|by Margaret Wilson|
Have you ever wondered what it really means to go organic? Regenerative organic agriculture is more than just a trend — it’s a method of farming that respects and works with nature. Organic farming relies on natural principles and techniques, as opposed to synthetic chemicals and pesticides, to produce healthy and abundant food. Organic farms go through a rigorous certification process and don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Organic farmers know that there is a direct connection between the food we eat and the health of our bodies. That’s why at Rodale Institute, we’ve strived for over 70 years to pioneer organic farming techniques that grow nutritious food free of toxins, pesticides, and other harmful substances. We know that for many people, protecting their family’s health is a top priority. That’s why we conduct rigorous research about the benefits of organic farming at our 333-acre experimental farm in Kutztown and work hard to ensure that organic food is accessible to everyone.
Our research has shown that conventional and organic agriculture methods have vastly different consequences for both the environment and people. Despite an abundance of calories in the modern diet, food today is less nutritious than it used to be. Conventional farming practices deplete the soil and make it impossible for plants to get the nutrients they need. When food is grown organically, those nutrients thrive in the soil and get transferred to the plants we eat, improving human health in the process.
The popularity of local events like VegFest in Bethlehem belies a broader movement in the Lehigh Valley—namely, a commitment to local food, plant-based diets, and responsible agricultural practices. As the organic market grows nationwide—worth more than $50 billion in the U.S.—the Lehigh Valley is becoming a microcosm of organic pioneers.
It is appropriate that the Lehigh Valley would become a hotbed of organic and plant-based fervor. The organic movement was born right in the Lehigh Valley with the Rodale family, who launched Organic Farming and Gardening from Emmaus in 1942 and started the first organic research site in North America on their farm on Minesite Road.
Organic farmers know that there is a direct connection between the food we eat and the health of our bodies.
Eventually, the research started in Emmaus moved to Kutztown and what is today Rodale Institute, a sprawling 333-acre experimental farm that focuses on researching the benefits of organic agriculture.
Today, southeastern and central Pennsylvania are considered an “organic hotspot.” A hotspot is a cluster of counties with statistically high numbers of organic operations that neighbor counties with similarly high numbers of organic operations. According to research conducted by Penn State University, organic hotspot counties have 1.3 percent lower poverty rates and median household incomes $2,000 higher on average.
But despite this growth, many residents of the Lehigh Valley don’t have access to local, organic produce. However, for citizens of cities like Allentown, Rodale Institute has made it easier to get organic fruits and vegetables, grown locally, at an affordable price.
The Rodale Institute Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program is a farm share that offers a weekly selection of organic produce and pasture-raised meats to families in the Lehigh Valley region. ASC is a unique program that allows participants to pay week-to-week, rather than the upfront payment that is required by many traditional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Rodale Institute’s ASC shares and Farmers Markets also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and WIC vouchers.
We purposely focus our ASC program on urban areas that do not have easy access to affordable, high-quality fresh food, known as food deserts. We prioritize these communities in order to ensure that the benefits of organic food are accessible to every family, not just those who are able to visit an organic grocery store or farm stand.
Membership applications for the Rodale Institute ASC program are accepted on a rolling basis year-round. Boxes are available for pick up weekly from June to the end of October. Members and non-members can also visit our ASC pop-up Farmers Market at the Allentown YMCA on Saturdays from June to October. To sign up for one of our ASC shares or to find more information on pickup sites, visit RodaleInstitute.org/ASC.
Wondering what you can do to help encourage regenerative organic agriculture in the Lehigh Valley? Here are some easy ways Rodale Institute can help you get started:
Sign up for a CSA or farm share box like Rodale Institute’s ASC to support local farmers and the organic movement.
Volunteer or intern on our organic farm to learn where your food comes from.
Join us for a workshop or webinar on topics like organic gardening or composting.
Buy organic! Whether it’s at the grocery store or a farmers’ market, food companies pay attention to what consumers want. Voting with your dollars will help grow the organic movement.
Getting more organic produce into your diet doesn’t have to be difficult. Human health should be a priority of our food system — no matter where you live. Now, even those who live in the heart of the city can still have access to fresh, organic produce that has the power to improve the health and quality of life of those who eat it.
Learn more about regenerative organic agriculture, eating locally, and what you can do to help at RodaleInstitute.org.
Margaret is a Content Creation & Media Relations Specialist at Rodale Institute.