Or­ganic farm­ing’s Gar­den of Eden open to pub­lic

J.I. Ro­dale’s 40-acre home­stead turned over to Ro­dale In­sti­tute

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah M. Wo­j­cik

The 40-acre farm in Lower Ma­cungie Town­ship that be­came the epi­cen­ter of the or­ganic farm­ing move­ment was just home for Maria Ro­dale.

The grand­daugh­ter of the busi­ness­man J.I. Ro­dale, founder of Ro­dale Inc. and the Kutz­town-based Ro­dale In­sti­tute, Maria re­mem­bers weed­ing the stone mulch gar­dens on the prop­erty off Mi­ne­site Road — a chore that could leave the unini­ti­ated with scratched knuck­les. She re­mem­bers frol­ick­ing around the farm with her sib­lings, eat­ing the food that came from the same soil that stained their hands and knees.

In the wake of the Hearst com­pany’s ac­qui­si­tion of Ro­dale Inc., the fam­ily has gifted the prop­erty, which came to be known as the Founder’s Farm, to the non­profit Ro­dale In­sti­tute, a world­wide leader in or­ganic and re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing re­search.

“What we’ve re­ally learned here is that na­ture soothes the spirit. This was a gar­den of Eden,” Maria Ro­dale told a crowd gath­ered on the prop­erty Mon­day evening for a rib­bon

cut­ting cer­e­mony to for­merly rec­og­nize the do­na­tion. “And we be­lieve this is pos­si­ble for the whole planet.”

Con­sid­ered sa­cred among those in the world of or­ganic farm­ing, the land where J.I. Ro­dale started his agri­cul­tural ex­per­i­ments in the 1940s will soon of­fer the pub­lic a space to learn about the his­tory and the fu­ture of agri­cul­ture.

“For decades we lost the value of agri­cul­ture in our own back­yard,” said Jeff Tkach, chief im­pact of­fi­cer for the Ro­dale In­sti­tute. “We want this to be a hub for or­ganic, re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing in Le­high County. We be­lieve this could be a cat­a­lyst for health and heal­ing for the com­mu­nity.”

Tkach is re­fer­ring to the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the or­ganic move­ment — an em­pha­sis not just on sus­tain­ing the health of the soil that sup­ports agri­cul­ture, but im­prov­ing and en­hanc­ing it nat­u­rally. The method­ol­ogy, coined by Robert Ro­dale, has come to ex­tend to an­i­mal wel­fare and worker fair­ness, en­com­pass­ing a phi­los­o­phy aimed at work­ing har­mo­niously with na­ture to make things bet­ter for all in­volved.

Mar­garet Wil­son, me­dia re­la­tions spe­cial­ist with the Ro­dale In­sti­tute, said a grow­ing num­ber of farm­ers and con­sumers crave a way to in­ter­act with na­ture in a way that ben­e­fits the crops, soil and creatures as well as the peo­ple gath­ered around the din­ner ta­ble.

“We’re show­ing farm­ers that it can be done here and its scale-able no mat­ter the size of an op­er­a­tion,” Wil­son said.

The spe­cific plans for the land and a timetable for im­ple­men­ta­tion are still be­ing ham­mered out, Wil­son said.

On Mon­day night, that fu­ture­cen­tric view of agri­cul­ture min­gled with his­tory as guests sipped wine and strolled around the orig­i­nal grounds where J.I. Ro­dale first started ex­per­i­ment­ing with grow­ing crops as nat­u­rally as pos­si­ble.

A New York City busi­ness­man plagued by a va­ri­ety of health is­sues that baf­fled his doc­tors, Ro­dale bought the run-down farm prop­erty to serve as a re­search cen­ter for his the­ory that cleaner, health­ier soil would pro­duce health­ier food and health­ier peo­ple. Just as Ro­dale was pur­su­ing the purer ap­proach to agri­cul­ture, the in­dus­try was em­brac­ing chem­i­cals as the fu­ture.

Ro­dale’s mod­est op­er­a­tions at the Mi­ne­site Road farm ex­panded in 1972 to the sprawl­ing 333-acre Ro­dale In­sti­tute cam­pus. That’s where the cut­tingedge re­search is be­ing con­ducted and farm­ers are be­ing trained to bring back re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing to their own fields.

But to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the jour­ney, Maria Ro­dale said the fam­ily re­al­ized the orig­i­nal home­stead needed to be a part of the in­sti­tute’s mis­sion.

“We re­al­ized this re­ally be­longs to the Ro­dale In­sti­tute,” she said of the prop­erty and its legacy. “The two farms to­gether tell the whole story. This is such a spe­cial place. The world needs to know about it.”

Molly and Michael Sch­mael­ing are the prop­erty’s groundskee­p­ers. They live on the land with their tod­dler daugh­ter, tend­ing to the gar­dens and rais­ing hun­dreds of colonies of chem­i­cal-free bees in an api­ary that uses the re­gen­er­a­tive model. Molly Sch­mael­ing, who grew up on a farm in the Po­conos, was al­ways in awe of the Ro­dale fam­ily’s legacy in or­gan­ics, but said she never dreamed of be­ing a stew­ard for the orig­i­nal prop­erty.

“There’s some­thing spe­cial about it,” Sch­mael­ing said of the tract she calls home. “We feel so blessed to be a part of it. It will be won­der­ful to share.”

JANE THERESE/SPE­CIAL TO THE MORN­ING CALL

Molly Sch­mael­ing is care­taker of the home­stead with her hus­band, and they live there with their tod­dler daugh­ter. The home­stead has been given to the Ro­dale In­sti­tute and will be opened to the pub­lic.

JANE THERESE/SPE­CIAL TO THE MORN­ING CALL

The Ro­dale In­sti­tute is tak­ing over as the owner of the Founder’s Farm, orig­i­nal home­stead of J.I. Ro­dale, con­sid­ered the fa­ther of or­ganic agri­cul­ture.

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