A grand organic farm dinner last week in Pennsylvania showed no signs of the bruising Stanford University applied upon the label a week earlier.
There, at the Organic Pioneer Awards dinner at Rodale Institute, the industry's strong roots were apparent as were the great fruits it bears.
For more than 60 years, the nonprofit organic research institute has touted a great mantra—healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people. The saying succintly gets to the heart of organic. But this night served as a reminder that people really make things grow.
And here, in the Delaware Valley, a place rich with American pioneer history, Rodale helped write the story of organic and those honored comprised—and continue to fill—important chapters. Honorees of the second annual dinner were:
- Carla Castagnero, president of AgRecycle Inc., a composting operation founded in 1991 and considered one of the nation's oldest compost companies.
- Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, who proudly manages the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort and has long worked on ag policy.
- Kim Tait, co-founder and owner, Tait Farm Foods, a third-generation famer who has diversified business operations to include specialty food production.
- John Teasdale, scientist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, who has focused on sustainable agriculture research.
- Tom Harding, a global organic advisor, Agrisystems International, the founding president of the Organic Trade Association.
The story hasn’t concluded. Just as these pioneers continue to serve, so does Rodale Institute, which itself is making history again with a relatively new dairy partnership. The institute opened some of its land to a neighbor across a portion of the 10.5 miles of laid fence to help the Burkholder family convert to organic. Because of the partnership, the Burkholders were able to produce organic-certified milk in one year rather than three—joining the Organic Valley cooperative as a member and farmer-owner.
The partnership allows Rodale Institute to study the operation and a comparable conventional one owned by Burkholder's father-in-law on the other side of the research facility. Coach Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute's executive director, hopes to have a report by the end of the year.
If preliminary results hold true, "we're going to have a wonderful messsage," he said.
People like James Burkholder and Organic Valley, Smallwood and Rodale, and all those pioneers we've honored have a great story to tell. Like Harding said when receiving the surprise honor: "We can make a difference; we can change ag; and we can make a difference in health and wellness."
What other kinds of USDA organic research could Rodale help facilitate? Share in the comments.