Rodale Institute looks to expand its reach amid exploding demand for organics

Jennifer Sheehan/The Morning Call - Rodale Institute, the Maxatawny Township nonprofit dedicated to organic farming, plans to set up satellite centers across the country, designed to help more farmers transition to organic operations, the institute's executive director said Wednesday. Boulder, Colo., Memphis, Tenn., Michigan and Montana all would have resource centers under a plan in the works by the institute, said Executive Director Jeff Moyer. The Rodale Institute is the nonprofit arm of the family-run Rodale Inc. publishing company in Emmaus.

"Not everyone can come visit here," Moyer said of the 333-acre farm and research center near Kutztown. "We can only do so much with our online presentations and webinars, so in that context we said to ourselves it would be really useful if we could have a mini-Rodale Institute in various regions where we could begin to have a greater impact on the transition process."

That's not to say that the institute will purchase farmland or rent office space. Moyer is looking to find partners who can provide them with land and office space to use.

At each site, there would be a scientist, a technician and a farmer or extension agent who could provide information and Rodale Institute research to interested farmers. Ideally those centers would be operating by year's end.

Moyer says the demand for organic food is growing nationally and globally and the nation's production can't keep up with the pace.

"We need to change that," Moyer said.

The institute is looking to set up the resource centers in regions of the country that have different climates and crops than in the Northeast, Moyer said. For example, Boulder is being considered because of the amount of grain grown there.

And demand for organic grain and organic products in general is exploding. American consumers are hungry for organic foods. Sales of organic foods were up $4.6 billion in 2015, according to the Organic Trade Association. Last year also saw a record number of U.S.-certified organic businesses, which increased by 12 percent.

"It's an exploding industry and what's interesting about it is that for years places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's were the only ones selling organic foods," said retail analyst Jeff Green, president and CEO of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix. "Now nearly every supermarket is selling organics."

Fueling much of the demand are millennial parents, according to the Organic Trade Association.

"Younger people will spend the extra money on organic," Green said. "The price doesn't matter."