New Rodale Resource Center to Expand Organic Hemp Research
Pocono Organics will become Rodale Institute’s fifth Regional Resource Center, joining other centers in Georgia, Iowa, California and Italy.
The announcement came during a ribbon-cutting event in April. Christened the Rodale Institute Pocono Organic Center at Pocono Organics, this evolution of the partnership between the nonprofit and Pocono Organics’ team marks a new era of regenerative organic research in the Pocono Mountains region.
Pocono Organics is the largest Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) vegetable farm in North America, with over 380 acres of farmland in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Founded by Ashley Walsh, a member of the Mattioli family who owns the nearby Pocono Raceway, Pocono Organics has been a research partner of Rodale Institute as well as a vital source of local, organic food to the Poconos community since its groundbreaking in July of 2018.
“Rodale Institute has been a vested partner with us since day one at our farm,” said Ashley Walsh, founder and president of Pocono Organics, in a news release. “Our work over the last three years to provide more educational experiences around regenerative organic agriculture, as well as our research trials, has led us to becoming Rodale’s largest regional resource center. We could not be prouder to work so closely with such a global-leading organization that is as equally committed to human and planetary health as we are.”
By becoming a regional resource center, Pocono Organics will benefit from the world-renowned research prowess of Rodale Institute, establishing long-term comparison trials for which the Institute is known. Arash Ghale, named research director of the site, has been studying sustainable agriculture and crop diversification for years, most recently as a research associate at the University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ghale has dedicated lab space at Pocono Organics for his full-time research efforts that will include integrated pest management, food production using agrivoltaic systems, precision agriculture, as well as methods for improving hemp cultivation and specialty crop production. His research will take place in both outdoor fields as well as in the farm’s 40,000-square-feet, state-of-the-art, soil-based greenhouses.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Rodale Institute leadership spoke of the important role that regenerative organic agriculture plays in building community health as well as how the center will be a resource for farmers looking to transition from conventional to regenerative organic farming practices.
“By opening the Rodale Institute Pocono Organic Center at Pocono Organics, we are creating an opportunity to advance understanding and enthusiasm to be a part of the practice of regenerative organic agriculture,” said Jeff Tkach, Rodale Institute’s chief impact officer, in the news release. “Through those efforts, regional resource centers like Pocono will help us achieve our goal of increasing the number of organic farms and acres in organic production by developing solutions for farmers, providing food for the community, and serving as a beacon of education.”
The Rodale Institute Pocono Organic Center at Pocono Organics will solve challenges for farmers in the region, while providing an oasis for local residents through the Pocono Organics café and farm market, stocked with organic produce from the fields. Ultimately, the center aims to increase the number of organic farms and acreage in the region, help farmers improve soil health and other key metrics like yields and profitability without synthetic chemicals.
This formal partnership with Rodale Institute will also expand Pocono Organics’ efforts in regenerative organic hemp for CBD products. In 2021, Pocono Organics became the first farm in the world to receive the Regenerative Organic Certified label for hemp. This seal denotes excellence in soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. Pocono Organics’ USDA-certified organic CBD products are made with ROC hemp and are available both online and in-store at numerous regional retailers.
“Pocono Organics beautifully exemplifies the highest aims of the Regenerative Organic Certified program–to empower farmers and eaters to create a better future through better farming,” said Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the governing body in charge of the ROC label. “Throughout my visit with this stellar ROC farming partner, I saw clearly how their dedication to regenerative organic principles rippled throughout the entire operation from the abundant, healthy crops growing in the ground, to the delicious, healthful creations in the café, the abundance of seasonal products in the retail store and the joyful, engaged employees. We are so proud to be partners with them.”
As regenerative organic agriculture continues to expand in the food, fiber, and home goods markets, establishing research centers and community education gathering places is essential to building a responsible food system that heals people and the planet.