For 70+ Years, the Rodale Institute Has Helped People Stay Healthy & Connect by Focusing on Research, Community & Organic Farming

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For 70+ Years, the Rodale Institute Has Helped People Stay Healthy & Connect by Focusing on Research, Community & Organic Farming

Jon McDonald Jon McDonald
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The Short Version: Since its creation in 1947, the Rodale Institute has helped demonstrate the connection between organic farming, nutrient-rich food, and health. In the more than 70 years since, the Institute has created some of the most reputable and long-term studies on the benefits of organic farming. The Rodale Institute also aims to foster a sense of community in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, as well as share research with interested backyard growers, organic food enthusiasts, and farmers around the world. Couples can create memories at one of the Rodale Institute’s community programs, including yoga classes, a documentary film series, and farming-specific informational sessions.

Both J.I. Rodale and his son Bob believed in the relationship between proper nutrition and health. In fact, when the senior Rodale founded his institute and farm in 1947, he chalked a slogan on a blackboard: “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.”

Over the subsequent 70 years, the Rodale Institute moved from Emmaus to Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and underwent numerous changes, but its mission stayed same. “We’re excited to connect the entire equation and investigate the potential that improved soil health has to impact and reverse human disease,” said Zoe Schaeffer, Media Relations Specialist at Rodale Institute.

As part of the mission, the backbone of the Rodale Institute is research; scientists conduct rigorous experiments to compare organic and conventional farming methods. The Institute puts its ideas into practice on a 333-acre farm that uses traditional organic farming methods implemented with modern, large-scale farming techniques.

Photo of the Rodale Institute farm

The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 with a mission to research the importance of healthy soil.

But in addition to research, the Institute aims to build communities and support legislation that can change the status quo on organic production methods.

“We truly believe that organic agriculture can heal people and the planet,” said Zoe.

You can even bring a date to the Rodale Institute for an enlightening afternoon of farming fun. The organization offers several ways for you and that special someone to expand your knowledge of organic farming and eating, ranging from a documentary series to workshops focused on learning new skills.

“We often say that our farm is a destination for inspiration,” Zoe told us. And the farm’s 20,000 annual visitors would likely agree.

Robust Research Unearths the Benefits of Organic Farming

The primary goal of the Institute is to provide farmers and policymakers with research-backed information about organic farming.

The Institute’s best-known project is the Farming Systems Trial, the longest side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture. The 40-year trial demonstrates that organic growing methods build carbon-sequestering soil over time, which, in turn, helps organic crops perform better than the conventional variety during times of drought or other unfavorable conditions.

The Rodale Institute has expanded this time-tested method as part of its Vegetable Systems Trial, started in 2017. “Again, we’re growing conventional and organic produce side-by-side,” Zoe said. “We intend to analyze nutrient density to put more data behind the conventional-or-organic debate.”

Photo of Farming Systems Trial

The Farming Systems Trial shows the difference between organic and established growing methods.

Other upcoming projects include water research to analyze the impact of organic and traditional agriculture on water, and an alternative, humane method for pork farming, among others.

The Rodale Institute’s passionate staff is what drives the organization. There are three types of workers at the Institute: researchers, farm operators, and communication staff. They work together to generate new information, put research into practice, and share findings with interested parties.

And each staff member is committed to the Institute’s principles. “No matter the daily duties — whether it’s managing livestock or managing social media — everyone here is incredibly passionate about our mission and the power of organic agriculture to manifest positive change,” said Zoe.

Explore Farms and Meet Like-Minded Folks

The Institute aims to connect with the community by offering many date options for couples and plenty of activities for families. People come from near and far to visit the farm, inspired by its mission and compelled by its beauty. “Our visitors range from our neighbors in the Lehigh Valley to people from around the world who have been following our work for years and are finally making their first pilgrimage to the farm,” Zoe said.

Some visitors are interested in learning about organic farming and gardening-related topics, and the Rodale Institute offers a wealth of farm-based programming.

“We have free self-guided walking tours of the farm, so it’s a great place to visit on a Saturday for a picnic lunch surrounded by farm animals.” — Zoe Schaeffer, Content Creation and Communications Specialist at the Rodale Institute

“Many people are motivated to attend an event because they care deeply about health and the environment, and they are interested in meeting like-minded individuals or learning a new skill — like backyard composting or keeping chickens,” Zoe said. “But we also attract a number of gardeners and people who enjoy our yoga classes or our documentary film series.”

The Institute hosts regular Healing Through Nature Yoga classes, seasonally, from April through October. Classes are free, though donations are accepted. The Institute’s film series — which primarily maintains an environmental theme — are also free.

But even if you don’t attend an event, you can still explore the beautiful grounds. “We have free self-guided walking tours of the farm, so it’s a great place to visit on a Saturday for a picnic lunch surrounded by farm animals,” Zoe said.

Idyllic Settings for a Romantic, Rustic Wedding

Many have a strong connection to the Rodale Institute. Whether they spent a fond afternoon on the farm or simply follow the Institute’s work from afar, Rodale has admirers the world over.

“We’ve even had people send their ashes, wanting the farm to be their final resting place,” Zoe said.

If the Rodale Institute has played a significant role in people’s lives, they can even get married there. Over a hundred couples have been married on the property.

Aside from the animals and foliage, one of the biggest draws of a Rodale wedding is its Pennsylvania Dutch bank barn built around 1846. Another draw is the apple orchard, where couples have shot many memorable photographs with their partners among the blossoming trees.

The only trouble with booking a Rodale wedding is finding an open date. The Institute only hosts one wedding per weekend, May through October.

“We’ve been a part of so many important milestones. It feels good to play such an important role in people’s lives,” Zoe said of the connection between the research-heavy Rodale Institute and the weddings it hosts.

Grow With Your Partner by Building a Backyard Garden

Whether you live near the Rodale Institute or across the world, you and your partner can benefit from its research. Even with a small backyard plot, you can grow organic produce that can improve your health and feed your family.

If you live far from Rodale, you and your partner can attend a webinar, like one in the works about Growing Nutrient Dense Vegetables.

If you live close to the farm, you can spend a day with a date learning how to help your backyard garden flourish with a day-long seminar like Treatment-Free Beekeeping. Or you could really get your garden going by buying organic plants at the Institute’s spring sale.

You can also adopt the Rodale Institute’s mission, regardless of your specific situation. Even if you don’t have acreage, you and your partner can still use Rodale Institute principles to lead healthier lives.

As Zoe said, “Everyone eats three times per day, and we have the opportunity to do that consciously in a way that positively impacts our health, our farmers, and the environment.”