Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA – 13 June 2015

My first visit of my North America trip was to Rodale Institute Experimental Farm. Rodale is a charity, and the aims of the Institute is to research and communicate best practice in Sustainable Agriculture. I had read some interesting articles about the farm so I took this chance to visit. My host for the day was Aaron Kinsman. He showed me around the farm which is highly diversified: you name it, they probably do it.

The first example I saw of companion planting above is onions and lettuce. The idea is the lettuce shade out the weeds for the onions.

Lettuce and onions

Vertical planting

The above is a concept for urban agriculture. The whole tower is full of compost and you then plant vegetables in the top and sides.

We then saw the roller crimper which was developed by Jeff Moyer, the farm’s director for rolling and killing cover crops in organic no till.


Aaron then took me to their Apple orchards where they were experimenting with pheromones on ribbons.

Coddling moth is a real problem for them in apples. The idea of the female pheromones was to attract in the male moths early before the females had turned up. The males would realise there were no ladies and move on, so disrupting the life cycle.

Pheromones on ribbons

We then saw a prototype pastured pork building. This building gave the pigs shelter and access to food with constant access to the pasture outside. The idea is to save labour from traditional pastured pork. It seemed an excellent idea. The pigs are sold locally to restaurants.

Then I had a fascinating chat to Dr Gladis Zinati an Associate Research Scientist. Her work is on no-till cucumbers and attracting beneficial insects for natural control. She is using buffers strips, and one plant she is looking at is Lucerne, which apparently attracts ground beetles. I wondered whether lucerne would be good for natural Bruchid control in beans. She had also been working on weed suppression with compost teas. She had found suppression of pigs weed and lambs quarter but with different formulations of tea for each. She is trying to find out whether the suppression effect is chemical, biological or a combination of the two. Black-grass suppression from compost tea?

We also quickly looked at the farming systems trial. More information can be found online but it shows that over 30 years organic yields were comparable if not higher than conventional, profit was higher in the organic and so was the carbon sequestration.


Farming system trial

The morning flew by and was over too quickly. I felt I would need more than a morning to really understand what was going on at Rodale as the list is huge. Many thanks to Aaron and the rest of the staff for giving up their time to speak to me.



Andrew Howard farms 345ha in a family partnership near Ashford, Kent, growing winter and spring wheat, winter and spring oilseed rape, spring oats, spring barley, winter barley, and field beans. His soils range from heavy weald clay to light sand. Andrew is a committee member of BASE UK, and member of LEAF and the Institute of Agricultural Management. As a Nuffield Scholar, Andrew will study companion cropping around the world.