaten raw. Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Lepidota rhizome) is also edible raw. The rhizome was traditionally roasted in coals, pounded to remove tough fibers from the center, and then enjoyed. This plant grows near water in moist, well-drained sites in plains and foothills.


Native Americans in New England formed settlements where they cultivated fruits and maintained orchards, as well as small crops of maize, squash and beans. It is thought that they also foraged for a variety of woodland mushrooms. Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is one of the best known wild natives of this region. It is the edible tubers, which form along the plant’s underground roots, which can be cooked like potatoes. Groundnut (Apios americana) is a twining perennial vine in the pea family. Dusky-pinkish/brown typical pea flowers turn into edible beans, but it’s the crunchy tuberous “nuts” that form on the roots (similar to peanuts) that are the best reason to seek out this plant. A common name for groundnut is Indian Potato, suggesting that this was an important staple of the Native American diet. Wild leek/ramps (Allium tricoccum) are strongly flavored bulbs which are smaller than domesticated onions. Ramps will grow anywhere that receives springtime moisture. Minty-flavored Checkerberries were mostly used by Native Americans for brewing a medicinal tea, but they are also edible and can be used in baking. Ostrich Fern “Fiddleheads” (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica) are picked when the heads are tightly curled around April. The flavor and texture is similar to asparagus spears, and fiddleheads can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Ostrich fern grows on the edges of swamps, streams and rivers, often in limestone.

Organizations throughout the nation are joining with a mission to save native, heirloom varieties. One such effort is being conducted by Fred Wiseman who started Seeds of Renewal in Vermont. His goal is to assist and encourage the Abenaki tradition of seed saving and indigenous gardening by helping to track down rare or long-lost seeds native to northern New England. Wiseman quickly discovered, after talking to Abenaki farmers, that there were a few native-origin crop varieties still being grown locally, some of which were extremely endangered. By the 2013 spring planting season, 14 crop varieties that had a possibility of ancient Native origin in northern New England had been discovered. Examples include sunflower, ground cherry, Jerusalem artichoke, White Scallop Squash, and several bean and corn varieties.

Educational institutes are another means for introducing knowledge about edible wilds and wilderness survival. Located in northern Maine is the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School where identifying wild edibles and learning how to properly harvest, prepare and store them for consumption is part of the curriculum. And yet other people harvest and process wild edible plants for sale. Jenna Rozelle of Twinflower Farm in Maine is one such pioneer. Foraging for wilds is Rozelle’s passion as well as business. Local restaurants and customers purchase wild, native edibles such as serviceberries, cattail hearts, chokecherries, sweet fern, wood sorrel, goldenrod, Valerian root, and coltsfoot leaf.

With a slightly more global reach is the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the largest and most active botanical research institutes in the world. Currently, they are working to create a global model of sustainable development through botanical research programs. One program, Sacred Seeds, is a “network of sanctuaries preserving biodiversity and plant knowledge.” This is accomplished through living gardens containing locally important plants, focusing on medicinals, but including those of ceremonial, food, and craft value.


Farm Photo Friday: July 31, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute! 

Farm Photo Friday missed you! We've got a lot to catch up on. July was a busy month on the farm, with the addition of new facilities, events, and employees. The staff, plants and animals are having a great time in the sunshine.


After months of building and preparation, Rodale Institute's Organic Hog Facility is officially open! Even the hogs seemed to enjoy the opening ceremony — but not quite as much as Executive Director 'Coach' Mark Smallwood and Farm Director Jeff Moyer!


Hundreds of folks came out to Field Day 2015, where a wagon tour escorted them around the farm to learn from the staff. In this photo, one wagon crowd prepares for their first stop at the apple orchards! Save the Date for your own apple orchard visit on Saturday, September 19th for the best Annual Organic Apple Festival yet! Run in our Apple a Day 5K, then meet your family at the finish line just in time for apple-picking!


Chief Scientist Dr. Nichols had us playing a game of "Where's Waldo?" while disguising herself in the soil pit. If you missed her Field Day soil pit demonstration, there's another chance to learn about soil health. Check out our "Growing With Healthy Soil Biology" class coming up on August 27 and 28!


When Research Intern Gheeyum Tant isn't working on the farm, he's attending University in France...or eating organic burritos donated generously from Chipotle just for Field Day!


It is the last day of National Organic Honey Month. But Michael Schmealing, Facilities Team Member and official "Bee Whisperer" stays #BeeAware every month while working in our Honeybee Conservancy!


It's a bird...it's a plane...it's Super...bee? Yes, this is a swarm of bees that have left to start a new colony. Sometimes, Michael Schmealing takes these swarms to populate a new hive.


Rodale Institute's favorite yoga pose: The Honeybee. Julie Kelly, Communications Coordinator shows off her #BeeAware tee shirt, which you can also purchase at our Garden Store! #Namasting


Okay, okay, one last #BeeAware photo — we promise! Every week since April, staff members and volunteers have been researching on 36 honeybee hives from Rodale Institute and two other organic farms. We've partnered with Dr. Robyn Underwood of Kutztown University, who focuses on managing honeybee pests and diseases


Speaking of April, remember when this Chicken Tractor was only a platform of wood? The team put the finishing touches on the tractor this month, complete with flap doors, shade, and enough land to roam on. The chickens did mention that they're still waiting on that cappuccino machine, though...


Dr. Emmanuel Omondi joined the Rodale Institute staff as Research Director for Farming Systems Trial (FST)! He comes from the University of Wyoming where he researched conservation agriculture. Welcome to the farm, Dr. Omondi!

photo 1

Farm Manager Ross Duffield and ASC Interns Maddy Keller and Larry Byers prepare to transplant winter squash into a newly rolled and crimped no-till field of peas and oats. These are cover crops, which will shield the winter squash from weeds as it grows.

photo 2

ASC Intern Gana Pati Niroula inspects winter squash after it has been transplanted.


Farm Photo Friday isn't complete without a cute close-up of Mr. Tuggs!

Don't forget...Show your organic love! 

Rodale Institute to Unveil New Model for Raising Pastured, Organic Hogs

Aaron Kinsman
Media Relations Specialist
215-589-2490 mobile
610-683-1427 office


Rodale Institute to Unveil New Model for Raising Pastured, Organic Hogs

July 10, 2015 (Kutztown, PA) Rodale Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach, today announced the unveiling of their new Organic Hog Facility, a state-of-the-art model for farmers looking to raise premium quality, certified organic hogs on pasture with the added benefits of a centralized shelter designed to reduce labor and enhance the quality of life for the livestock.

The public is welcome to share in the official opening of the Organic Hog Facility on Thursday, July 16 from 6-7:30 p.m., located at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa.  Those interested can RSVP to megan.kintzer@rodaleinstitute.org.

Hog Faciliity cropped 2

“The American public is waking up to the fact that the way we raise pork in this country must be revolutionized. This facility can be scaled up, or even scaled down, to fit the needs of any farmer interested in raising pastured, organic hogs,” said ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute’s Executive Director.

The 3,840 square foot facility (94’ x 40’) resembles a large hoop-house surrounded by 8 acres of pasture including several varieties of peas, oats, legumes, grasses and turnips. By allowing the hogs 24/7 access to the outdoors and a diverse mix of forage crops, two goals are accomplished; the quality of life for the pigs is enhanced as they express their natural behaviors including foraging and rooting; and the farmer is able to avoid costs by reducing labor and the amount of feed purchased from off the farm. “I’d rather buy seed than buy feed,” Smallwood adds.

In January of 2015, Chipotle Restaurants pulled pork from its menu at many of their locations because of problems sourcing ethically produced pork. Applegate, a provider of natural and organic meats, has had the same challenge. “Rodale Institute’s Organic Hog Facility truly is state-of-the-art. At Applegate, we are constantly working to source our organic meats more locally, but the supply is limited. This new model shows that raising pastured organic hogs provides a fantastic return on investment,” said Applegate Founder, Stephen McDonnell. “This model was created to be replicated by farmers around the country, moving American pork production in an entirely new direction.”

The Organic Hog Facility boasts 11 deeply bedded stalls, each with their own feeder and frost-proof waterer. With 24/7 access to the outdoors, the hogs’ manures are kept outside, reducing smells and improving biosecurity. Hogs are rotated through the pasture with the help of swinging gates that direct them to exit the building through a new opening where fresh crops can be foraged.

Although the Organic Hog Facility can house any breed of pig, Rodale Institute’s livestock program exclusively features Heritage Breeds which have inherited traits that help them thrive in outdoor conditions. Heritage breeds have declined in numbers because they do not perform well in confinement.

The Organic Hog Facility was developed with support from Applegate and the Wyncote Foundation. Visitors are welcome to visit Rodale Institute year-round for self-guided tours or to enjoy educational workshops. To learn more about Rodale Institute’s work with Livestock, visit www.rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/livestock/



Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest options for people and the planet.


For more than 25 years, Applegate has been producing high-quality natural and organic hot dogs, bacon, sausages, deli meats, cheese and frozen products.  Natural can mean many things, but when Applegate says their products are natural, consumers are guaranteed that they are free of GMO ingredients and the meat inside is:

  • Raised without antibiotics or hormones
  • From animals fed a vegetarian or 100% grass diet and treated with humane animal standards
  • Free of added chemical nitrites, nitrates or phosphates
  • Free of artificial ingredients or preservatives

For more information:

Twitter: @RodaleInstitute

Twitter: @Applegate


Rodale Institute Announces Boiron Medicinal Garden Ribbon-Cutting

Aaron Kinsman
Office: 610-683-1427


Rodale Institute Announces Boiron Medicinal Garden Ribbon-Cutting
Garden features plants and herbs used for medicinal benefits  

June 22, 2015 (Kutztown, PA) Rodale Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach, today announced the unveiling of the Boiron Medicinal Garden through a partnership with Boiron USA.

The public is welcome to share in the official opening of the Boiron Medicinal Garden at the ribbon cutting event Friday, June 26 from 6-7:30 p.m., located at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa.  Those interested can RSVP here.

“Working with Boiron to develop a Medicinal Garden on site at the Rodale Institute is a great partnership.  It allows us to share the medicinal powers of plants, flowers and herbs with over 15,000 visitors who come to our farm each year,” said ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute’s Executive Director.

At the garden, flowers and herbs are showcased not just for their beauty, but for their practical use as medicines. Leopard’s bane, Garden marigold, Chamomile, St. John’s Wort, and many other popular medicinal plants have been placed along the garden’s brick walking pathways. The space will serve to educate visitors on the natural healing properties of plants.

“We are pleased to partner with Rodale Institute in creating this medicinal garden that will help educate the public on the important role plants play in homeopathy,” says Janick Boudazin, President and CEO of Boiron USA. “For centuries, flowers and herbs in homeopathic form have provided natural relief for many common health conditions including aches and pain, skin irritations, allergies, stress, sleeplessness, and colds and flu.”

Boudazin sites Arnica montana, also known as a Mountain daisy, as an example of a natural pain reliever in homeopathic form. “It’s not usually found in this part of the country but it’s one of the plants showcased that will offer visitors a better understanding of how Mother Nature provides so many essential healing benefits,” says Boudazin.

For those interested in learning how to make their own herbal preparations, Boiron USA has also helped to sponsor an upcoming Rodale Institute workshop, 'Healthy Herbal Traditions II – DIY herbal preparations,' to be held on August 29, 2015 from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Attendees will learn about the healing properties of herbs, how to identify them, the right time to harvest and how to use them. Participants will prepare and take home two herbal preparations and one book, Medicinal Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar. To register for the workshop, click here.

Visitors are welcome to tour the garden year-round to view commonly-used medicinal plants while brides will utilize the blooming space as a backdrop for wedding ceremonies.  If visiting Rodale Institute isn’t possible, however, Boiron USA will soon release an online garden. The site will recreate the Boiron Medicinal Garden, featuring photos, videos, and information to provide visitors with a virtual tour.



Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest options for people and the planet.


Boiron, world leader in homeopathic medicines, is best known for Oscillococcinum®, a top-selling flu medicine, and its Arnicare® line of pain relievers. For more than 80 years, Boiron has been committed to funding scientific research and educating the public and healthcare professionals on homeopathic medicines. As a pharmaceutical company, Boiron maintains the highest standards in manufacturing, complying with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States and drug Good Manufacturing Practices.

For more information:


Organic Allentown Farmers Markets Grand Openings Announced

Aaron Kinsman
Media Relations Specialist
aaron.kinsman@rodaleinstitute.orgmobile: 215-589-2490
farm office: 610-683-1427


Organic Allentown Farmers Markets Announced
Rodale Institute to Increase Access to Organic Foods

June 3, 2015 (Allentown)  Rodale Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach, announced the June grand opening of two Organic Allentown farmers’ markets. The 'all organic' markets are part of the Organic Allentown initiative, a partnership of the City of Allentown and Rodale Institute to create a city-wide culture around urban organic agriculture. Allentown mayor, Ed Pawlowski, will officiate two ribbon-cutting ceremonies to commemorate the grand opening of the markets.

The first market, called 'Rodale Institute Organic Market at the Y' will open on Saturday, June 6th and run from 9 am – 1 pm in the parking lot of the YMCA/YWCA building  located at 425 S. 15th Street. The second market is called 'Rodale Institute Organic Market on 7th' and will open Saturday, June 13th, running from 10 am – 2 pm in the parking lot of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church located at 417 N. 7th Street. Both markets will run every Saturday up through October 31st. Two ribbon-cutting ceremonies will be held, one at each market, with both ceremonies beginning at 10 am.

These farmers’ markets were developed to provide low-income community members improved access to a safer and more nutrient-rich diet through USDA certified organic foods which are grown without synthetic chemicals. To promote this mission, both farmers’ markets will accept payment via SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. In April of this year, the USDA awarded Rodale Institute a grant to reduce prices for SNAP users through a dollar-for-dollar match. For example, SNAP users who buy $10 worth of organic produce at the farmers’ markets pay only $5 from their SNAP accounts, with the other $5 matched by the USDA grant. Local, organic produce is half-off for SNAP users with this unique deal.

The following is a list of vendors confirmed for each market.

Rodale Institute Organic Farmers’ Market at the Y:

Real Gardens Farm Stand – www.realgardensfarmstand.com
Amurie – www.amurie.com
Hermosa Soap Co. – www.hermosasoaps.com
Monocacy Coffee Co. – www.monocacycoffee.com
Made By Lino – www.madebylino.com
Saxman Breads – www.saxmanbreads.com
Rodale Institute Produce Stand – www.rodaleinstitute.org

Rodale Institute Organic Farmers’ Market on 7th:

V-lish Vegan Soup Co. – www.facebook.com/v-lishvegansoupcompany
Amurie – www.amurie.com
Hermosa Soap Co. – www.hermosasoaps.com
Saxman Breads – www.saxmanbreads.com
Rodale Institute Produce Stand – www.rodaleinstitute.org

“Our main goal is to increase organic food access and choices for the residents of Allentown,” said Jesse Barrett, Organic Allentown Program Manager. According to the USDA, some areas of Allentown are considered “food deserts,” where low-income residents have low access to fresh, healthy foods and are long distances from supermarkets or large grocery stores. Often times, even the closest grocery stores are not likely to carry fresh organic produce at affordable prices.

To make organic food more accessible, Rodale Institute staff will provide cooking demonstrations, easy-to-follow recipes, and nutritional guides for market-goers. Rodale Institute is also partnering with Allentown YMCA/YWCA, led by the organization’s CEO Jim Finchum, to conduct an organic-eating initiative for children. A friendly “Healthy Eating Nutrition Competition” will be held over the course of the season, where kids win when they eat their veggies.

Since its founding in 1947 by J.I. Rodale, the Rodale Institute has been committed to pioneering research in organic agriculture, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating people about how organic is the safest, healthiest option for people and the planet. The Institute is home to the Farming Systems Trial (FST), America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of chemical and organic agriculture. Consistent results from the study have shown that organic yields match or surpass those of conventional farming. In years of drought, organic corn yields are about 30% higher. This year, 2015, marks the 34th year of the trial. New areas of study at the Rodale Institute include rates of carbon sequestration in chemical versus organic plots, new techniques for weed suppression and organic livestock.


Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest options for people and the planet.

# # #

For more information: www.rodaleinstitute.org

New England’s Unusual Crops

By Renee Ciulla


African eggplant grown at Fresh Start Farms in Dunbarton, NH is especially popular among the Somali-Bantu, Bhutanese, Burundi, and Congolese communities.

Despite the rather short growing season in the Northeast corner of the US, farms in the six New England states are beginning to offer impressively unusual produce. Inspired by the area’s immigrant and refugee farming, and even University research, farmers are bringing creative determination to their farms.

Sweet perennial pepper, West Indian pumpkin, African eggplant and pigeon peas make the top of the list for most interesting and popular crops at Nuestras Raices. Influenced by the rich Puerto Rican community in Holyoke, MA, Nuestras Raices (meaning “Our Roots”) represents the strong agricultural ties and history of the culture through their grassroots non-profit organization. Here, they understand that agriculture and community are tightly linked. Jonathon Surrency, Volunteer Coordinator and Resource Manager at Nuestras Raíces, shared that the sweet perennial pepper (aji dulce) is an important crop – the main ingredient in a sofrito (an all-purpose sauce) is used to season many Puerto Rican dishes. The pepper is made in big batches of seasoning and stored in a freezer for everyday cuisine use. Interestingly, this variety of sweet pepper was never grown in the US until it was introduced by the Puerto Rican people. Despite its Caribbean origins, the pepper grows well in New England if seeds are started in a greenhouse, and they sell even better. The first year that farmers grew starter plants, five thousand seedlings sold in a matter of days – a remarkable phenomenon and proof of a receptive market for ethnic crops!

Today, Nuestras Raices boasts a network of ten community gardens with over 100 member families, an environmental program that addresses issues affecting the Holoke community, a Youth Program for inner-city youth that discusses food and environmental topics, and a 30-acre inner-city farm that focuses on food systems, economic development and agriculture.

Fresh Start Farms, located in Dunbarton, NH, is a collective of refugee and immigrant farmers representing the Somali-Bantu, Bhutanese, Burundi, and Congolese communities. Over 20 farmer entrepreneurs are participating in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project, while producing a variety of atypical vegetables important to their respective communities in NH. Vegetables include African eggplant, mustard greens, amaranth greens, daikon radish, bitter melon, "hot corn," and ginger. In particular, the African eggplant has proven extremely popular among the immigrant communities and is sold at farm stands throughout Manchester, NH for $4-$5 per pound. “It is a favorite among the Congolese, Burundi, and Somali Bantu communities,” said to Charlene Higgins, the Farmer Training Coordinator. “…and despite the name, the Bhutanese love it too!”

Mustard greens are also highly sought after by the Bhutanese community, who frequently use it in curries or with pickled daikon radish. They are sold throughout Manchester, for $3 per bunch, primarily to Bhutanese families who cook many bunches at a time for each meal. Fresh Start Farms often faces challenges, however, including sourcing African eggplant seed, finding greenhouses to start seeds in, battling flea beetles on their mustard greens, bolting radishes, and fencing out wild animals. Seeds are sourced from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Evergreen Seeds and High Mowing Seeds.

In the same spirit as Fresh Start Farms, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) is where many Bhutanese and African immigrants practice their agrarian traditions through the production of culturally significant crops. Cross cultural agrarian learning and sharing is an essential component of the program. AALV also helps Northeast farmers and gardeners adapt important crops of world cultures into the local food system to be grown successfully for market, food, and medicine.

Alisha Laramee, AALV Program Manager, highlighted important African and Asian crops that have significant potential to be integrated into the Northeastern US food system. The first of these is rice, seeds of which farmers source from Fedco or Kitazawa Seed Company. The Bhutanese rice growers in VT emphasize that the key to a successful Northeast rice crop is “…a healthy early start for seedlings in the greenhouse and continuously flooded paddies during the first month after transplanting. Flooding is critical for weed suppression and preventing wide fluctuations in soil temperature. Rice should be harvested once grains are fully developed and most have turned from green to a brown/yellowish color upon maturing.”

“We use rice from birth to death. We celebrate everything with rice. We use rice for everything. We use rice in daily life and for the big festivals that are only once a year,” said Rita Neopaney, a former Bhutanese refugee who is now a US Citizen. “We eat rice at least twice a day. We make a lot of things with rice: breakfast, snacks, food for sick people, dinner.”

Rice must be dried to below 14% moisture content for long term storage, otherwise it will discolor or mold. Low-cost moisture meters can be sourced from hardware stores. Processing the rice is an involved process that requires the growers to remove the grain from the chaff and de-hulling. Some Northeast growers are willing to rent their de-hulling equipment; otherwise the grain can be pounded in a large mortar and pestle.

Another unusual crop grown by immigrants through AALV is diakon radishes. For the past fifteen years, agronomists have been researching daikon radish as a cover crop because of its ability to penetrate and aerate compacted soil. As a cover crop it’s usually not harvested for food, however across Asia daikon radishes are prominent vegetables in cuisine. Both its roots and leaves can be consumed in many ways: raw, cooked, dried, fermented or pickled. African eggplant is another very popular crop. Cultivation techniques are similar to purple eggplants; plants benefit from being started about 8 weeks before planting in the field. African eggplant thrives in warm soil and is a heavy nitrogen feeder. Farmers harvest while still the vegetable is green, claiming it aids digestion.

Amaranth is yet another vegetable that is surprising to learn it grows in New England. It tends to be more well-known as a gluten-free grain, high in lysine and protein properties. Yet the greens are also nutritional powerhouses, and can be grown just about anywhere under any conditions. Other crops grown in VT by this group of growers include bitter melon, roselle greens (a base for curry in Myanmar and dried flowers used for teas), African corn (grows more vigorously and taller than sweet corn) and mustard greens.

At Last Resort Farm in Monkton,VT, Eugenie Doyle has been perfecting the art of growing ginger. While the 280-acre farm in beautiful Addison County produces an abundance of organic vegetables, berries, and hay, Doyle sources yellow seed ginger (rhizomes) from Puna Organics in Hawaii.

The farm grows baby ginger instead of mature ginger, which would take a year to mature, even in the tropics, since soil must exceed 55° in a hoop house (planted mid-late April). Doyle pre-sprouts the rhizomes indoors (in a soilless medium) until they put out pink/white shoots. Planting is in raised beds with rhizomes placed 2-4 inches deep, drip tape placed on top and rows 2.5 feet apart.

Throughout the season, the ginger plants are continually hilled with soil which gives more room for the rhizomes to spread (both horizontally and vertically). Fertilization is done according to a soil test and fertilizers are side dressed throughout the season. Fortunately, insects or pests have evaded the hoop house, and only weeds like chickweed can be found. Harvesting involves simply pulling up the plant stem or loosening the ginger with a pitchfork. The ginger is then sprayed with water and the roots are cut off.

In 2014, ginger yields at Last Resort Farm were around 9.5# for 1# of planted rhizomes. The ginger is sold by the pound or by the bunch for $12/# wholesale and $20/# retail. The unusual crop is sold through the CSA, a farmers market, or two large co-ops in Burlington, VT, where consumers can discover its versatility. Ginger’s shelf life is less than dried rhizome, but can store well in a freezer all winter long. Ginger leaves can even be dried and made into a wonderful tea. According to Doyle, “The biggest challenge is related to consumer education because local, baby ginger looks different than the common dried rhizomes.” Yet after four years, growing ginger has become one of his favorite crops to grow and has dedicated a large hoop house to it.

Over at Laughing Child Farm in Paulet, VT, owner Timothy Hughes-Muse is experimenting with sweet potatoes. Their main varieties grown are Beauregard, Covington, and Carolina Ruby. They’ve also grown Evangeline, but that variety is no longer available. The sweet potato slips are shipped from several suppliers in North Carolina and planted in early May. They grow the sweet potatoes on raised beds covered with black plastic mulch with two lines of drip irrigation. The plants require heavy amounts of potassium and during the growth wheel tracks and holes must be kept weed free to ensure good yields.

Regarding pests of sweet potatoes at Laughing Child Farm, the worst have been wire worms and cucumber beetle maggots. Most growers in the area have problems with meadow voles and deer. Timothy uses deer exclusion fencing, but does have loss due to the meadow voles; “Most small growers are going to see significant damage is small patches of sweet potatoes.” During harvest, they use a bed lifter to loosen the potatoes, pick them by hand and then field grade them. The sweets need to be cured at 90º F and 85% RH for 7-10 days and then kept at 55º F and 85% RH until they are washed and packed. Timothy sells the crop to retail stores, distributors, and the food service industry mostly within VT, and some in New York. According to Timothy, “Yields vary widely among growers because some do not need to grade as heavily as we do. Most of our sweet potatoes are destined for a supermarket shelf so they need to be beautiful. We cull anything misshapen, too small, too large, and too dinged up which means we get about 1.5 lbs of #1 roots per bed ft.” With their experience at Laughing Child Farm, timing is the hardest thing. “The window is very tight for producing a high-yielding crop,” explained Timothy, “Growers need to lay plastic a full month ahead of slip planting, at a time they are busy with everything else. Then planting is tighter still, mainly due to the lack of local sources of sweet potato slips. Some suppliers are not shipping slip until June 22.  Lastly, the sweet potatoes have to be out of the ground and in the barn by the end of September which is a tight window.”

Throughout New England there are remarkable and unknown crops growing within the foodscape. Further examples include peanuts and turmeric grown in New Hampshire and Connecticut – or even organically grown Ruby Red Popcorn at Hurricane Flats Farm in South Royalton, VT. This red variety of popcorn pops white and has a wonderfully nutty flavor. One can also find rice at Akaogi Farm in Putney VT, and an abundance of sweet potatoes from Maine to Rhode Island. The next time New Englander’s plan to the farmers market, they may want to consider surprising novelties that are hidden amongst the carrots, kale, and tomatoes.


Association of Africans Living in Vermont: www.aalv-vt.org

Fresh Start Farms: www.freshstartfarmsnh.org/

Laughing Child Farm: www.laughingchildfarm.com

Last Resort Farm: www.lastresortfarm.com

Puna Organics Ginger: www.hawaiianorganicginger.com

Hurricane Flats: www.hurricaneflats.com

Nuestras-Raices: www.nuestras-raices.org

Evergreen Seeds: http://www.evergreenseeds.com/asveglis.html

Kitazawa Seed Company: www.kitazawaseed.com

CSAs and Aggregators: Threshing Things Out

By Steven McFadden

ASC2Community is not a warm and cuddly marketing concept attached to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). It is, rather, a defining element. Yet in the past few years, some middleman food businesses have appropriated the term “CSA” to describe what they are doing, without involving community. This practice is leading to confusion and concern.

Initiated in America in 1986, CSAs are constellations of local farms, food and people who are united in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet, and their growing popularity has caught the attention of entrepreneurs.  Many food delivery businesses have been started that claim to be alternative, more efficient CSA models but which simply reintroduce the middleman into the local economy, standing between the farm and the people.

In the context of this trend, the term CSA is in danger of following the word “natural” down a mushy pathway to the realm of meaninglessness.

Food hubs and grocery delivery services focused on local food are providing an innovative and important service, obviously much in demand. With sophisticated web portals and tantalizing discounts, they will likely find increased market share in the years ahead.

Historically, processors and distributors held the power and dictated the terms to farmers. Aggregation businesses create markets for small-scale farmers, but primarily benefit middlemen, while once again relegating the risk of production to farmers and asking little or no commitment from consumers. However, sharing the risk of farming and building community are keys to CSA.

Points of Distinction

In a world with widely corrupted natural resources and increasingly extreme weather patterns, local farms and food appear destined to continue coming to the forefront. Across America, communities large and small are embracing local agriculture and establishing pathways and programs to boost regional food production.

What interested people in CSA at the start nearly 30 years ago was a fundamental recognition that our relationship with nature and the ways that we use the land will determine the future of the earth. Thus, ultimately the problems of agriculture and the environment belong not just to farmers, but to all people. In the end, no one can escape responsibility for the well-being of the earth. CSA was intended to provide a direct pathway for every person and every household to participate actively through a web of relationships with each other, farmers and farms.

Many CSAs continue to build upon the essentials of the original vision and to innovate from that base of relationship, but much of this is lost at businesses that advertise themselves as CSAs. Low price and convenience are powerful motivators.

When I spoke with Marcia Ostrom, associate professor at Washington State University and a member of their Small Farms Team, she said, “A typical CSA provides produce from a single grower. This does not allow for the variety and selection many people desire, especially when produce options become limited during winter months.“

She observed that small, individual farms cannot produce the necessary volume required for these new markets, while commodity farms are not designed to produce the necessary quality. Farms of the middle, on the other hand, have both the capacity and flexibility to collaborate with each other and with other supply chain partners to respond to these expanding markets. As a result, food aggregators and food hubs have emerged. Sixty years ago, there was infrastructure to support family-scale farming; with the dominance of industrial food chains, that withered. Food hubs are part of rebuilding that infrastructure. The USDA is actively promoting the concept and says there are now more than 220 food hubs spread out across more than 40 states.

Food hubs coordinate all parts of a community-based food system, with an emphasis on efficiency. They aggregate food from local farms and market to schools, restaurants, and retailers. They also coordinate supply-chain logistics and network with distributors, processors and buyers.

As USDA secretary Tom Vilsack said in a May 2013 speech, “Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America's farmers and ranchers. Food hubs facilitate access to these markets by offering critical aggregation, marketing, distribution and other services to farmers and ranchers.“

Many observers regard food hubs as the center of the new rural economy.

One such hub, a Kansas City food business called The Hen House Markets Growers’ Alliance CSA, came to my attention this year when it emerged as the focus of intense online discussion among a number of CSA farmers in Nebraska.

Hen House buys from many local farms and then distributes to people who have paid up front. They ask no commitment whatsoever of the “community” of consumers. The corporate involvement provides distribution, advertising and other overhead services that a lone CSA would find overwhelming. Hen House thus stretches the traditional understanding of a CSA and morphs it into an efficient business model.

Enterprises such as Hen House – and there are many of them emerging across the USA and Canada -- raise questions: what is a real CSA?  Can any food delivery service rightfully claim to be a CSA? Are enterprises that for the main part define “community” in terms of a market being accurate or confusing when they use the term CSA?

Emily Akins of the Kansas City Food Circle, a nonprofit organization promoting a sustainable food system in the region, commented, “We love Hen House. It’s good because it provides a market for a lot of small-scale farmers, but we wish they would not use the term CSA to describe what they do. Consumers can end up thinking that CSA is just a way to get farm fresh food at the grocery store, while a traditional CSA is a relationship between a person and a farm.”


The popularity of the CSA concept has also spawned “box scheme” businesses that may have no farm base at all, but use the local farm cachet to lure customers to their box delivery schemes. Farmer Allan Balliett calls these “fake CSAs.”

According to Balliett, “a fake CSA exploits a consumer’s assumption about the value of a CSA.” He says they are misleading customers and diverting money away from local farms and from traditional CSAs. Feeling the impact of box schemes on his Fresh and Local CSA in Shepherdstown, WV, Balliettstarted a Facebook page to educate the masses about real CSAs. “If you don’t know your farmer you’re not really in a CSA,” he said.Box schemes, or subscriptions for weekly baskets of produce, ask little or no commitment whatsoever to the relationship. They are simply a new way of exchanging money for food. They establish no relationship between the consumer and the farm – no community.

For over 20 years, the Fair Share CSA Coalition in Wisconsin has been a pioneer in developing CSA. According to Executive Director Chris Brockel, CSA is much more than just a weekly delivery of food. “As CSA becomes a household name,” he said, “we’re seeing more and more versions of ‘CSA style’ businesses. CSA is about more than just getting vegetables –  it’s also about making a direct connection between consumers and farms, and making sure that connection is nurtured. Aggregation takes all of that out. The potential for connection is lost. Is that truly a CSA?”

Defining Terms

The USDA long ago published a general definition of CSA, but it is rarely noted. However, as of January 1, 2014, California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has established an official, legal definition of CSA (see below). The definition, which has a profoundly bureaucratic ring to it, bans use of the CSA term by anyone buying from wholesalers or not requiring advance payment.

The Community Alliance with Family Farms (CAFF) has formed a California CSA Network to link the over 250 CSAs in that state. CAFF organizer Rachel Petit said the use of the term CSA by aggregators definitely has been a problem in her state. She said the new legislation makes a clear distinction, but that it’s too soon to know what kind of difference it will make.

CSA got started not with a definition, but with a vision — a vision that was developed by a far-flung community of people. Many women and men contributed to building upon that idea. However, it was understood from the beginning that every farm and every community had its own particular needs and capacities, and that as a result, there would be wide variation in how the evolving concepts of CSA would be applied.

As CSA author Elizabeth Henderson has observed, “Reducing CSA to a mere food subscription scheme castrates the CSA model, taking away its power to create lasting relationships between the people who grow and eat food.”

The food industry has just scratched the surface of “locally grown” as a business concept, but seems intent on digging deeper. As the business aspect of local food grows in size and strength, will the community dimension of CSA continue to wither? That question will be answered not just by farmers, but also by the individual human beings who constitute the community.


California CSA Network

California Legislation defining CSA

Findings of the 2013 Food Hub Survey

Hen House Market Growers’ Alliance CSA

Kansas City Food Circle

“If you don’t know your farmer, you are not in a CSA” Facebook


The USDA defines CSA as “a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”

California’s legal definition of CSA restricts use of the term.  If there is a middleman, you cannot call it a CSA under Article 6. Community-Supported Agriculture 47060. For purposes of this article, the following definitions apply:

(a) “Community-supported agriculture program” or “CSA program” means a program under which a registered California direct marketing producer, or a group of registered California direct marketing producers, grow food for a group of California consumer shareholders or subscribers who pledge or contract to buy a portion of the future crop, animal production, or both, of a registered California direct marketing producer or a group of registered California direct marketing producers.”