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July 16th, 2012

Gardeners at Work

Some of us simply can’t get enough of playing in the dirt. That’s why we created a Garden Club here at the Rodale Inc. headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. It gives us a chance to get outside on our lunch hour at least once a week and pull a few weeds or harvest some zucchini.

The garden was laid out to take maximum advantage of the sunlight in the courtyard outside of our employee cafe. Our Facilities crew built 10 4-by-8-foot raised beds for us, and they even ran plumbing out there so we can have two hose stations and a produce-washing sink. The plan includes a pavilion, to be added later, that will be used for al fresco business meetings and lunches.

Since the beds are adjacent to the path that some employees and visitors use to get to the cafe, they frequently stop and check out the veggies and flowers. If one of the Garden Club members is working in the garden at the time, they might ask a question or two. We’re hoping at least a few people people will be inspired to start their own gardens once they see how little effort it takes to get so much produce and so many flowers from one small bed.

Our photography editor, Patrick Montero, has been documenting the progress of our garden throughout the season. Here are some highlights:

These 10 raised beds Pack a lot of punch, considering they take up only seven-thousandths of an acre.

These 10 raised beds pack a lot of punch, considering they take up only seven-thousandths of an acre. Here they are shortly after planting this spring. The picnic tables will eventually be shaded by a pavilion.

Having a water source near your garden is a huge time-saver.

Having a water source near your garden is a huge time-saver.

Weeds can be a problem in organic compost, but if you give the beds two weeks between filling them with soil and compost and planting your crops, you'll have time to do two thorough weedings. Once you plant, apply a thick layer of grass clippings as we did, and the weeds will be minimal.

Weeds can be a problem in organic compost, as you can see above, but if you give the beds two weeks between filling them with soil and compost and planting your crops, you'll have time to do two thorough weedings. Once you plant, apply a thick layer of grass clippings as we did, and the weeds will be minimal. The bed full of weeds above is now lush with annual flowers, and nary a weed in sight!

One of our beds is hosting four 'Pink Lemonade' blueberry bushes, which will provide three-season color as well as food for the birds (and the humans!).

One of our Garden Club regulars planted four 'Pink Lemonade' blueberry bushes, a gorgeous variety that will provide three-season color as well as food for the birds (and the humans!).

Grace Montero, Patrick's 4-year-old daughter, picks up pointers from our OG Test Garden manager, Doug Hall, on how to plant beans.

Grace Montero, Patrick's 4-year-old daughter, picks up bean-planting pointers from our OG Test Garden manager, Doug Hall.

Grace is learning how to compost, too!

Grace is learning how to compost, too!

For more pictures of Rodale’s employee garden, follow our OG Behind the Scenes board on Pinterest.

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November 14th, 2011

Healthy Food, Healthy People

nancy-80x80In my last post, I expressed some smugness about Rodale’s pioneering status in the healthy-food movement. I felt a little guilty about it at the time, but I feel vindicated now. While rummaging through our files searching for essays by J. I. Rodale, I came across a folder labeled “Rodale’s Food Center.” Inside it were a few brochures and a vintage article from Organic Gardening about the Food Center established at Rodale Press (now Rodale Inc.) back in 1979. That’s 1979—when Saddam Hussein became president of Iran, Sony introduced the Walkman, and the McDonald’s Happy Meal was rolled out nationwide. Microwave ovens were the latest craze, expanding from 1 percent of American households in 1971 to 25 percent by 1986. The organization Slow Food would not be founded for another 10 years.

But Rodale was already exploring the relationship between our food and our health. The Rodale Food Center had high ambitions when it was founded:

“From harvest to table,” the brochure reads, “we’re dedicated to improving the way people eat. We’re working to create the best in new crops, recipes, and food products, and to find the best in prepared foods and kitchen equipment. And we help the rest of Rodale Press make that information available to the widest possible audience—to consumers and industry, science and government alike.”

The Rodale Food Center

The Rodale Food Center, circa 1979

The building that housed the Food Center was itself innovative. At the time, adaptive reuse of older buildings was not common, but Rodale repurposed several buildings in Emmaus—including several former silk mills—as part of its philosophy of regeneration. The former Thaddeus Stevens elementary school was remodeled to become the Food Center’s first home (shown above).

To launch its new venture, Rodale chose chef Tom Ney, who had attended of the Culinary Institute of America. He became the director of the Test Kitchen and Food Services (which serves food for Rodale employees). Home economist and nutritionist Anita Hirsch served as the Test Kitchen supervisor. Their photos are featured prominently in the brochure:

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Tom Ney and Anita Hirsch

“Harvest to table” is a common phrase today, but back then, this was a revolutionary concept. The Food Center worked with researchers at the Rodale Research Center who were developing highly nutritious but relatively unknown crops, such as amaranth, testing different varieties, recipes, and cooking methods to see which would appeal to American consumers. Rodale employees were the taste-testers. (Having had the experience of tasting amaranth, I can say there’s a reason it is seldom on the menu in American restaurants.) This relationship would be discontinued when the Research Center separated from Rodale Press and became the nonprofit now known as the Rodale Institute.

The brochure goes on to say, “We also create many of the recipes we publish because we prefer to use natural rather than overly-processed ingredients and, we’d rather do without certain ingredients like sugar, salt, and white flour in favor of fresh fruits, herbs and whole grains.” Again, these concepts are common in 2011 but were not in 1979. And Rodale continues its commitment to testing and refining recipes to make them tastier and more healthful. Many of the original recipes created by Organic Gardening authors have been tested by JoAnn Brader, current Test Kitchen manager, and her staff, and tasted by our staff at the magazine. They’re often adjusted and improved before publication. The Test Kitchen is also frequently called on to do recipe nutrient analysis for Rodale magazines and cookbooks, which allows editors to substitute healthier ingredients if a recipe is found to fall short of our health standards.

Plans are in the works for a new Test Kitchen facility, occupying part of one of the repurposed silk mills Rodale has renovated. Stay tuned for updates.

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October 24th, 2011

Food Day 2011

nancy-80x80Today is Food Day, a brainchild of the Center for Science in the Public Interest to advocate for “healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.” Other organizations and individuals have embraced this day to hold informational events and social gatherings large and small.

While I certainly applaud this effort, I must confess to a certain amount of smugness as I say, “Glad you finally caught up to us!” The folks at Rodale Inc. (the parent company of Organic Gardening) have championed this message for the past 60-odd years. It started with J.I. Rodale, our founding editor, who brought the agricultural theories of Sir Albert Howard to the United States and was the first to use the term “organic” to describe it. J.I.’s son Robert built on this legacy, expanding the company’s agricultural publishing into Russia and establishing the Farming Systems Trial, the longest-running side-by-side U.S. study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods. Robert’s daughter Maria, now chairman and CEO of the company, recently published Organic Manifesto, laying out the modern arguments for why consumers should “demand organic.”

But none of us can afford to be smug, can we? Our agricultural system is (still) broken. On the one hand, at least in America, it is highly productive and produces surpluses almost every year. On the other hand, the food often does not make it to the people who need it, and waste is built in to the system. Often the resources we rely on for life itself—soil, air, and water—are severely damaged by this “productivity.”

So those of us who have toiled in the trenches of the organic movement for lo these many years welcome the young blood that efforts like Food Day bring into it.

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For more information about Food Day, click here.

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June 27th, 2011

The Paper Chase

nancy-80x80I love old paper. I love the texture and weight of it, especially old rag paper. My hobby is collecting ephemera, most of which is printed on paper, so my following statement may seem odd.

I hate new paper. The amount that flows through my household every day is dizzying. I do recycle religiously, but I’d rather not deal with the excess in the first place. I need to break some habits first, though: Cancel those unwanted catalogs, switch to online bank statements (I’m having the most trouble giving those up), renew association memberships online. My electric and phone bills are automatically deducted from my checking account, but I’m still attached to the paper statements I receive in the mailbox. Baby steps.

Fortunately, at work, I am not quite as emotionally connected to the paper that crosses my desk—which is a lot. Publishing is a paper-intensive business. You would expect that, since much of our product is printed on paper. But a lot of the paper we use to produce magazines and books here at Rodale never makes it to the newsstand or bookstore. We use cost-tracking spreadsheets and author invoices and production schedules and author emails and status reports and page proofs and—you get the idea. All of these need to be printed on our office printers.

Or do they?

A few years ago, Rodale began to challenge that assumption. Could we cut our office paper usage and not compromise the quality of our work? As it turns out, we could and we did. Between 2009 and 2010, we reduced our office paper usage by 1.1 million sheets. According to my decidedly unscientific calculations, that’s about 137 trees.

How did we do it? By thinking before we print. We ask ourselves some basic questions: Do I really need a hard copy of that email, or should I just archive it on my computer? Could I print this report double-sided? Does this web page offer a printer-friendly view option? Have I picked up all of the printouts that I sent to the printer down the hall earlier today?

All of these changes added up to big paper savings for the company. (Not to mention cost savings: 220 cartons of paper are not cheap.) The environmental benefits extend beyond trees to the chemicals and water and energy used to manufacture and ship the paper. Since more things are now stored in electronic form, there is more demand on our computer servers, but our IT department has addressed this and we are still saving energy.

Our biggest paper-saving transition is happening this year. We’ve introduced new workflow software that will allow us to track statuses and costs and copy changes electronically, thus eliminating a lot of printouts. It will also make it easier for us to prepare content for multiple platforms: print, website, iPad, and whatever else readers demand.

Did I mention that we’ll be saving paper?

Look at the difference between the paper we used just in the Organic Gardening editorial office to produce the two most recent issues:

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Issue files for June/July (left) vs August/September (right)

I think we can do even better with our October/November issue. Now multiply those savings by six issues per year. Then consider that Rodale publishes six magazines and a lot of books. The reams start to stack up. Or, rather, not stack up.

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