Dig Deeper


Farm Photo Friday: September 5, 2014

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!

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Michael Schmaeling from the Strategic Solutions Team has been taking great care of the bees in our Honeybee Conservancy.  Here he shows a guest how to make sure the bees have fresh water.

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Our hives are based on a unique design.  Thomas Hybrid Hives are a combination of the Langstroth and top bar beehive styles.  The vertical piece is the Langstroth, which is convenient for beekeepers.  The lateral piece is the top bar, which allows the bees to draw their own comb much closer to the way they do in nature.

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Michael has brought enough water along for all the hives as he makes his way around the farm.  Besides needing water for drinking, bees also need water to help cool the hive.

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This particular hive is purposefully located outside of our main Honeybee Conservancy to promote pollination near the hive.

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Look at them go! These bees are a bit more testy than our other colonies. In fact, this photographer got a bit too close without a veil and received two stings on the left temple resulting in a puffy face for a few days. It was worth it.

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We were very fortunate to have a visit from our dear friend Tom Newmark of The Carbon Underground.  Tom runs a sister Farming Systems Trial in Costa Rica at the Finca Luna Nueva farm and has been instrumental in our work to reverse climate change.  Indeed, Agriculture is Imperative.
(Left to Right:  Dr. Kristine Nichols, Chief Scientist, Rodale Institute; Tom Newmark, The Carbon Underground; ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, Executive Director, Rodale Institute)

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In other news, we’re thrilled to announce our very first chicks born on the farm!  Enjoy a few snaps of our do-it-yourself day-olds.

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We select heritage breeds for all of our livestock on the farm.  These breeds have been declining in numbers as farming has become more industrialized because they do not fare well in confinement.  Keeping heritage breeds supports biodiversity on the farm.  Free range, pastured poultry live a very happy life here.

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Heritage breeds are often associated with superior mothering behaviors.  Here we have Mama keeping an eye on her peeps!

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These cute little chicks are still very new, so they tend to stick close to Mama.  Mama lets the other adult chickens know that these are her babies.

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She also made sure to let this photographer know who is at the top of the pecking order.  Watch out, this chicken is about to charge!

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Sam Moll, Plant Production Specialist, shows off some freshly harvested red potatoes!  What a beautiful sight!

Don’t forget… Show your organic love!

Farm Photo Friday: August 29, 2014

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!

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Every month, our entire staff gets together to share a fantastic meal.  Here we have Ross Duffield, Farm Manager, grilling some pork loin variations.  On the left we have a dry rub created Tim Herbein, who has done our pig roasts at the Organic Apple Festival in recent years.  Thanks Tim!

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This loin is stuffed with mushrooms, herbs, celery, onions, provolone cheese and bacon, then accented with sage leaves.

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Inside the kitchen, our Executive Director, ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, gets to taste test the pork before the lunch.  He’s our one-man Quality Assurance team!

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As staff start to bring some of their potluck dishes, we are seeing the bounty of their home gardens in action.  Veggies galore, and everything looks super tasty.

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Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist, really loves potatoes.  Like, he really loves them.

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This love affair is getting steamy.  Back away Rick!  They are for everyone.

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Corn on the cob is one of those dishes that can really make a summer meal.  When was the last time you had organic sweet corn?

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The stuffed loin is ready!  Ross looks like he is unwrapping a birthday present, but he already knows what is inside.   Coach knows what’s inside too, and he stands ready to fulfill his role as the one-man Quality Assurance team!

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The time everyone has been waiting for all morning has finally arrived!  They’ve now lined up  for an organic farm feast.

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But don’t start eating yet!  Maria Pop, Education and Outreach Manager, is pulling anther surprise from the oven.

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Wow!  These organic apples wrapped in bacon were a tremendous hit with the crowd!

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Linda Carlson, Accountant / HR Assistant, and Dr. Hue Karreman,  Veterinarian, dig in and enjoy the bounty!

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Like all good things, this lunch has come to an end.  And when any meal ends, you know what is next…  Clean up time!  It’s always a contest here at Rodale Institute to see who can send the least to landfill, and who can compost the most.

Don’t forget… Show your organic love!

Ask the Scientist: Compost tumblers

Rodale Institute Compost Production Specialist Rick Carr talks about what is happening in our fields and yours.

Tim asks:

I have always wondered about the ComposTumbler’s claim that it produces finished compost in 14 days.  I have exchanged some emails with them and am still skeptical.  What is anyone’s experience at Rodale Institute with the ComposTumbler?  Thank you for your help. (more…)

Telling the Story of Specialty Fruits

Feasting on fruit pies200In Small Fruits Extraordinaire, we learned about Erin Schneider and Rob McClure, who own Hilltop Community Farm in LaValle, Wisconsin. Their small-scale farm markets produce through a CSA and artisanal restaurants. In 2011, the couple along with two other farmers received a SARE grant to research direct marketing of non-traditional fruits: hardy kiwi, currants, honeyberry, aronia, American elderberry, Russian quince, saskatoons, and seaberry. In collaboration with other Wisconsin farmers, they showed that hardy kiwi, currants, Russian quince, and saskatoons grow well in Wisconsin and have good market potential, while aronia, American elderberry and seaberry would be better for processing. Now we’ll focus on their market research and customer education efforts to learn more about the commercial potential of these crops.

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The project was initiated because of a demand for more fruit, but lack of information about specialty berries. Hilltop’s customers had expressed a desire to see more fruit in their CSA boxes. At the same time, Rob and Erin had a need to grow and raise more sustainable fruit choices, which would be resistant to insect pressure and able to withstand typical Wisconsin winters. Last winter, the young fruit and berry orchard got a true test with an extremely long cold winter; all the fruit crops had an excellent survival rate.

Marketing these unusual fruits required more complicated messaging which they chose to address through a combination of focus groups, tastings, celebratory events, and classes. This approach was quite effective in raising customer awareness and building a market.

A marketing survey, completed by 65 participants, generated quite a bit of useful information. One of the key insights from the survey was that involving people through education and allowing them to sample the product will increase their interest and allow farmers to charge more for their product.

“People are willing to pay more if you engage them through a tasting and tell your story,” said Erin Schneider.

For example, before any marketing efforts had been made, survey participants stated that they would be willing to pay $4-6 per product. After the tasting and education efforts, participants were willing to pay $7-9 per product.

Survey participants also indicated that they were more interested in the concepts of local agriculture and supporting family farms than they were in purchasing organic products, though this was also a consideration.
Sampling Marilyn's currant chutneys300Educational/Marketing efforts

As part of the grant, Erin and Rob conducted many different outreach events to increase awareness and garner feedback for the new berry crops. Here’s a sampler of the kinds of

activities they engaged in. Marketing new crops requires a substantial investment of time and energy. Since 2011, they have engaged over 600 farm friends, fellow farmers, CSA members, and others in everything from planting the orchard to providing input.

Focused discussions and tastings
These consisted of a number of different activities, mostly consumers such as CSA members and farmer’s market customers. Topics of discussion included brainstorming on ways to use fruits and feedback on price points.

Classes
Erin and her partners from the grant program taught several classes to different groups, including a workshop at the Midwest Value Added Agriculture Conference (2012), the Women Food and Agriculture Conference (2013), as well as a poster presentation at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference (2014).

Farm events
Erin and Rob hosted “Currant Events: Growing Fruit, Building Community” during July of 2012, 2013, and 2014. Fruit and product tastings and cooking demonstrations were the focal point, with orchard tours, music, and social time rounding out the mix of activities. The event was featured in an episode of “Around the Farm Table” on Wisconsin public television.

Linking with other farmers
A number of other farmers provided assistance with events, such as Ian Aley of Living Earth Community Farm. Around 30% of program participants were farmers, and several have shown an interest in adopting the new crops.

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An investment of time in marketing and education yielded a payback in increased sales. In 2013, Hilltop Community Farm realized a 48% increase in fresh fruit sales, and a 21% increase in value added products produced on the farm. Their customer base increased by 18%, and they added two new restaurant accounts. During early 2014, “farm currantcy” generated $650 in advance sales. The coupon allowed people to purchase different fruit products available by preorder. Erin and Rob have an easier time pricing their product because of the cost of production models that were created as part of the project.

In a CSA marketplace where customers have an increasing number of choices for farms with a diverse product base, new and different fruits have proved to be a strong selling point.

“Fruit has helped us carve our niche,” said Erin Schneider.

Advice for new growers
• If you are trying to establish a market for new specialty crops, you can expect to spend 25% more time on research and educating customers about your product.
• It’s good to remain flexible, to be open to adaptation and change as you negotiate your way through establishing a new customer base and market for the product.
• Before you make health claims about your products, make sure you can back them up. The data is out there, but the jury’s still out on the health benefits of specialty fruits.
• Make sure you have the fruit sold before you pick any berries. The shelf life of these berries is a little longer than raspberries or strawberries, but not as long as tree fruits.
• Ask for help with research. Erin received invaluable assistance from a librarian at the University of Wisconsin business school.
• Track your data, and if you can’t make a profit, don’t do it.
• For classes and events, find a group to partner with which can help to advertise the event and connect with customers.

Additional Resources:

Fruit Profitability Calculator
This is an Excel based model, based on a similar effort led by the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry Research and developed for elderberries. The calculator shows a return on investment for different experimental fruits and their inputs including labor.

SARE Final Report

http://mysare.sare.org/mySARE/ProjectReport.aspx?do=viewRept&pn=FNC12-864&y=2013&t=1

“Forest Gardening: Growing a Community for Your Orchard” in USDA’s Inside Agroforestry http://192.168.1.1:8181/http://nac.unl.edu/documents/insideagroforestry/IA_vol22issue2_interactive.pdf
Erika Jensen is a freelance writer in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Livestock Intern needed at Rodale Institute

In recent years, the Rodale Institute has added a variety of livestock to the farm in order to diversify the use of land and increase the biology of the soil and compost. We are currently focused on dairy cows, organic swine and poultry, but also house a team of oxen, a small herd of goats, two sheep and two donkeys. We have begun research on our poultry as well as our swine, and hope to continue with the help of an enthusiastic intern. This unpaid internship will have a flexible schedule and will be required to work up to 40 hours per week. Some days will exceed 8 hours. The Institute will accept an intern on a semester basis.

This internship is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about organic animal agriculture and organic veterinary care. The knowledge and experience obtained during the internship will allow for the individual to feel comfortable during future college courses and a career in animal husbandry.

Housing is available for the unpaid intern. Intern should be available from 6 months to a year.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

• Assist in the day to day care of the animals, while learning and gaining experience about organic animal production, health, research, and management.
• Assist with daily animal chores including, but not limited to, feeding, watering, rotating pastures, collecting eggs, and socializing with the animals.
• Be able to recognize any problems that may occur in the health and wellbeing of the livestock.
• Assist in solving any issues related to the livestock.

QUALIFICATIONS:
• Caring and compassionate with animals.
• Experience in the handling and care of animals.
• Capable of strenuous physical activities on the farm.
• Willingness to work in all weather elements.
• Be comfortable working individually or as a team.
• Ability to communicate with other staff members and the public, including neighboring farmers.
• Interest in research that has the potential to improve organic pork and poultry production.

EDUCATION:
• Must have a high school diploma.

TRAVEL
Minimal travel

OTHER RODALE INSTITUTE EXPECTATIONS:

To be trustful and respectful to all staff and visitors.

If interested please submit resume and/or application to elaine.macbeth@rodaleinstitute.org

Farm Photo Friday: August 22, 2014

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!

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Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Steve of Peacefully Organic Produce

Peacefully Organic Produce is proud to be the first ever Veteran-led community supported agriculture (CSA) and farm in the Madison area. They aim to provide a peaceful place for Veterans to return home, learn about organic agriculture, and build a stronger community around their food supply.

Tell me a little bit about Peacefully Organic Produce.

Well, this is my first year in ownership of a farm business. I don’t own the land, but I lease 16 acres outside Madison. Last year, I was managing the farm on this property, but this year, with my partner Steph, we reestablished it as Peacefully Organic. We actually just had our first two deliveries last week and the week before for our CSA members! We are the state’s first veteran-led farm, and the majority of the workers here are veterans, including myself.  We are trying to establish a vocational rehab program, both for veterans who were farmers before serving and those who want to get into farming for the first time. Some of our veterans participate in compensated work therapy, because they are experiencing disabilities that prevent them from normal employment. They come out a few days a week just to work a little bit and get paid a little bit, but they’re not expected to go out and start their own business because of their disabilities. We also try to identify veterans who want to get into farming for the first time. Maybe they’re a bit disenfranchised and are looking to get to a place where they can be around other veterans and not have to explain everything they’re feeling, or maybe they are just looking for somewhere they fit in and feel comfortable. When I returned from the military, I didn’t really have a place to go. Over 70 percent of veterans from Wisconsin are from rural communities, so the farm is a good fit for them.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

I came from a farming family. I was raised on a dairy farm with Holsteins, and my partner, Todd, also comes from a farming background.

Tell me more about your path from knowing you wanted to farm to actually owning your own farm.

So, I got out of the service at the end of 2008 and transitioned right into college. In May 2013, I got my civil-structural engineering degree from University of Wisconsin Platteville, but I realized pretty quickly that living in a cubicle as a engineer for the rest of my life just wasn’t a good fit. I started looking around, and that’s when I met Stephanie. We were both already CSA members and decided that we wanted to pursue our own CSA farm. We started by searching for jobs on farms, but I got lucky and was offered a management position that ended up morphing very quickly into ownership.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

I would have to say capitalizing the venture. I was starting a farm from scratch, more or less, so even with what Steph was willing to contribute, the business loan I received and grant funding, the money goes really quickly. Buying equipment and setting up infrastructure alone are very expensive. Then when you add seed and certification costs, fuel cost and labor, things get to be spread very thin. Because of that, finding the capital to get all of the things we needed just to get started was hard.

What has been the most rewarding part of purchasing your own farm?

Every Wednesday when we deliver shares of fresh, organic produce directly to families and know that they’re going to take it home to feed their families healthy food that doesn’t have pesticides and sprays and all of that other stuff. That feels great. Also, being able to go out in my fields, harvest produce and have it cooking on the grill ten minutes later is pretty nice.

Were you always an organic farm or did you transition from conventional to organic?

Growing up, my family ran a conventional dairy until I was 9 or 10. We then transitioned to organic, but shortly after that I had to move off of the farm due to family reasons. When I started Peacefully Organic, the land that we farmed on had been in transition for four years, and this year we took another nine and a half acres back from a conventional farm and are transitioning those to organic as well. The certification for those acres should actually be in the mail right now, as we speak!

Why organic?

We chose to grow organically because we believe it is much healthier for both our consumers and the environment. I standby and watch as the “conventional” farmer around us has to repeatedly spray his fields with round-up, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides. This type of farming leaves the farmer in the pocket of large GMO seed and chemical companies. I still don’t understand why there are so many regulations governing the production of Organic agriculture, yet the conventional farmer isn’t required to disclose the fact that they apply poison on food…but I digress.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

In the past two years, my observation is that conventional farmers are feeling so much pressure from seed and chemical companies. They’re forcing them to use a certain kind of practice that is detrimental to the environment,the  topsoil and the food they produce. It’s not good. I can show you evidence from my own farm, just from two fields. One was used to harvest GMO corn for four years, and the other has been used for organic produce. One set of soil is crap, and the other set is fantastic. Seed and chemical companies place so much pressure on farmers to use the practices that destroy land.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

For me, it’s how many people are reaching out to our farm to help. Veterans and non- veterans alike want to see us be successful. Besides that, most of the organic CSA farmers that I’m meeting these days are under 30, so the future of organic faming has a lot of potential. I really think that the mindset about our food is changing with our generation, and that’s exciting.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

Free money is never a bad thing! So it’s partly that, and partly that I like making new connections –  hopefully long term – that can be reciprocated in some way, whether directly to the Institute or through our practices and to our consumers. We used the funds we were given to purchase organic cover crop to transition our new fields to organic status, and also to purchase more seed fo the rest of the year. We really wanted to be able to do more with the acres that we have instead of having to wait a year or two to do those things, and having the funds for cover crops will certainly speed that up. We’re just very appreciative for what we’ve been able to do so far.

What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

The one tool I absolutely could NOT live without would be my potato hiller/buster. Last year, we had to dig up roughly a half acre of potatoes with forks and people-power….never again.

National Honeybee Day: August 16, 2014

In appreciation of their support, we invite Rodale Institute Business Members to share an article about their work on our website. These articles often include insightful information based on their experience and line of work.  It provides a unique perspective of organic agriculture that we enjoy sharing with our readers. In honor of National Honeybee Day on August 16th, we are happy to share this article from Wedderspoon Organic 

By Kelly Nelson, Publicity/ Media Manager, Wedderspoon Organic USA, LLC

manuka bee midsizeThirty-nine years ago, New Zealanders Bruce and wife Jenny, decided to learn the ancient art of beekeeping and produce a rare honey variety called manuka honey that only comes from manuka bushes along the pristine landscapes of New Zealand. Two thousand two hundred hives later, Bruce’s bees produce the Wedderspoon Organic brand of Non-GMO honeys, including the best-selling manuka honey in North America.

Throughout the world, manuka honey is valued due to the fact that it is full of potent antioxidants, enzymes and natural properties that keep it fresh naturally without any preservatives or refrigeration.

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, researchers concluded that manuka honey is useful for treating minor wounds and burns.

Contrary to popular belief, there are currently no official standards regarding the labeling of manuka honey. However, the New Zealand Government is in the process of working on labeling guidelines. Unfortunately, as the popularity of manuka honey has increased so have issues surrounding purity of the product. Often, manuka honey is being sold with less than a 50% pollen count and blended with other less expensive honey.

It has been discovered that it is possible to artificially increase one component in the honey called methylglyoxal (MG), by feeding the chemical DHA to the bees or adding it to the honey – a very deceptive and unethical practice. Research [http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/55/5/1289.abstract] shows that high levels of this chemical may also be toxic to living cells and detrimental to diabetics.

What sets Wedderspoon apart is that we consistently strive to keep all of the natural benefits of the honey from being compromised. The numbers you see on our manuka honey jars are potency indicators of a total average of the multiple measurable components including pollen count, PH level consistency, hydrogen peroxide, antioxidant levels, live enzymes, naturally occurring methylglyoxal, and phenolic compounds. We also test for over 250 chemical residues.

“Research shows that there’s more than one important factor in measuring true manuka,” explained Bruce, “For Wedderspoon manuka, we make sure to confirm there is a manuka pollen count of at least 60-70%, the color is not too dark or too light, it has to taste like manuka and not be too bitter, a low HMF, meaning it has not been heated, because heating destroys the healthy, beneficial enzymes, and lastly, antioxidant levels.”

At Wedderspoon, we look for raw, unpasteurized, natural, authentic manuka honey. Currently, Wedderspoon sells organic manuka, beechwood, thyme, rata, and dandelion honeys, which all contain valuable antioxidants.

We are proud that our manuka honey contains no GMO residue and continue to strive to promote healthy beekeeping practices and organic farming – ensuring that organic honey remains a resource we can all enjoy.

Farm Photo Friday: August 15, 2014

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!

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Bloom Alert: August 13, 2014

white dahlia chicken200Don’t want the summer to end?

Visit the Rodale Institute this Friday and Saturday for our Preserving in Style Organic Plant Sale. We will have cut flowers and loads of gorgeous ornamentals and edibles for sale.  This week, the dahlias are starting to bloom and we have a range of colors and varieties available, but they are being attacked by a common garden pest – the Japanese Beetle. Other pests that attack these bodacious blooms are slugs, aphids, deer and powdery mildew.

Also, the organic ELDERBERRIES are ripe and ready to pick at $5 per pound!! Elderberries are an excellent source of antioxidants and they can lower cholesterol, improve vision and heart health, and boost the immune system. They have been used as a holistic remedy for centuries in North America, Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.

elderberry bunch200Not only will you be able to preserve the style of summer, but the flavor, too!

Register for our Preserve the Harvest workshop this Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. to find out everything you need to know about preserving the summer’s bounty. Participants will receive a 10% discount at the Preserving in Style Organic Plant Sale.

Rodale Institute is THE place for pick-your-own ORGANIC flowers! Our Bloom Alerts will keep in the loop so you know when to come out to the farm for fresh organic flowers. Check back to see what is bursting forth each week.

For more information on the who, what, when, and where of pick-your-own flowers at the farm, contact our Garden Store.