We’re working to address the unique challenges of southern farmers, an emerging market for organic production.
The Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center in Chattahoochee Hills, GA (about an hour from Atlanta), aims to increase organic production in the region by serving as a research and education hub.
Despite organic having grown to a $50 billion industry annually in the United States, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Georgia has only 88 certified organic farms, representing just 0.5% of organic farms in the United States. Historically, organic production has been low in southern states, where warm weather makes it harder to deal with pests, disease and weeds without synthetic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.
However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the South saw the most growth in organic farming from 2011-2016. For example, Alabama and South Carolina both saw increases of more than 200% since 2011. And several other Southern states saw their certified organic farm count more than double in those five years.
Goals for the Center
The Southeast Organic Center serves as a research and education hub focused on:
Increasing the number of farms and acres in organic production in the region.
Solving challenges for organic farmers in the region, including pests, disease, weed management.
Establishing a long-term research trial to determine changes in soil health, yields, economic models, and more in this unique climate & soil type.
Farmer training and pathways to market.
The Southeast Organic Center is located on Many Fold Farm, a 300-acre property in the Chattahoochee Hills owned by Rebecca and Ross Williams. The property, formerly used for cheesemaking, includes pasture-based livestock, and forest.
“Many Fold Farm, our staff, and Rodale Institute share a belief that healthy soil is the key to human health and our ability to survive on our planet,” said Rebecca Williams. “Strong scientific and economic models that allow regenerative organic farmers to compete with conventional agriculture are necessary to shift the paradigm of how we grow our food.”
A key partner of the Southeast Organic Center will be nearby Serenbe, a wellness community that offers a unique opportunity for consumer education and community engagement. Serenbe will allow the Southeast Organic Center to connect farmers and eaters with educational programming, healthy eating events and more.
Southeast Organic Center Staff
Garver is a certified ecological horticulturist, agroecologist, farmer, and educator. He specializes in multi-scale, diverse variety, sustainable crop production. Prior to coming to the Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center, Garver worked as a ecological horticulture consultant and field production manager for a variety of farms. Garver trained in ecological horticulture at The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Dr. Kristie Wendelberger
Dr. Kristie Wendelberger is responsible for expanding organic farming practices throughout the southeast through research, outreach, and education. While obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Plant Biology from Ohio University, Kristie worked on an organic vegetable farm in southeast Ohio. She went on to work in nursery production moving on to ecological rare plant research throughout the tropics, subtropics, and western and southeastern U.S. Kristie earned her Master of Science in Ecology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where she looked at regeneration niche requirements of an endangered south Florida plant species. She completed her PhD in Biology from Florida International University in 2016 using remote sensing and greenhouse experiments to answer questions about plant community change along the southern coast of Everglades National Park due to sea level rise and large-scale ecosystem drying.