Act: Inspiration

How to Break into Organic Farming: Interview with Rodale Institute

February 1, 2018

Lyndsey Antanitis is the Veteran Farmer Program Coordinator at the Rodale Institute, an independent research institute for organic farming. She is a farmer, healthcare professional, and veteran with a passion for helping others and providing opportunities within organic agriculture.

The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 in Kutztown, PA by J.I. Rodale. Inspired by the nitrogen fertilizer shortages during World War II, Rodale wanted to develop practical methods of rebuilding soil fertility. Today, the institute focuses particularly on compost, soil health, weed and pest management, livestock operations, organic certification, wastewater treatment, and climate change. It is home to the longest running comparative study of organic and chemical agriculture, started in 1981.

Antanitis served as a Cardiopulmonary Laboratory Technician with the rank of Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force for five years and three deployments and was part of a Critical Care Air Transport Team. After leaving the military, she picked up farming, worked at Roots to River Farm and Tinicum CSA, and joined the Rodale Institute in 2016. She oversees interns and runs the Delaware Valley University Organic Farming Certificate Program and the Veteran Farmer Training Program.

Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Lyndsey Antanitis about getting started as an organic farmer and how veterans can help farming while farming helps veterans.

Food Tank (FT): How did you get interested in organic agriculture?

Lyndsey Antanitis (LA): I’ve always been interested in organic agriculture; my mother was always making sure we ate healthy food growing up. I realized my passion for it when I was watching OMG-GMO, and people didn’t seem to have any inkling of where their food came from, what was in it, how it was grown, etc. It appalled me to think that the majority of our population didn’t comprehend the basic concept of where our food came from. I found out about Rodale Institute from the movie and then the Organic Farming Certificate Program, which became an outlet for me to pour my passion into.

FT: In what ways does farming help veterans and how do veterans help farming?

LA: Farming is a lifestyle that is very similar to the military in many ways. Big Picture: your beliefs are manifested through your actions (this is a lifestyle not a 9 to 5 job), you are serving a greater good, you are part of a small, elite community. Little Picture: using skills you already possess, physical lifestyle, must think on your feet, one mission—many ways to get there. These familiarities help veterans who are still transitioning to civilian life and help make the experience a positive one. Veterans are able to bring their drive, desire for physical labor, and experience with adapting to different situations to ensure the mission is done. With many veterans returning to their homes in rural America, veterans are able to help the farmer who wants to retire.

FT: How can a career in farming be made more appealing to young people?

LA: I think many young people are interested in farming and they understand the benefits it provides socially and environmentally, yet struggle with entering a lifestyle that takes a while to get started, requires significant monetary investments, and is filled with uncertainty (especially the first five years). With farming, these risks are very real but can have great rewards once overcome. To help alleviate these fears and promote the process, longevity, and sustainability aspects to farming, programs like the Veteran Farmer Training Program are arising that help address these issues. Programs like the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative, Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program, Organic Certification reimbursement, Young Farmers Coalition, Organic Farming Certification Program, and apprenticeship training programs nationwide are becoming more and more prevalent in the beginning farming community.

FT: What does the RI Veteran Farmers Program teach and how successful is it?

LA: The VFTP teaches veterans through a 100 percent hands-on approach, working alongside our experts in the field. Veterans are able to learn about organic agriculture while they are performing it. The program is HIGHLY personalized, placing veterans in fields that they wish to learn about, such as vegetable production, livestock management, apiary, composting, etc. Over the past two years, we have had 13 veterans go through our program and are adding free, day workshops to our program, allowing even more veterans to have access to organic agriculture education. This program is growing, through more partnerships, exposure, and benefits to veterans.

FT: Farming in the United States is difficult and has seen decades of consolidation into larger farms as smallholders fail. How do people break into the field?

LA: Breaking into organic farming requires many factors, which most of the previously mentioned programs are addressing. I think potential farmers need to start by working on farms first for at least one full season to fully understand what it entails being a farmer, partake in any formal educational courses they can, and, most importantly, ensure they have the passion to keep them motivated throughout the hard times. As with any job, farming isn’t for everyone, but the people who do have the passion for it will still need help in the hard times. Then moving forward, they need to write a business plan and start small, such as an incubator farm. This will help to make the risk and commitment a little bit less.

Brian Frederick

Brian Frederick is a Research & Writing Fellow at Food Tank. He received a dual-B.S. in Chemistry/Biomolecular Science and an M.S. in Chemistry from Clarkson University, as well as an M.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania. Brian has worked in academia, nonprofit research institutions, and pharmaceutical companies researching biofuels, cancer, and immune health. Lastly, he is an avid traveler and loves the outdoors.

Tags: Building resilient food and farming systems, organic farming, young farmers