May 22nd was the first day of the summer semester at Rodale Institute for students enrolled in the Organic Farming Certificate Program (OFCP), offered in partnership with Delaware Valley University (DelVal). Students in the Organic Farming Certificate Program will participate in two accredited courses this summer, Soil Health and Plant Health Management, and will receive over 200 hours of hands-on farm experience.
Dr. Andrew Smith, Rodale Institute's Chief Scientist, teaches the Soil Health class which introduces the students to the physical, biological, and chemical analysis of soil. By instructing the students about what makes soil alive, they have a better understanding of how soil works, and then know how to maintain healthy soil on their own farms. During the course, students learn a variety of methods for measuring soil function and health, including how to improve soil structure and increase biological activity while reducing disease, weed pressure, and soil erosion. The students examine microorganisms in soil, compost, sediments, and food products in order to understand their importance to the respective systems. The students also compare healthy soil to unhealthy soil and learn to address fertility, erosion, and drought resistance with organic methods.
Rodale Institute’s Plant Development Specialist, Maggie Saska instructs the Plant Health course. This course provides an introduction to the identification and management of pests, weeds, and diseases in organic systems. The students learn how to create a crop plan and design and implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system, which uses environmentally sensitive methods to combat pests without chemical inputs. By conducting a large portion of the class in the field, students gain first-hand knowledge on how to observe, identify, and collect different varieties of insects, weeds, and disease-affected plants. Throughout the class, students learn four different management settings: vegetable production, orchard management, pasture management, and grain production. For the duration of their semester, students keep a field journal to track what they have learned, from the progress of crops to what implements were used. This is a helpful resource for when they start their own farm.
Students receive hands-on training in the following areas:
• Treatment-free apiary
• Livestock (sheep, chickens, hogs)
• Tractor Safety
• Grain farming
Students also attend field trips to different farms, attend workshops and have guest speakers during their class time. At the culmination of the summer semester, students leave with a solid base of knowledge on organic soils, plant health and livestock on which to build their organic farm. Learn more about the Organic Farming Certificate Program here.