Dig Deeper


Fourteen Graduate From The Master Composter Program

On October 7, Rodale Institute graduated fourteen volunteers from its inaugural Master Composter program. This class series was designed to train individuals from the community into composting and waste educators. Rodale Institute’s Compost Production Specialist, Rick Carr, taught the program through six lectures, hands-on composting activities, and field trips to local waste management facilities. This education program was funded by the Environmental Resource Management (ERM) Group Foundation which supports environmental initiatives and activities. The Rodale Institute Master Composters will engage the community through public education and outreach on the benefits of composting, recycling and waste diversion.

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The Master Composter class takes a field trip to the Allentown Yard Waste Processing Facility.

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials and its practice has many benefits for both organic agriculture and waste management. Compost is rich in micro-biology and nutrients, which are used to build soil health. Rodale Institute’s founder J.I. Rodale wrote, “Healthy Soil=Healthy Food=Healthy People” and rather than using chemical fertilizers, composting regenerates our soil health and assists in many soil functions such as preventing plant disease. The practice of composting diverts organic material from waste management facilities and thereby mitigates green-house gas emissions. Organic materials destined for landfills will decompose anaerobically producing methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, and more importantly, the valuable nutrients from the organic material are lost and unused.

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For another field trip, the class tours the Pioneer Crossing Landfill.

 

Over the next year, the newly graduated Rodale Institute Master Composters will volunteer a minimum of forty hours of public service ranging from waste separation and diversion education at public events to consulting organizations or individuals on their composting practices. The volunteers who attended the class had various motivations to learn about composting. Some individuals were avid gardeners looking for ways to improve the health and abundance of their crops and others were interested in more advanced composting topics such as compost extracts (teas) and vermicomposting.

Congratulations to our graduates! To learn more about composting, click here.

Rodale Institute Seeks Interns in ASC and Communications Department

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Rodale Institute is seeking interns in both the ASC and Communications department.

Since we are a small staff, our internships provide an opportunity for real hands-on experience! Click below to learn more about our internship programs and how to apply.

Check out our other job, internship, and volunteer opportunities here!

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 option for people and the planet. And we are an equal opportunity employer.

CFO of the year award goes to…

LVB CFO 2015 072-32 - LR(Kutztown, PA, September 17, 2015) Elaine Macbeth, Director of Finance and HR at Rodale Institute, won a CFO award at the Lehigh Valley Business CFO of the Year awards this Wednesday.

Macbeth was selected winner and top financial executive of the Nonprofit Small category based on her career achievements, impact of her contributions, and her leadership in other areas of management.

Created by Lehigh Valley Business, the awards recognize financial executives at all levels who contribute to the region’s economic growth and stability.

“It is such an honor to receive the CFO of the year award from Lehigh Valley Business,” says Macbeth. “I want to thank all that have supported me over the many years but I also couldn’t be more proud to represent Rodale Institute.”

For 22 years, Macbeth has guided Rodale Institute in long-term financial gain. She became a director ten years ago, a position she continues to skillfully lead in.

Rodale Institute is proud and thankful for Macbeth’s work and leadership.

A complete list of the Lehigh Valley Business CFO of the year awards winners and nominees can be found here.

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 option for people and the planet.

 

For more information:

www.rodaleinstitute.org

www.facebook.com/rodaleinstitute

Twitter: @rodaleinstitute

Instagram: @rodaleinstitute

 

Rodale Institute Announces Jeff Moyer as Executive Director

Contact:
Aaron Kinsman
Office: 610-683-1427
Mobile: 215-589-2490
aaron.kinsman@rodaleinstitute.org

 

Rodale Institute Announces Jeff Moyer as Executive Director

Jeff Headshot small file

(Kutztown, PA, September 9, 2015) Rodale Institute, a non-profit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach, today announced the appointment of Jeff Moyer as the Executive Director. Moyer has worked with Rodale Institute since 1975, most recently as the Institute’s Farm Director. Working directly with farmers of all backgrounds, Moyer is a renowned voice for the farmer’s perspective regarding issues in organic agriculture. He is widely respected for his contributions to Organic No-Till and the design of the No-Till Roller Crimper.

“The appointment of Jeff Moyer to Executive Director will begin the next phase of Rodale Institute’s evolution,” said Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale Inc. and Co-Chair of Rodale Institute. “Jeff has spent his whole career dedicated to the Rodale Institute and is uniquely and wonderfully prepared to continue the Institute’s leading edge research. Jeff is a successful organic farmer himself, and understands the importance of regenerative organic farming to create healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet.”

Moyer’s achievements include a five year term on the National Organic Standards Board, which assists the USDA Secretary of Agriculture to develop standards for materials and practices used in organic production and advises on other aspects of implementing the National Organic Program. He is also a member of the Leonardo Academy’s committee on sustainability, board chair for the Seed Farm, a founding and current member of Pennsylvania Certified Organic and a past board member of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

“It’s an honor to accept this opportunity to lead the Rodale Institute,” said Moyer. “Looking forward, my focus is on continuing the Institute’s training of new organic farmers and providing support to farmers transitioning to organic in order to meet the enormous and growing demand for organic and to expand the number of acres in organic production across the U.S. and around the world. ”

Since its founding in 1947 by J.I. Rodale, the Rodale Institute has been committed to groundbreaking 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.

ABOUT RODALE INSTITUTE

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
www.facebook.com/rodaleinstituteTwitter: @rodaleinstitute
Instagram: @rodaleinstitute

 

Water Resource Conservation for Students

Thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, this fall Rodale Institute will expand educational opportunities for young people interested in water resource conservation.

Rodale Institute currently conducts rigorous, multi-disciplinary research to document the agronomic WPECfrontand environmental impacts of organic and conventional farming practices. The decades of high-quality research and education programs at Rodale Institute have naturally expanded the concept of healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people to include water conservation and water quality. Soil is the ultimate filtration system for providing clean water, and farm management practices either support or inhibit these processes.

Through this grant, Rodale Institute will host fourth grade students and faculty from the Circle of Season’s Charter School, allowing them to learn about water resource conservation.  Highlights of the program include a green roof, rain barrels, riparian buffers, the Water Purification Eco-Center, and  no-till organic farming practices. Additionally, Rodale Institute staff will provide students with a tour of the farm and hands on learning activities including water and soil testing.

Participation by school students and educators will provide them with outdoor learning opportunities that will strengthen in-class science curriculum.

Additional funding from the grant will provide interpretive signs at key demonstration areas around the farm to provide visitors an increased learning experience.

#BeeAware! It’s National Honeybee Day

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

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

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

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

DIY Skincare at Rodale Institute

Sabrina Mastronardo
Communications Coordinator, Rodale Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Farmers’ Fields: Melons

By Renee Ciulla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Native Plants found in the US

By Renee Ciulla

The Prickly Pear is a native edible of the Southwest.

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

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

Southwest

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

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

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

Southeast

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

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

Mid-Atlantic

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

Mid-West

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

West

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

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

Northwest

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

Northeast

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

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

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

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

 

Farm Photo Friday: July 31, 2015

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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...

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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!

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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.

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

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

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