The Trailblazers for Good Q&A Series sits down with the most world shaking individuals leading the movement to align impact, profit and purpose. Here we pick the brains of top social entrepreneurs to learn first hand from their stunning accomplishments, utter failures, and stiff challenges in leading the revolution of doing well by doing good. Join us as we explore the collective consciousness that drives and inspires these individuals.
Maria Rodale is CEO and Chairman of Rodale Inc., the world’s leading multimedia company focused on health, wellness, and the environment and the largest independent book publisher in the USA. Rodale reaches 70 million people worldwide through brands such as Prevention, Men’s Healthand Organic Gardening; through books including The South Beach Dietand Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth; and through numerous digital properties. She is founding editor of Rodale.com, which features her blog, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen.
Rodale is the author of Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, which cuts through the confusion and misinformation to provide an indispensable look at why chemical-free farming unquestionably holds the key to better health for our families and the planet.
She has won numerous awards, including the 2004 National Audubon Society’s “Rachel Carson Award” and the 2007 United Nations Population Fund’s “Award for the Health and Dignity of Women.” She is a board member of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project and co-chair of the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that has been dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach to farmers, scientists, and consumers for over sixty years.
You are quoted saying, “If you do one thing to change the world go organic.” Why do you believe that’s the case?
Organic food is healthier and safer for you and your children and our environment. We now know that toxic chemicals used in the production of our food are contaminating our air, soil, and water and are ultimately poisoning our families. You do not need chemicals to grow food. We have been misled into thinking that adding chemicals is normal, necessary and that farming without them is somehow strange or impossible. Virtually every food in the world has been successfully and profitably grown organically in modern productive and regenerative ways.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your grandfather that has served you well as CEO and Chairman at Rodale?
Courage, patience and persistence. He had the courage to come up with ideas and products that so many people in the establishment laughed at and made fun of him for. But he knew it was the right thing, and due to his persistence and patience, was able to change the world for the better. In 1942 when he launched Organic Gardening magazine, people called him crazy. Now, according to the new study by Thompson Reuters and NPR health, 58% of Americans prefer organic food. It’s taken a long time, but it’s an amazingly wonderful change!
What inspired you to make promoting the benefits of an organic lifestyle your personal mission?
As a mother, an activist, a businesswoman and a vocal friend of the farmer, I’ve seen for myself the benefits of organic — so it’s easy to make it my personal mission. This is an idea that I have grown up with- the same idea that my grandfather started Rodale with over 60 years ago. Now is the time to bring the message to the masses- and science is on our side. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that toxic chemicals that are being used to grow food are hurting our bodies and our planet. These chemicals are being passed on to the next generation too. Writing Organic Manifesto, and spending time with the farmers in the field only reaffirmed my pursuit of an organic lifestyle. It’s the right thing to do.
One of the interesting things that is part of the Rodale Family is the Rodale Institute, can you tell us about that and about some of the exciting things coming out of there?
There are so many exciting things going on at the Rodale Institute, and I highly suggest checking out the website to find out what workshops, events, tours and projects we have going on. Recently, we were very excited to open our Water Purification Eco-Center, an on-site bathroom and wastewater treatment system that that captures rainwater and uses it several times before returning it to the soil as clean water. Constructed wetlands are a little-known, yet incredibly efficient way to deal with all those things we flush down our pipes. Less in your face than a composting toilet, this method for sewage treatment cycles nutrients and water through the landscape to create greater fertility, ecological vibrancy, and cleaner groundwater.
We are also spearheading programs to raise funds for causes that powerfully align with Rodale Institute’s goals. In the U.S., we need to be finding, educating and supporting the next generation of organic farmers, so we are elated to be starting Your 2 Cents, a program that unites producers, consumers, researchers and educators to reach that goal. The program is designed to raise funds to support student scholarships for sustainable agriculture degrees, military veterans establishing careers in organic farming, and new organic farmers while establishing research grants for farmers in the Your 2 Cents network. Our inaugural program partner Uncle Matt’s Organic, a company that offers organic citrus juice and produce, is kicking off support by donating two cents per case good of their organic juice sold to the fund.
What are some concrete actions our readers can do today to help push towards a healthier and greener life?
The first thing people need to know and believe when pursuing a healthier, greener life is that they are NOT powerless- this is the main point I wanted people to take away from my book. The most powerful thing we can do for the health of our families and our planet is not just to choose organic (though that is very important) – but also to go out and demand organic as well. This can be as simple as a conversation with your local grocer.
If I am shopping for milk or eggs- or anything really- and organic options are not available, I always ask why not? As consumers we always have the power to vote with our dollars; if we buy factory farmed meat- people will continue to produce it.
A huge piece of this is also education- education of our friends and neighbors, our children and ourselves. We need to arm ourselves to be better, savvier shoppers, and to understand labels and language. Over time, companies can really change language to make it misleading. For example, “conventional” produce should not equate to normal- it means it was grown using chemicals!
Any parting words?
Living an organic lifestyle is fun, rewarding, and can truly be accessible to families of different sizes on varying budgets. Small steps are key. It can be started just by buying organic beans and grains in bulk, or by selecting just a few organic “no-compromise” items to switch into your diet. But once you start, you won’t want to go back. You’ll be amazed at how your health and happiness change by living organically.
My blog, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen, is where I work to share the pleasures of simple, delicious organic living. Recipes needn’t be elaborate- but they can incorporate great things you can grow in your own backyard. I am a mom, so I know that the best recipes are often the people-pleasers- and it is a great bonus when they are easy, organic and good for you.
Summer is tomato season, so recently I have been sharing some of my favorite tomato tips and recipes – perfect for last minute entertaining or as a simple snack. A new, instant classic at my house this summer is Tomaquet- Catalan tomato bread. I really recommend giving it a try: Tomaquet recipe, Recipe page
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