Rodale Institute, pioneer of the organic movement in America and site of North America’s longest-running trial comparing organic and conventional growing methods, will open the Midwest Organic Center this year at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm (part of the Indian Creek Nature Center) in Marion near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Iowa — long considered the epicenter of agriculture — has 103,136 certified organic acres on 732 farms. This places Iowa fifth in the nation for the number of certified organic farms — representative of a growing movement. Yet, the region lacks truly progressive, widespread access to research and training in regenerative organic practices. The Midwest Organic Center will provide resources and support for Iowa’s organic farmers and enhance the growth of more organic farms throughout the entire region.
Goals of the center include:
- Research innovative, regenerative, organic farming methods, and provide farmers with the education and resources to implement those methods on their own farms;
- Expand organic acreage in the Midwest;
- Gather data on differences between conventional and organic farming methods in Iowa’s unique climate and soil;
- Expand public access to Rodale Institute’s research, and
- Create progressive opportunities in agriculture.
“This is a real milestone,” Rodale Institute executive director Jeff Moyer said. “There are a lot of opportunities for Midwest farmers to transition to organic — whether it be in grains, livestock or other specialty crops — and we want to be true partners to make that possible. We’re looking forward to having boots on the ground in the Midwest to address some of the greatest challenges for farmers in the region and to provide training, demonstration plots, field days and more. We invite additional partners to join us in this initiative and expect it to be a real collaborative effort.”
In 2019, researchers and farm staff will begin transitioning the land to organic, a process that requires three total years. They will designate areas for grain production, vegetable production and a long-term systems trial similar in design to Rodale Institute’s flagship Farming Systems Trial. The center plans to host an education day for farmers sometime this year.
“We are very excited to work with Rodale Institute to launch the Midwest Organic Center,” said John Myers, Indian Creek Nature Center executive director. “Rodale is a respected leader in the organic field, and this partnership will allow us to expand the impact Etzel Sugar Grove Farm has on educating and supporting Midwest farmers.”
Indian Creek Nature Center, located in Cedar Rapids, is Iowa’s first and only privately owned and operated nonprofit nature center. One of the ways the Nature Center practices its mission is through Etzel Sugar Grove Farm — a 190-acre farm located in Marion, Iowa.
The Midwest Organic Center will be supported by initial funding from Frontier Co-Op.
“At Frontier Co-op, we’ve always believed that we have a responsibility to people and planet,” Tony Bedard, Frontier Co-op chief executive officer, said. “The Midwest Organic Center represents a truly progressive approach to enhancing agriculture by demonstrating the benefit of not only organic but regenerative agricultural practices. These practices will restore topsoil, enhance soil health and grow better, more nutritious crops. We believe it is imperative that these progressive practices be exhibited and shared with producers in the Midwest, especially as topsoil levels continue to plummet in Iowa.”