Do you choose to eat organic food? The latest figures show that 6 out of 10 Australian households buy organic food at least occasionally, and that consumer demand for organics is growing at a rate of 20–30% per year. That’s a lot, right?

But you only have to step into a supermarket to be reminded that the vast majority of people don’t eat organic food the vast majority of the time. That’s of great interest to us, because though it seems a no-brainer that you’d prefer not to eat food that’s been grown with chemicals, there’s obviously a lot of barriers to people being able to do that in real life.

Cost is probably the most commonly cited reason, but some people are not even convinced that organic food is better for them, and may not have thought much about whether it’s better for the environment.

As organic farmers and educators we’re convinced that organic growing is better on every level, but anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, it’s reasonable for people to expect actual evidence if they’re going to change their behaviour. If you’ve ever done our “5 Key Steps to Growing Great Fruit” webinar, you’ll know we’ve been following Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in Pennsylvania for a long time, for exactly this reason.

Katie and Hugh at Rodale Organic Farming Institute, USA, 2019
Katie and Hugh at Rodale Organic Farming Institute, USA, 2019

We’re interested in their Farming Systems Trial – the longest-running study comparing organic with conventional agriculture in America, but we were also keen to see the apple orchard, vegetable trials and green roof trial.

Actually, we wanted to see everything!

The apple orchard at Rodale
The apple orchard at Rodale

Rodale was set up almost 70 years ago by the foresighted Rodale family for exactly this purpose – to measure organic techniques against conventional. It was the time of the “green revolution” when cheap mass-produced fertilisers and chemicals were transforming agriculture to the big corporate machine it is today. From very early on, JJ Rodale was aware of the risks that conventional agriculture posed, but he needed scientific data to back up his ideas.

Healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people

JJ Rodale

Research is still their focus today, but they also help conventional farmers make the transition to organics, as well as educating consumers. Having followed them for years, a tour of Rodale’s farm was always going to be on our agenda when we did a study tour of the United States, and it was every bit as interesting as we anticipated!

Checking out the compost pile - of course!
Checking out the compost pile – of course!

In many ways the work they’re doing may seem obvious and unnecessary, particularly to those of us who are are already farming this way and know it works. In other words, lots of small-scale regenerative farmers around the world are already demonstrating the benefits in real-time, so why bother doing the research?

Because, while it’s very easy to think this info is common knowledge, and everyone’s already doing it, nothing could be further from the truth. As we already mentioned at the start of this blog, the reality is that only a tiny fraction of the food we eat (less than 5%) is grown this way. The huge majority of our food is still produced using farming practices that are damaging the soil, leading to a slow decline in human health and contributing to climate change, and at Rodale they’re proving it.

The science behind how plants take carbon from the air and store it in the soil
The science behind how plants take carbon from the air and store it in the soil

What Rodale does is provide the hard evidence that organic methods have measurably better outcomes in terms of productivity, soil health, nutrient density, and – importantly – profitability.

It’s this sort of evidence that provides external credibility for training courses like Grow Great Fruit Without Chemicals, so you don’t just have to take our word for the fact it works.

We need to spread the word about organic and regenerative farming, and Rodale just might help us do it a little faster.