Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Coach Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of Rodale Institute, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
Coach Mark Smallwood (CMS): Since 1947, Rodale Institute has pioneered the organic movement through its research, education and outreach. Our Farming Systems Trial is the longest running side by side comparison of organic and chemical farming approaches. After building 30 years of data, the FST demonstrates that yields are the same in the long term, with organic yielding 30% higher than chemical in years of drought. In 2014, we released our paper, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture & Climate Change,” a meta-analysis which shows that climate change could be reversed through a global transition to regenerative organic agriculture.
(FT): How are you contributing to building a better food system?
(CMS): In 1940, our founder, J.I. Rodale, wrote “Healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people.” Today this connection is more apparent than ever. Not only does our research offer insight and new methodologies to farmers globally, we have also created model programs for local impact. A twist on the CSA model, our Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program trains young growers on how to provide fresh, local, organic produce to underserved areas. We have partnered with St. Luke’s Hospital, a Lehigh Valley health network, to place an organic farm on-site at one of their newest hospital campuses. In 2015, we have partnered with the city of Allentown, PA, to create a network of urban gardens on vacant lots and public spaces, as well as farmers markets and training programs in organic agriculture.
(FT): What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
(CMS): Funding is always a major obstacle, but we have consistently improved our record on winning grants for our programming. Historically the organic movement has been the target of ongoing disinformation campaigns, and our challenge is to provide science-backed information on the capabilities of organic agriculture and the dangers of toxic agricultural chemicals and industrial farming methods, both to people and the planet.
(FT): Who is your food hero and why?
(CMS): To name just one would be impossible. My heroes are the long time leaders of the organic movement who were committed to organics long before it was mainstream. J.I. Rodale is a hero for institutionalizing organic research and education so early on. Scott Nash, founder of Mom’s Organic Markets, started his first market in his garage in the ‘80’s, and brought me on after I was a farmer. Of course, the farmers who have worked for generations to steward the land and soil, to produce healthy food upon which a healthy society can be built, these are the truest of the heroes.
(FT): In 140 characters or less what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?
(CMS): Read the science. Help spread the vision of an Organic Planet. Work to make it a reality.