In an effort to better meet the needs of farmers around the country, Rodale Institute recently debuted Regional Resource Centers, organic research and education hubs focused on regionalized science, outreach, and training.
The Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center, Southeast Organic Center, and California Organic Center completed their first growing seasons, establishing long-term research trials and engaging with their communities.
Here’s a look at what our Centers have accomplished this year:
Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center (Marion, Iowa)
Iowa has long been considered the epicenter of agriculture, and in 2016 was fifth in the nation for number of certified organic farms. Despite industrial, chemical agriculture still dominating the region, the Midwest lots of opportunity for farmers interested in transitioning to organic.
The Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center, located at Eztel Sugar Grove Farm and supported by Frontier Co-op, provides research, education, and assistance to farmers looking to implement organic practices on their farms.
After hiring Dr. Carl Rosier as Research Director and Dr. Kristine Lang as Extension Scientist in 2019, the Midwest Organic Center began setting up research studies and farmer resources to contribute to the agricultural community in Iowa.
- The Midwest Organic Center installed a live weather station in its fields, which has been providing real time weather data to Midwestern farmers throughout 2020. Find the up-to-the-minute report here.
- The Solar Corridor Crop System Study was established to determine if 60-inch corn, intercropped with clover, can reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer for farmers in the process of transitioning to organic.
- The Soil Health Recovery Study integrates chickens, biofertilizers, compost, and other management strategies into soybean plots to determine their impact on regenerating soil for farms that have had multiple year yield gaps.
- In 2020, the Midwest Organic Center brought Rodale Institute’s Organic Crop Consulting services to Midwestern farmers. This program was offered for free to farmers in Iowa and the Midwest region for a limited time.
- The Midwest team completed its first research collaboration, collecting soil samples at two farms in central Illinois. This project is in collaboration with Basil’s Harvest, a nonprofit focused on nutritionally complex slow food, and aims to establish the link between soil health and crop nutrient density.
- In August 2020 a derecho, or inland hurricane, swept through Iowa, impacting many of the Midwest Organic Center’s research fields and infrastructure. The Iowa community came out in droves to help their neighbors clean up the destruction, and our Research team plans to use the impact of the extreme weather to monitor the resilience of their organic crops.
Learn more about the Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center and how to contact our team here.
Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center (Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia)
According to the USDA Organic Integrity Database, Georgia has only 145 certified organic farms, representing just 1% of organic farms in the United States. While organic production has historically been difficult in Southern climates, the South saw significant growth in organic farming from 2011-2016. The potential exists in Georgia to make a real difference in the organic movement.
The Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center launched in 2020 with Dr. Kristie Wendelberger, Research Director and Garver Akers, Farm Manager joining the team. In this underserved agricultural region the work our partners and staff are starting is more important than ever.
- Staff in Georgia, in collaboration with Rodale Institute’s researchers in Pennsylvania, have begun a partnership with nearby Clemson University to research the impact of organic inputs on vegetables in the Southeast region. A multiyear project, the land is now planted with cover crops to prepare the soil for vegetables next growing season.
- We welcomed Justin “Jewels” Giuliano, our first farmer intern at Chattahoochee Hills! Jewels is a natural farmer passionate about vermicomposting, soil science, and food equity. Prior to coming to the Southeast Organic Center, Jewels worked as a K-12 school garden educator and urban farmer in Chicago.
- We were happy to invite partners, researchers, and the public to our first farmer meetings and Virtual Open House! Featuring updates from our staff, our partners at Many Fold Farm and Georgia Organics, we’re committed to spreading the word of our work in Georgia far and wide. Miss the Open House? View it here.
Learn more about the Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center and how to contact our team here.
Rodale Institute California Organic Center (Camarillo, California)
California currently leads the United States in number of organic farms, the amount of land in organic production, and in organic sales. But that doesn’t mean the state’s organic farmers are without challenges.
Despite its organic leadership, pesticide use in California is still at an all-time high—over 208 million pounds of pesticides were used in the state in 2016.
The Rodale Institute California Organic Center was established to support California growers interested in regenerative agriculture as they contend with climate change, water shortages, increasing land prices, and feeding our growing population. Located on the McGrath Family Farm, a fifth generation fruit and vegetable farm in operation since 1871, the California Organic Center prioritizes working with California farmers to expand organic acreage.
In 2020, the Center welcomed Dr. Arianna Bozzolo and Nathanael Gonzales-Siemens to the team as Research Director and Farm Manager, launching a successful first growing season in Ventura County, CA.
- Building on the California Organic Center’s partnership with Ventura Seed Company, the research team began two CBD hemp trials, measuring the impacts of strategies like topping and silicon dioxide application to increase plant biomass and reduce heavy metal uptake by the hemp.
- A 2-acre pumpkin field was planted as a fundraising and research opportunity for the Center. Demonstrating the difference in organic tilled and no-till pumpkin crops, our team found that the no-till pumpkins were healthier, with larger leaves and greener color. Water distribution was also more even in the no-till plots.
- California is uniquely suited to producing heavy cover crop growth in no-till plots, which helps these pumpkins grow healthier and the soil retain water. This makes no-till management a viable and valuable option for the water-scarce region of Southern California.
- While the pumpkin demonstration plots provided valuable insight into Southern California growing conditions, it also opened an opportunity for the local community to get involved in farming. Partnering with The Abundant Table, a BIPOC- and women-led worker collective, families were encouraged to “adopt a row,” allowing children to tend the pumpkin patch, observe pest and weed management, and see the fruits of their labor.
- In a collaboration with Sun & Swell Foods, the California Organic Center planted 10 acres of organic oats, which will be sold as a Limited Edition ½ pound rolled oat bags, with branding sharing the Rodale Institute history and mission.
Learn more about the Rodale Institute California Organic Center and how to contact our team here.
- We’re still growing! In 2021, the Southeast and California Organic Centers plan to launch their own branches of our Organic Crop Consultancy, bringing the lessons learned on the ground at these sites to farmers looking to transition to organic.
- Keep an eye out for employment and volunteer opportunities at our sites to join the team!
- You can keep up to date with what’s new at our Regional Resource Centers by signing up for our e-newsletters—follow along with Iowa, Georgia, California, or all three! Sign up here, and choose the region you’re interested in.
- Are you passionate about growing the organic movement in America’s agricultural heartlands? Consider supporting Rodale Institute to grow our impact through the country.