Dig Deeper

Farm Photo Friday: February 20, 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!


At the Rodale Institute, everyone knows,
Where there are frosty windows,
There'll be frosty toes!


It seems even the chickens are packing up their mobile home and heading south. Florida or bust!


Over in the greenhouse, dirty hands are seeding plants, vegetables, and flowers for the plant sales at our garden store in April! If working with soil is one of your hobbies, register for our Soil Biology for Gardeners workshop!


The heated bed in the greenhouse is finally getting put to work by warming these trays of starts.


Salad doesn't have to be boring! Find creative and tasty ways to incorporate varieties of lettuce into your recipes. Here are a few recipes to inspire your cooking!


What is black and warm, with hay all over?
Xena and Houdini - snuggled beneath a cozy blanket to hide from the frosty wind!


Unlike Xena and Houdini, Athena isn't afraid to venture outside. She won't let the wind blow the smile off her face!


Over the river and through the woods...to the Rodale Institute Garden Store we go!


This just in: Heather Gurk, Store and Event Manager, has laid out an array of new products. Raspberry Chipotle and Mango Habanero mustards are the must-haves this season.


While you plan ahead for your spring garden (the snow has to melt sometime!), don't forget to add these flower and vegetable seeds that are new arrivals at the store.

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

Farm Photo Friday: February 13, 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!

The Rodale Institute staff and animals get to experience the farm's changing scenery from season to season. Lucky for you, this winter wonderland is open year-round for workshops and walking tours! Our 2015 Calendar of Events offers many opportunities to see the beauty for yourself!


 It appears the chickens are picking teams for an annual snowball fight. The New Hampshire Reds are playing against the Black Australorps. Watch out for the New Hampshire Reds, we hear they've got a mean fastball!


Why is Dan Kemper, Strategic Solutions Team member, smiling? Because he's heading into the greenhouse, where it's warm and toasty.


Unlike Dan, Michael Schmaeling, another Strategic Solutions Team member, won't be working in the comfort of the greenhouse today. Despite the cold, he's working through the day with a smile!


Honeybees buzz blissfully in the blizzard beneath blue blankets. Say that five times fast!
See the bees in action during our Backyard Hobby Beekeeping workshop in April!


Isis has a knack for sleeping through just about anything, including her own photo shoot.


"Are the roads baaaad today?" Our sheep are concerned that the staff will have to take another snow day.


Research Technicians Kate Harms and Marissa Wagner compile materials needed in their upcoming Backyard Maple Sugaring workshop. We can't wait to learn all there is to know about maple syrup, not to mention the delicious syrup sampling and farm style organic breakfast.


Rae Moore, Research Technician, is examining soil to discover what makes good soil great for building a healthier garden. The secret's out, and the big reveal is coming in March at the Soil Biology for Gardeners workshop!


Have you caught "Spring Gardening Fever" yet? Cynthia James, ASC Program Manager, has the cure. She's prescribing the Organic Gardening Workshop, where you'll get a dose of dirt and a newfound love for organic gardening!


Who's there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad tomorrow's Valentine's Day?
The Rodale Institute staff and animals send their love from the farm!

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

Heavy Metals

OMRI post Heavy Metals Kelsey McKee 2-15

By Kelsey McKee, OMRI Review Program and Quality Director

With every decision an organic farmer makes, there are risks and rewards to be considered. What is the risk of planting a new variety, versus the potential reward? How much can the yield improve by using a natural fertilizer, compared to the cost of application? Does the nutritive value of a soil amendment come with a hidden risk? Prior to applying new products, the benefits of soil fertility must be carefully weighed against the risks, and the first step is identifying potential sources of contamination.

While the debate continues over potential pesticide accumulation in compost sourced from conventional feedstock, National Organic Program (NOP) Guidance 5016 helps to address the requirements of unavoidable residual environmental contamination (UREC). Pesticide residue testing is now a required practice for organic certifiers. The National Organic Standards Board Crops Subcommittee recently put together a Discussion Document about contamination in inputs, and they are looking to develop new ways of addressing potential risks. They are still discussing this concept, but public comment is encouraged. Comment periods are announced on the USDA NOP website prior to each meeting. The next meeting will take place April 27-May 1, 2015 in La Jolla, CA.

Pesticides are just one type of contaminant that organic farmers must consider. The risk of pathogen contamination is another ongoing concern which, for better or worse, is being addressed by the Food Safety Modernization Act. However, heavy metal contamination hasn’t received a lot of attention other than a recent incident pertaining to arsenic contamination of rice. Since sewage sludge is explicitly prohibited by the organic standards, some people may see heavy metals as a low risk for the organic farmer. It’s important to realize that other sources of heavy metals can be introduced into an organic system.

The USDA organic regulations recognize the risk of heavy metal contamination at §205.203(c): “The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances.” However, the regulations do not otherwise provide limits for contamination, or guidance for prevention.

While certifiers require organic farmers to identify management practices that address this management requirement as part of the Organic System Plan, producers who have completed a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) assessment or other risk assessment plan may also implement heavy metals testing as a method of control. Certifiers can also request additional testing if potential contamination is suspected. But if you don’t know the risks, how can you implement the appropriate controls?

Although some heavy metals occur naturally in the soil, the risk comes when these naturally occurring elements are found in high concentrations, or when their synthetic counterparts accumulate in processed waste streams. One example of this is chicken manure, which provides high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, but can also be contaminated with heavy metals as a result of conventional feed additives containing arsenic. Under the organic regulations, manure from conventional animals is allowed for fertility in organic farms. And while phosphate rock provides a valuable nutrient, some sources include mineral deposits with high levels of arsenic and cadmium. For the same reasons that pesticide residues can accumulate in compost, heavy metals are also subject to concentration during composting. In fact, while some composting methods have been shown to degrade certain pesticides, heavy metals are an elemental contaminant that does not degrade into smaller, less harmful molecules during the composting process.

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) publishes standards for heavy metal contamination in fertilizers that many state fertilizer boards have adopted. The AAPFCO standards define maximum contamination for fertilizers based on their phosphate and/or micronutrient content. Here at OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute), we also developed a simplified set of thresholds addressing potential contamination for input materials used in organic production. OMRI’s standards consider the typical loading rate of identified high-risk input materials. For example, compost, manure and mulch are applied at relatively higher load rates, and therefore have lower thresholds than mined minerals and ash, which are generally applied at lower rates.

OMRI requires heavy metals testing for many types of fertilizer products. If the test reveals that heavy metals exceed a certain concentration, the product may be either OMRI Listed with a ‘Caution’ statement, or potentially considered ineligible for OMRI listing. The following table provides an overview of the threshold levels.

OMRI Heavy Metal Standards

Compost, Manure, Mulch, and Transplant Container Media Mined Minerals and Ash
Level 1 Level 2 Level 1 Level 2
Arsenic (ppm) 10 149 20 300
Cadmium (ppm) 20 40 40 80
Lead (ppm) 90 290 180 580

Level 1 = level at which OMRI issues a ‘Caution’ statement for a given product on the OMRI Products List regarding the potential for long-term contamination based on elemental contaminant content

Level 2 = level at which a product is ineligible for the OMRI Products List due to risk of soil contamination

OMRI evaluates input materials to determine their suitability for use in an organic system, and publishes a list of compliant products. Products that test above the established thresholds are identified with a cautionary statement in the OMRI Products List© and on the web search at OMRI.org. Growers using these products are advised to limit their use based on the potential for regular applications to result in the degradation of soils. Materials that test above the upper threshold are ineligible for OMRI listing.

The first step in risk management is to identify the risk. Although some contaminants of concern may not be visible to the naked eye, growers can look to the OMRI Products List in order to make an informed decision.

Medicinal Herb Gardening

Yes, it is freezing outside! But just because an outdoor thermometer reads 12 degrees this morning, it does not mean that you can’t dream of lush, colorful, fragrant gardens. Go ahead, dream about red and juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil, lemon balm and thyme! Now stop dreaming and think of a Valentine's Day gift for your loved one. Yes, you could send flowers, but cut flowers fade rather quickly (unlike your love). So, the alternative is to give a gift that will stay alive for a long time and will bloom over and over, and over again; give a garden.


Herbal workshop image


Oh, and one more reason to give a garden to a loved one: in the news lately, some of the supplements we rely on to make us healthier may contain little or none of the ingredients on the label.

The solution? Grow your own; and do it together. This Valentine Day, Rodale Institute offers a class on how to start an Herb Garden and a 50% discount for a second registration. Call 610-683-1481 or email maria.pop@rodaleinstitute.org to receive the discount, or register online at: http://rodaleinstitute.org/event-registration/?ee=113

Farm Photo Friday: February 6, 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!

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Surprise! Today we celebrated Elaine Macbeth's birthday with organic fruit and treats. Surprising Elaine was no easy task. She loves her work so much that sometimes it seems impossible to pull her away from her desk! What a nice way to start the weekend!

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The piglets frolic with anticipation when Stephanie Zimmerman, Strategic Solutions Team Member, comes to give warm hugs, especially when she brings fresh food and water. What a commotion of muddy mayhem!

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Lewis and Clark know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gives them the energy they need to explore! Good thing Stephanie is wearing gloves, because this photographer's fingers are freezing!

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Inside the research building, Marissa Wagner, Research Technician, is keeping her hands warm by sorting and cleaning grains that were hand harvested. Some might think that this is mundane work for a scientist, but rest assured, it is key to recording accurate data. All in the name of Science!

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Two weeks ago, Dan Kemper, Strategic Solutions Team Member, showed us the start of the heated bed in the greenhouse. This photo shows the bed filled with sand. But why sand, may you ask? The heating pads warm the sand, and in turn, the sand warms the trays of starts so that the seeds will be warm enough to germinate.

fpf 005

The terrariums are finally here! Molly Sweitzer, Marketing and Sales Manager, made these last week  and now they are available in the Rodale Institute Garden Store. Terrariums are great Valentine's gifts because they are constantly growing, like your love (we hope). The store is open Thursday through Saturday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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Our sheep and Nigerian Dwarf goats appear to be wondering how this photographer is staying warm without being covered in hair! Little do they know, this photographer is actually on the verge of hypothermia. It must be nice to have such a warm winter coat!

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"Maybe if I stand still, the photographer won't take my picture again..." Irwin was wrong. And by the way...we see you back there Mr. Tuggs!

Don’t forget… Show your organic love!

Healthy Soil, Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby

Originally published on October 10, 2012

By guest blogger Pooja Mottl

What if someone told you “dirt” and “pregnancy” are intimately connected? Would you believe it? Consider this: The health of “dirt” (a.k.a. soil) could have a significant impact not only on the health of your pregnancy but also on the well-being of your baby after he or she arrives into the world. Let’s explore this fascinating connection by linking the dots one by one.

The healthier the soil, the more nutrient dense your food

Vibrant, healthy soil is where it all begins. Just look back at the philosophy of organic pioneers J.I. and Robert Rodale who knew that the nutritional value of foods begins with the condition of the soil and the way that food is grown.

Every day, our precious soil is altered by harsh agricultural processes and chemicals unknown to Mother Nature. The use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, for example, essentially makes our soil “sick,” depleting it of its naturally-occurring minerals and vital microorganisms. Sick soil can’t grow food that has the maximum amount of nutrients possible. Only healthy soil can do that. “Nutrient density” is a measurement of the amount of nutrients per volume of food . If a food is giving you the maximum amount of nutrients it can per volume, it is a highly nutrient-dense food. Healthy soil maximizes the nutrient density of the food we and other animals (cows, sheep, etc.) eat. The more we respect the health of soil, the more nutritious our food

Another (often surprising) aspect to healthier soil is that it enhances the flavor in food. Raspberries taste sweeter. Milk, butter and yogurt taste creamier, richer and more indulgent . This is why the world’s top chefs seek out only the freshest ingredients from the most sustainable farms – they want their food to blow your taste buds away!

Healthier food means a healthier 9 months

Pregnant mamas have a lot to look forward to. Take it from me: I’ve had the honor of having this experience. However, during these precious nine months, optimal nourishment is the most critical for mom as she not only needs to nourish herself but also her growing baby . Whole, unrefined foods that come from healthy, organic soils are what she needs most (and we just learned how tasty this food can be!). Otherwise, if food is coming from unhealthy soils, moms may need to eat a higher volume of foods to get the same amount of nutrients. And we know what that means: more volume = more weight gain. Unnecessary pounds during pregnancy can lead to a less energetic, more “achy” three quarters of a year. Also, unnecessary weight gain, especially from refined and processed foods, can lead to gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia and increased risk of caesarian section delivery .

A healthier pregnancy, a healthier baby

There are numerous studies linking the foods that moms choose to eat prenatally and how this can affect babies after they make their arrival into the world. Pesticide exposure is a big one and has been linked to damaged brain development in babies . Growing babes need a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrient-dense foods to develop the vital organs and other body and brain functions they require.  Healthy babies also benefit from a physically stronger, happier, and more balanced mama during pregnancy. So at the end of the day, it just makes sense that the healthier a prenatal experience, the better chance for a baby to end up being a strong and optimally nourished child, free of ailments and disease.

Bringing It Full Circle

That’s how the dots connect: healthy “dirt” ultimately leads to a healthy baby! It’s a linkage we don’t seem to think about, but one which is so critical to the beautiful, human experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. Campaigns to grow our food and take care of our soil as J.I. and Robert Rodale envisioned can support millions of women on their way to partaking in one of the most natural and ethereal experiences of their lives:  becoming mothers. If we honor our soil, we are ultimately honoring the next generation.

Pooja Mottl is a Sustainable Chef, Speaker, Healthy Lifestyle Coach and Creator of 3-Day Resets (www.3DayResets.com) and Pooja’s Way (www.PoojasWay.com). She is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, and holds a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. She has taught cooking classes at Whole Foods Market and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Pooja has appeared on ABC TV’s “Good Morning America,” WGN TV’s “Lunchbreak,” as well as Martha Stewart Radio (Sirius XM) among other outlets


The value of rain barrels

By Heather Kaiser, Rodale Institute Intern

Here at Rodale Institute, we believe that conservation and environmentally friendly products are the key to preserving our homes, gardens, and communities. One way of implementing these positive changes is through the use of rain barrels.

Rain barrels are containers that capture and hold the rainwater that drains from your roof. The size of the barrels can range anywhere from 50 to 80 gallons and can incorporate a spigot for hose connection or for filling watering cans and other containers.

IMG_20140724_155449_145There are many benefits to having rain barrels; conserving money, having healthy plants and soil, and the reduction of excess runoff are just a few ways that these environmentally friendly barrels can benefit your life and the environment.

The use of rain barrels provide a no cost water source for irrigation that puts no strain on the city’s or your personal water supply. Unlike tap water, rainwater does not contain any inorganic ions or fluoride compounds that can gather in the soil overtime, potentially harming plant roots and microorganisms found in soil. During a storm or a period of heavy rain, runoff picks up soil, fertilizer, oil, pesticides, and other harsh chemicals from hard surfaces and various landscapes. With the use of rain barrels, this excess rainwater is captured before it has the chance to become runoff.

This Saturday, we are holding a Make Your Own Rain Barrel workshop. This workshop will provide you wit
h the knowledge and hands-on experience to create your own rain barrel at the workshop and the education to pass on the knowledge of self-sufficiency and conservation to your friends and family.

We hope you can join us.

Farm Photo Friday: January 30, 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!


The snow made today a great day for building and creativity! Michael Schmaeling, one of the farm's Strategic Solutions Team members, showed this photographer how to build a raised garden bed in the shop. You can learn how to make your own raised bed at our Organic Gardening II: Starting a raised bed garden event in March!


Just next door in the greenhouse, Molly Sweitzer, Marketing and Sales Manager, is getting her hands dirty creating these awesome terrariums. Inside these terrariums are different kinds of plants, flowers, and mosses.


These beautiful terrariums will be for sale starting next week, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Rodale Institute Garden Store. Be sure to pick one up for your very special valentine!


It's ok Miss Peggy, we know it's hard to get out of bed on these snowy mornings.


"Can I help you?" Despite the cold temperatures, it seems as if this photographer has interrupted the donkeys' sunbathing! Many pardons!


Lunch time! The chickens didn't wish to speak with their mouths full, but it doesn't look like the snow is bothering them too much.


Following up on last week's Farm Photo Friday, it seems as if all our goats do is eat! Greedy, greedy goats!

Don’t forget… Show your organic love!


Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) internships available!

Rodale Institute is now accepting applications for Internship Positions in the  Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) Program for the 2015 growing season.

The ASC Program is a modified farm share program offering affordable payment plans to make fresh, local, organic produce accessible to just about anyone in the community.

Internship participants will be trained with responsibilities in every aspect of operating a small local organic grower’s business; it is an educational internship with real life responsibilities.

Individuals who are serious about taking the next steps towards starting their own sustainable, organic growers business should apply. Applicants should have some farming experience, be able to lift up to 40 lbs, and expect to be working in seasonal environmental elements.

Hands-on training will include: seed starting, greenhouse production & seasonal extensions, transplanting, pest & weed management, soil health, introduction to large equipment, harvesting, processing, marketing, customer relations, and working with community partners. In addition the internship program will follow a comprehensive curriculum exposing participants to training in business planning & marketing, nutrition education, and designing a crop plan.

Interns will graduate from the full-time 8-month program (April – November) considered an Ambassador of the Rodale Institute and can expect a continued developing relationship with our organization.

Individuals from urban areas are encouraged to apply (i.e. Allentown, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York, etc)

To apply, fill out an ASC intern application and send it along with your resume and cover letter to Cynthia James, ASC Program Manager at the Rodale Institute. cynthia.james@rodaleinstitute.org

Visit our Work With Us page for more job, internship or volunteer
opportunities available at Rodale Institute!

Research Interns needed at Rodale Institute

Rodale Institute’s Research Department investigates a number of scientific and regenerative farming issues, including cover crop practices, organic weed management, organic no-till systems, compost use, influences of agricultural practices on water quality, and effects of mycorrhizae and other soil biota on crop and soil health, and yields. The Department also oversees the Farming Systems Trial (FST), the oldest continuous trial in the US that compares organic and conventional farming systems.

To support this research, our interns work with staff researchers to lay out experimental field plots, assist with greenhouse plantings, conduct lab experiments, tend and maintain experiments, collect and process samples from the field, and enter data for statistical analysis and interpretation. This work involves physical activities in the field, lab work, and computer use, operating both in teams and individually. Many long days in the field collecting soil samples, assessing weed populations, and picking crops to determine yield should be expected. Interns that can work for two or more months duration, between May and December are desired. Preference will be given to applicants who can be present for longer periods of time. (more…)