Nearly one third of farmers in the U.S. today are past retirement age. Many new farmers are interested in going organic, but they don’t know how to make it work. Let’s give them the tools they need to farm organically.
There’s nothing traditional about chemical, industrial farming. It’s an experiment that began in the past century, and the fallout is now clear: Dry, depleted soils. Superweeds and species loss. Chemical residues in food, water and people.
But today, we’re at a turning point. More than 93 million acres of farmland is about to change hands, and a new generation of farmers is about to enter the trade.
STAT 2, 6 & 7: SOURCE 2015 Organic Survey, USDA NASS Census of Agriculture, September 17, 2015
STAT 5, 8 & 9: SOURCE 2016 United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, May 5, 2016
Because most farming research is conducted or funded by “big agriculture,” even farmers who want to switch to organic often struggle to find the information they need. That’s why at Rodale Institute we work hard to provide educational opportunities, research, and other resources that empower farmers to adopt an organic approach.
Rodale Institute is empowering the next generation of farmers through education and research programs including:
Veteran Farmer Training Program
Roughly one fifth of young veterans are unemployed, and many are from rural areas. We provide a housing allowance, flexible training, and ongoing support to help veterans explore careers in organic farming.
Agriculture Supported Communities
We bring fresh, high-quality organic foods to food-deserts through an affordable community supported agriculture program while providing training for new farmers with an 8-month seed-to-harvest training program.
We provide internships in organic livestock husbandry that may be used for college credit. Interns work with swine, oxen, donkeys, goats and sheep, laying hens, dairy steers, and broilers and turkeys. Housing is provided.
Organic Farming Certificate Program
This innovative one-year program, provided in partnership with Delaware Valley University, combines classroom instruction with hands-on experience leading to certification in organic farming. Special assistance is available for veterans.
Born into the Ho-Chunk Nation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Jessika and Kristen Greendeer grew up enjoying the clean air and crystal waters of Mirror Lake State Park. As young adults, they joined the Army and served in Iraq and Germany.
In 2014, Jessika completed her service and began looking for a new career. She moved in with Kristen, who had become frustrated by the challenges of providing healthy, organic food for her two children on a budget. Their quests converged when Jessika discovered Rodale Institute’s organic farming certificate program, which is designed to serve returning veterans. She and Kristen enrolled using their GI Bill benefits. They studied soil biology, pest control, compost pile management, and more. In 2016, they earned their certification.
“I feel like in life we’ve been put on a path we’re meant to be on”
Knowing that Native American populations across the country are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, the Greendeers took their newfound skills home to Wisconsin, where they plan to launch a nonprofit to help members of the Ho-Chunk Nation become self-sufficient by growing organic food. “I feel like in life we’ve been put on a path we’re meant to be on,” Jessika says. Through organic farming, the Greendeers have found a way to reinvest in the healthy land and community they loved as children.
Photos by Steve Legato
“I always loved being outside, growing a little garden,” says Chris West, owner of Bethlehem’s Bounty CSA, “but I never imagined myself growing an entire farm.”
Chris graduated in 2008 with a degree in environmental engineering and a lifelong appreciation for nature. He worked several jobs, but found them unfulfilling, so he picked up a backpack and hiked the West Coast, learning self-sufficiency.
On his return, Chris began growing food and discovered his true passion. In 2013, he enrolled as an intern in Rodale Institute’s Agriculture Supported Communities program, where he received the hands-on training he needed to found Bethlehem’s Bounty. The farm is located within a mile of the main street in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Chris was born and raised.
“I always loved being outside, growing a little garden”
Chris believes organic, urban farming is the solution to many of the problems facing humanity today. “There are definitely benefits in going organic in soil quality, air quality, healthier foods and a healthier environment,” he says. “It’s also a more equitable system economically. Workers in a CSA have more of a say in the farm operation and benefit more from their labor.
“I think a lot of society’s problems could be solved in the garden if people just recognized the value of it.”
The fallout from our current industrial farming model couldn’t be clearer. Pesticide and herbicide residues are in our soils, our waterways, our food and even our bodies. Soils are depleted and eroding. Species and habitats are disappearing, and we still suffer from food scarcity.
Today, more than 4 million acres (in the U.S. alone) have made the switch to organic farming. Another 93 million acres are ready to change hands, and new farmers are open to change. Help us fight for every last acre. Support the Rodale Institute and plant the seeds for healthier soils, healthier food, and a healthier planet.