For as long as people have been farming, natural, organic methods were the norm.
But during the last century, the rise of chemical-based agriculture has dramatically changed the way we produce our food. Increasingly corporate and mechanized, today’s conventional farms are saturated with artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are engineered to reduce the burden of labor while keeping crop yields high.
However, we have failed to recognize the unintended consequences of conventional, chemical-based farming practices. Soil health degradation, loss of organic matter and erosion, as well as water pollution, toxic residues in our food supply, and lack of biodiversity— to name a few.
We have also failed to recognize what is at stake. If we continue on this path, there will soon come a time when our soil gives out and we will be unable to feed our children and grandchildren.
Thankfully, despite these very real dangers, positive transformation is possible. Since 1947, Rodale Institute has taken the lead to promote a better, natural, and more responsible way of modern farming by conducting research into the cultivation of healthy, living soils. Way back then we called this approach “organic”—and an entire movement was born.
J.I. Rodale was an entrepreneurial man with a keen interest in organic farming. Born in New York City, he relocated one of his early businesses to small-town Emmaus, Pennsylvania in the 1930s. At that time, his interest in organic farming was sparked by an agriculturalist named Sir Albert Howard. Howard, one of the early founders of the organic movement, wrote passionately about the necessity of healthy soil and use of natural methods like composting and cover cropping for food production.
Inspired by Howard, “I decided that we must get a farm at once and raise as much of our family’s food by the organic method as possible,” J.I. later wrote. He and his wife Anna purchased a run-down farm a few miles northwest of Emmaus’s town center and set to work transforming the property into a model for organic methods.
J.I. conducted numerous growing experiments and noticed his health improve along with the land. He felt compelled to share his findings with the world, and the first issue of Organic Gardening and Farming—the beginning of Rodale’s rise as a publisher and authority on organic agriculture—wasn’t far behind.
Developing and demonstrating practical, natural methods of rebuilding soil fertility became J.I. Rodale’s primary goal when World War II’s sudden shortage of nitrogen fertilizer—as it was diverted to making munitions—exposed the nutrient poverty and poor health of the nation’s soil.
In 1947, J.I. founded the Soil and Health Foundation, later to be renamed Rodale Institute. As Rodale communicated the idea of creating nutrient-rich, contaminant-free soil, people began to listen and acceptance grew.
With the 1948 publication of Rodale’s Pay Dirt, a book about links between chemical agriculture and declining public health, J.I. found himself the head of a movement.
The Future is Organic
“Organics is not a fad,” J.I. wrote in 1954.
From the very beginning, he knew that farming practices focused on cultivating healthy soil would lead to healthier foods, and ultimately, healthier people too.
Since then, we’ve made breakthrough after breakthrough.
Through our nearly four-decades long flagship study, the Farming Systems Trial, we have scientifically proven that organic agriculture performs as well as, if not better than, conventional agriculture. We are demonstrating the power of nutrient-dense organic food to prevent and reverse diseases. We are working to create economic vitality in rural communities by training tomorrow’s organic farmers. Furthermore, we are partnering with schools, hospitals, and other community organizations to help people make informed choices about the food they eat and how that impacts their health.
Perhaps most inspiring of all, organic farming goes beyond merely trying to sustain our broken conventional system. Over time, it can actually renew, restore, and regenerate the health of our impoverished soil and mitigate the effects of climate change.
For over 70 years, we’ve never wavered in our passion, dedication, and focus on growing the organic movement.
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The Roots of Organic Agriculture
The farming practices studied by our founder have a long history that predates the contemporary organic movement. Read about some of the movement's other leaders and contributors on our blog.Learn More