Dig Deeper

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.

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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.”

What the Organic Industry is Really Like

By Peggy Miars, OMRI Executive Director/CEO

A number of people have told me that they believe strongly in organic ideologies, but not in certified organic food. I can certainly understand that perspective, but I get frustrated when I hear questions like, “Aren’t the organic standards being watered down by corporate interests?” In twenty years of working in the organic industry, I can say that has not been my experience.  Most of the people working on organic standards are truly committed to organic principles, and I commend them for the difficult decisions they face. Who would take on such a challenging role if they didn’t believe strongly in the founding principles of organic agriculture?

What I have witnessed is a consistent and not always friendly conflict between the ideals of availability and integrity. So many standards decisions come down to a choice between making more organic food available to more people, something that could be seen as benefitting larger companies, and restricting organic food to an ideal that is perhaps difficult to achieve on a larger scale. These two concepts are sometimes at odds, but they are certainly not mutually exclusive. Regardless, the compromises made have led to sour (organic) grapes on a number of occasions.

The organic standards for food produced on a commercial scale are hard to relate to, and certainly involve materials and processes that would not come into play if we were making the same food in our own home kitchens where traceability and supply chain dynamics are not involved.  From reading the organic standards themselves, it’s nearly impossible to discern what is and isn’t allowed in organic food. I have attended multi-day trainings focused entirely on understanding the standards! They are certainly not clear or accessible to most consumers.

The situation is made even more difficult when it comes to understanding the National List – the USDA list of substances allowed and prohibited in the production of organic food. Most of these substances are not ingredients, but rather tools such as fertilizers, health care aids and processing sanitizers that organic farmers and processors are allowed to use to make organic food. For example, synthetic zinc sulfate is considered an effective footbath for maintaining hoof health in cows. Zinc sulfate isn’t in our food, but it’s a synthetic tool that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recently recommended to be added to the National List, for footbaths only.

The National List is often the center of confrontations in the organic industry. Any additions to or removals from the list have to be carefully weighed, and each substance is re-evaluated every five years to determine whether there are suitable alternatives. In fact, the semi-annual NOSB meetings provide the venue for three or four day marathon debates, where oral and written comments are presented to the board concerning materials on the agenda. Commenters include certifiers, farmers, processors, companies that make fertilizers and other inputs, nonprofit groups and individual citizens. It is during these meetings that the NOSB votes to recommend changes to the National List. (See our post on the National Organic Standards Board for more information.)

OMRI always sends representatives to the NOSB meetings, not only to understand the votes but also to offer comments on specific materials. We never advocate for or against allowing particular materials. However, since we review the majority of products used in organic production, we rely on clear guidelines for what is and isn’t allowed. Most of our comments relate to whether proposed changes would be enforceable or how those changes might impact the marketplace.

What I have seen as a meeting attendee over the past eight years is that those who participate in the organic industry are careful about these decisions, and about organic food. I do not see the volunteer board making decisions so that corporations will make more money. The NOSB members weigh each decision carefully, and they have to make some really hard choices that I would not want to make. I’ve witnessed board members personally struggle with difficult decisions that are not black and white.

I have seen some really interesting debates at these meetings, and for the most part the debates are congenial and not personal. It is clear that opinions differ. However, there have been times when personal attacks and finger-pointing have taken place. All of the people at the meetings are passionate about the organic standards, so it’s not surprising that some people would have an intense response to a proposed change. However, I would hate for anyone to think that this is the norm, or typical of the NOSB debate process. We have all disagreed personally with an NOSB decision at one time or another, and it’s important that we voice our opinions. But opinions don’t make a person “bad” or “good” – they are just opinions.

If it were up to you, where would your interests lie? Before you answer, think about what the world would look like if large companies could never achieve organic status, because they just don’t have the tools to produce large amounts of food through one operation. Without the incentive of the organic label, would they use more toxic pesticides and hormones? Looking at it another way, are smaller farms at risk of being pushed out of the organic market because large companies are allowed to compete? Difficult questions indeed!

Peggy New

Peggy Miars has been OMRI’s Executive Director/CEO since 2010. She came to OMRI from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), where she served for six years as the Executive Director/CEO. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University and completed post-graduate courses in nonprofit management at Regis University in Colorado Springs. Peggy has worked in the organic industry for more than 18 years, previously in marketing and management positions with Earthbound Farm, Whole Foods Market, Granary Market, various nonprofit organizations, and her own marketing consulting business. She completed IOIA inspector training for crops in 2007 and has had further IOIA training in both the NOP and Canadian Organic Standards.

Farm Photo Friday: June 26, 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! 


If you weren't able to make it to our organic BBQ, Grills Gone Wild, don't worry. Farm Photo Friday will give you a quick recap: the event created so much buzz, even the honeybees showed up! In this photo, Michael Schmaeling, Facilities Team Member, gives a bee demonstration in our Honeybee Conservancy.


 "But mom, he always gets the top bunk!" Visit the piglets at our Hog Facility ribbon cutting ceremony. Keep your eye out for more information!


Every week, teenagers from the area come to Rodale Institute to work on the farm. Our beanstalks aren't quite as high as Jack's, but the bean-harvesters seemed to enjoy them anyway.


When Dan Kemper, Strategic Support Team Member, first grafted these tomato plants in April, they were as puny as a pencil. Now, they're a few feet high, and are producing plump, bright red fruits. Nice job, Dan!


Volunteer Mike Horvath was caught laughing while planting flowers in the garden. When we told him there was no fun allowed while working, he replied, "But I'm not working - I'm volunteering!" You got us, Mike.


Everybody's hands have been smelling like basil this week. While some of the staff harvested dozens of barrels full, others spent time in the kitchen, preparing glass jars of farm-fresh pesto!


Executive Director, 'Coach' Mark Smallwood, shows off his pesto-making skills. His secret ingredient? Sunflower seeds! Toss them into a food processor with basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and garlic for a light summer pasta sauce or bread topping.


Speaking of Coach, the staff celebrated his birthday with a Rodale Institute themed cake. (And there's still leftovers in the fridge - but don't tell anyone!)

photo 1

Coach, is that you again? We caught him in action while talking to a group from MOM's Organic Market.


With the new sign installed, the Boiron Medicinal Garden is all made-up for it's debut tonight at the ribbon cutting ceremony!

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

Farm Photo Friday: June 19, 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! 


It's almost here! Megan Kintzer, Director of Development and Communications, is proudly carrying our Grills Gone Wild sponsor banner. We're so excited to get our organic BBQ on. This Sunday, join us for finger-lickin' food, wagon tours, live music, and more! Check out the Father's Day event on our website for more info.
See you on the farm!


They grow up so fast! This small Kestrel is no longer the ball of fluff we saw last week. Today it was tagged for identification by folks at Hawk Mountain. Kate Harms, Research Technician, was beaming for hours after she was able to hold this beautiful bird.


Returned back into its cozy box, the baby Kestrel was home just in time for super.


Chamomile and Calendula are blooming for the Boiron Medicinal Garden grand opening! Rodale Institute has partnered with Boiron USA to create a medicinal garden with charming brick pathways and popular plants used for homeopathic remedies. Join us at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, June 26 by RSVPing here!


Why did the chicken cross the road?


Because it's moving to a new home! (Soon – Lord Baltimore likes to plan ahead). Staff and interns are joining forces to finish the large chicken coop. As the pigs rotate around to fresh pastures, the coop will trail behind. The chickens will scratch the manure, removing pig parasites from the ground!


Your Funny Farm Friday Photo this week is brought to you by ASC Intern Larry Byers. He spotted Petunia praying for pink muck boots!


It was raining while Dave Reynolds, Veteran Farming in Training, was planting in his garden. Good for the plants – bad for this photographer's camera!


We love Rodale Institute's newest member, the garden "peace frog!" We think he's telling us to sleep in that extra hour tomorrow morning. Happy Friday!

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

Research Director needed!

060614-947Rodale Institute is looking for a Research Director for the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) to join our team!


Job description and qualifications are listed below. Interested applicants should submit a cover letter and resume to linda.carlson@rodaleinstitute.org

Job Title: Research Director, Vegetable Systems Trial (VST)

SUMMARY: The Research Director for VST will manage all phases of the project from design coordination through daily operations, data collection and analysis to outreach and scientific publications.


* Managing the long-term Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) and working with the Strategic Solutions Team (SST) to produce peer-reviewed publications.

* Coordinate day to day operations including but not limited to: field operations - tillage, planting, crop maintenance, harvesting, crop data collection, soil sampling, insect monitoring etc. Laboratory operations – sample preparation, sample analysis, and working knowledge of general laboratory protocols.

* Work with the SST and Communications team to create outreach and education publications, including but not limited to bulletins, fact sheets, and newspaper and web articles.

* Be able to develop curriculum for instructing beginning and existing farmers in organic agriculture for vegetable production.

* Work with Rodale Institute team members to complete research activities, including field and lab work. This includes but is not limited to the VST.

* Assist in developing an outreach and education, peer-to-peer, extension network for farmers and ranchers.

* Develop collaborative and productive relationships with internal and external partners.

* Work with advisory board to design project and program features to ensure applicability to real world grower conditions.

* Oversee the timely execution of grant funded projects, including budget management, timeline management, and instructions for field and lab technicians related to VST.

* Analyze and interpret scientific data.

* Conduct workshops and presentations at the Rodale Institute and worldwide.

* Work with Grants Manager to submit grant proposals for additional funding for research, education, and outreach activities.


* Minimum of four years in field and/or laboratory research experience and familiarity with vegetable crop production in the northeast and/or mid-Atlantic region.

* Attention to detail and ability to develop and maintain high quality records and other documentation.

* Skills in working, collaborating, and communicating in a team environment with individuals of diverse backgrounds.

* Ability to prioritize multiple activities.

* Excellent organization skills with demonstrated written and oral skills for communicating technical information to growers and extension personnel.

* Strong background in statistical analysis of field trail results.

* Evidence of publications in peer-reviewed journals.


* Master’s or Doctorate degree in Plant and/or Soil Science with specialization in Horticultural Crop Science, Entomology, Plant Pathology or Plant Physiology.


Some travel is required.