On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Chief Growth Officer at the Rodale Institute Jeff Tkach talks about the benefits of regenerative organic practices, which not only maintains resources and inputs, but strengthens them. “If you focus on the soil and focus all your resources and energies on building the soil, resting it, watering it, recovering it, the outcome—it produces healthy food, but it’s more than that: it’s healthy people, says Tkach. “Our job as farmers is not to produce healthy food: it’s to produce healthy people.”
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Founded in 1947, the Rodale Institute conducts research about the advantages of natural, organic farming practices. In labs, classrooms, and farms, the Rodale Institute uses its research for education programs and outreach to help farmers transition to regenerative organic agriculture. “Getting [our research] out into the hands of farmers and helping them transition has never been more critical than today,” says Tkach. “It’s not okay to just sit back, farm, and do research if that research doesn’t bring about change.”
“We see ourselves as a change agent: an agency to bring about change in the way that we produce food,” says Tkach. Since 1981, Rodale Institute has conducted the Farming Systems Trial, a side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional growing systems, to help farmers make the decision to change their farming practices. According to the trial, organic systems produce 31 percent better yields in droughts or floods, save 45 percent of energy, generate three times more profit. “That really seals it for me because so many people don’t think that organic can be done to scale, but we’ve proven that it can be. And we’ve proven that organic can not only feed the world, but it is just good business,” says Tkach.
The Rodale Institute not only leads programs to convert current farmers, but also hosts education programs to train new farmers. Their Veteran Farmer Training Program allows people returning from military service to train at Rodale on-site; the Agriculture Supported Communities program trains new farmers at Rodale, while bringing food grown in the program to low-income communities. Both programs provide rising farmers with mentors: experienced farmers. “Farming is hard. These farmers have tremendous amounts of wisdom that we don’t want to lose. So the ability to take these up and coming farmers that we’re training and to connect them with people who have a lot of experience keeps young people aimed in a successful direction,” says Tkach.