Pennsylvania is investing several million dollars in research into organic farming in the region.
The Rodale Institute has received a $3 million grant to build a state-of-the-art research facility on the nonprofit’s 400-acre campus in the community of Maxatawny outside of Kutztown.
Rodale CEO Jeff Moyer said Pennsylvania is a growing center for organic research and innovation.
“Berks County and Pennsylvania are becoming the Silicon Valley of the East [Coast] around organic food,” said Moyer. “Having a structure that houses our scientific team, our technicians [and] our scientists, is critical to our success.”
State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) has been a strong supporter of the funding.
“This will give Rodale opportunities for more classroom space, more labs, and more space for researchers to do what they need to do,” said Schwank, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Rodale’s new space will include a visitor center that will expand the existing educational opportunities for farmers – and anyone interested – to learn more about sustainable farming practices such as organic and regenerative agriculture.
Scott Sechler owns and operates the organic chicken company Bell & Evans in Lebanon, Pa. He switched to organic a few decades ago. He says Rodale scientists and educators helped him make the move — and he says he hasn’t looked back since.
“Before, we never really thought about making sure those worms are happy, and all the other bugs in the soil are happy, and at the end of the day, how [changing how we do things would] makes great chicken,” said Sechler, whose farm has been in the family for more than a century.
The organic and regenerative agriculture industry, which focuses on methods such as topsoil regeneration and biodiversity, is growing. According to the US Organic Trade Association, US organic sales topped $52 billion in 2018, a 6% increase from the previous year.
Under the Pennsylvania Farm Bill’s Farm Vitality Grant Program, the state allows farmers to apply for grants of up to $7,500 to transition to organic.
There are more than 1,000 certified organic farms in Pennsylvania.
Moyer believes that increasing demand coupled with government support will result in more farmers choosing organic.
“So over the past four to five years, the state has been very supportive of giving farmers an opportunity to farm differently and challenging them to step into a market where there is a need — and the state of Pennsylvania can meet that need.” cover,” said Moyer.
Founded in Emmaus in 1947, the Rodale Institute celebrates its 75th anniversary in October.
The group’s goals include working on a more sustainable food system and mitigating climate change.