The Rodale Institute

by Sue Taggart

The Rodale Institute’s Motto, Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People, was first chalked on a blackboard by organic pioneer J.I. Rodale in 1947. Even then, J.I. understood that in order to grow healthy food, it began with the soil.

Today, the Rodale Institute in Kutztown Pennsylvania has, for more than sixty years, been researching and educating about the best practices of organic agriculture. When J.I. Rodale first moved from New York to rural Pennsylvania in the late 1930’s to follow his passion for farming, he first learned about organic food-growing concepts being practiced and promoted by Lady Eve Balfour and Sir Albert Howard. When World War II caused a sudden shortage of nitrogen fertilizer, the nutrient poverty of the nation’s soil became apparent. J.I. Rodale’s single-minded goal was to develop methods of rebuilding soils natural fertility. And so, in 1947 J.I founded the Soil and Health Foundation, which has since become the Rodale Institute whose mission is “Through organic leadership we improve the health and well-being of people and the planet.”

The vision that J.I. had was simple … “Organics is not a fad’” J.I. wrote in 1954. “It has been a long-established practice – much more firmly grounded than the current chemical flair. Present agricultural practices are leading us downhill.” Manure, cover crops and crop mixtures were standard practices through World War I, but changes were on the way. The introduction of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicide in the years after the war rapidly changed agriculture. Sticking to his now well-proven principles, J.I. persevered and the idea of creating soil rich in nutrients and free of contaminants, began to resonant with people and acceptance of organics began to grow.

When J.I. Rodale died in 1971, his son Robert expanded his father’s dream with the purchase of a 333-acre farm near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, continued and expand his father’s work and research. With his wife Ardath, Robert established what is now the Rodale Institute and an era of research began.  Fighting and lobbying for organic agriculture is second nature to the Rodale family. It was the powerful and persuasive testimony by Robert, John Haberen and the farmers and scientist who supported sustainable organic farming methods that convinced the U.S. Congress to include funds for organic agriculture in the 1985 Farm Bill. Today, federal, state and local governments, land-grant universities and other organizations nationwide are pursuing organic agriculture research and education programs, thanks to these organic pioneers.

The Rodale family continues their active involvement today. Ardath Rodale succeeded Robert in 1990 as the Institute Chairman when he was killed in a traffic accident in Moscow in 1990. Their son Anthony became vice-chairman and along with his wife Florence developed outreach efforts to children during their period of active program involvement before Anthony became an international ambassador for Rodale Institute’s mission. Maria Rodale, Robert’s daughter and current CEO of the family’s publishing business, Rodale Inc., serves as the Institute’s co-chair with Paul McGinley. The passion for organic farming methods passed down through the generation.

J.I. Rodale’s legacy lives on through the Rodale Institute, his numerous books and the publishing company he founded, known today as Rodale Inc., which currently publishes Organic Gardening and Prevention magazines.

You can learn more about the work of this remarkable family and the Rodale Institute at Rodale Institute is also on Twitter @RodaleInstitute and Facebook

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