The future of healthy eating. Consumers want healthy quality foods they can trust but are confused about organic, the features and benefits. Healthy soil produces something even better – regenerative organic. You are what you eat.

Welcome. Thank you for listening. I appreciate you being here. Remember, stay to the end for the free downloadable guide. If you like the podcast, share with a friend, subscribe and leave a review.

Today's story is really a story of exploration. Let me explain. You've heard me say repeatedly that if you are what you eat, then what you eat matters.  If the food that you put into your system is organic and clean label, ideally, you should be able to trace the ingredients all the way back to the product's origin. This is where we should begin our conversation, but that's not necessarily enough. The next question should be how authentic is the ingredient? Is it what nature intended?

Today's story is an effort to unravel this mystery, unravel these questions. It's not as black and white as you would think. The point is this, most consumers want to know exactly what they're buying. They want to know what's in their food and how their food is produced. It is imperative that we as a natural community communicate this appropriately and accurately to the retailers and to our shoppers, essentially giving our customers exactly what they want; the level of quality, and transparency, and authenticity in the products that they're buying that they can know, like and trust; products that they can rely on, on every single purchase.

I learned a lot in this episode, and you will too. I learned that just saying that something is organic, while great, is not necessarily enough; that there's something better out there, regenerative agriculture. What is that? What does it mean and why should it matter to you?

Today, we're talking with Jeff Moyer at the Rodale Institute. He's going to explain this to us and give us several examples about why this matters and why this is so important not only to the benefit of our customers but to the benefit of the planet, our health, our family, our friends and so on.

In episode 42 Gary Hirshberg said we need to vote with our dollars meaning that we should commit to buying the products that best fit our nutritional needs, the products that give back, the products that are capable of improving our overall health.

Gary also made the point that it's a lot cheaper to eat products that meet our nutritional needs, eat the products that help protect our health and, as he said, help us avoid expensive medical cost because we didn't make the right decisions to begin with.

These sentiments have been echoed through almost every conversation I’ve had on this podcast. This is why getting to the heart of the matter was so important for me to be able to share this with you. Here's Jeff Moyer of Rodale Institute and Regenerative Organic.

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Click here to learn more about Rodale Institute

Click here to learn more about Regenerative Organic



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #83

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. Thank you for listening. I appreciate you being here. Remember, stay to the end for the free downloadable guide. If you like the podcast, share with a friend, subscribe and leave a review.

Today's story is really a story of exploration. Let me explain. You've heard me say repeatedly that if you are what you eat, then what you eat matters; meaning that the food that you put into your system, if it's organic and clean label where you can trace the ingredients all the way back to the product's origin. This is where we should begin our conversation, but that's not necessarily enough. The next question should be how authentic is the ingredient? Is it what nature intended?

Today's story is an effort to unravel this mystery, unravel these questions. It's not as black and white as you would think. The point is this, consumers want to know exactly what they're buying. They want to know what's in their food and how their food is produced. It is imperative that we as a natural community communicate this appropriately and accurately to the retailers and to our shoppers, essentially giving our customers exactly what they want; the level of quality, and transparency, and authenticity in the products that they're buying that they can know, like and trust; products that they can rely on, on every single purchase.

I learned a lot in this episode, and you will too. I learned that just saying that something is organic, while great, is not necessarily enough; that there's something better out there, regenerative agriculture. What is that? What does it mean and why should it matter to you?

Today, we're talking with Jeff Moyer at the Rodale Institute. He's going to explain this to us and give us several examples about why this matters and why this is so important not only to the benefit of our customers but to the benefit of the planet, our health, our family, our friends and so on.

In episode 42 Gary Hirshberg said we need to vote with our dollars meaning that we should commit to buy the products that best fit our nutritional needs, the products that give back, the products that are capable of improving our overall health.

Gary also made the point that it's a lot cheaper to eat products that meet our nutritional needs, eat the products that help protect our health and, as he said, help us avoid expensive medical cost because we didn't make the right decisions to begin with.

These sentiments have been echoed through almost every conversation I had on this podcast. This is why getting to the heart of the matter was so important for me to be able to share this with you. Here's Jeff.

Jeff, I really want to thank you for making time for us today. Can you please start by telling us a little about yourself and your journey to Rodale Institute?

Jeff: Sure. I'll be glad to, Dan, and real pleasure to be on your podcast today.

Dan: Thanks.

Jeff: Oh, by all means, it's a pleasure.

Yeah, I've been at Rodale Institute for a long time. Again, Jeff Moyer. I'm not currently the executive director at the Rodale Institute but a good chunk of my career was spent as being the farm director where I was out in the field doing the research work and the production work of the Rodale Institute.

I came to Rodale in a bit of a strange way. As I mentioned, I've been here a long time. I've been here since 1975. Late in '75 was when I started so 1976 was the first year I actually farmed here but my journey was not so different from many people, maybe, back in the 70s when you look at what we're doing for entertainment.

I was part of the tail end of the counter culture and really got involved with the Back to the Land Movement. My goal was to have a farm of my own and raise my own organic food, cut firewood, see that free heat and all that sort of thing.

Well, you soon find out that free heat isn't completely free, it takes a lot of time, and while you can eat out of the organic garden, it doesn't pay the mortgage on the farm. All those things shaped my need to get into a full time job, and I was really, really blessed and fortunate to be able to find a job working for Rodale Institute.

The land that I bought back in 1977, we still own that farm. In fact, my son manages that farm now and has grown it to be quite a substantial enterprise, but we still live in a house that my wife and I build ourselves. That's how we got involved with agriculture and the start at Rodale, as I said, back in the 70s with the real goal to produce organic food and really think about how we challenge ourselves as farmers to do something different. Yeah, that's kind of how I got here.

Dan: I appreciate you sharing that. As we talked a little bit before, I was told, past guests in the podcast, Gary Hirshberg, Katherine DiMatteo, Lara Dickinson, Ahmed Rahim, Caryl Levine, all and several others, all told me that I absolutely positively had to have you on the podcast, so thank you for making time for me.

When you're talking about the goal to produce organic and some of the challenges, perhaps we should start up by what is organic and why is it important?

Jeff: Well, first of all let me say thank you to all your previous guests for recommending me. It's very kind of them to think of me and it's an honor to be here.

When you think about organic, it's a totally different production model. For us, we have to go way back to 1942 when J.I. Rodale, who was our founder, wrote some words on a blackboard. They were really prophetic words. I'm sure that at the time that he wrote them he didn't understand how important they were, but two simple words. He said that … He wrote these words, he said, "healthy soil," and he put the equal sign and he said, "healthy food," then he put the equal sign, and he said, "healthy people." So, healthy soil equals healthy food, equals healthy people.

What he was really doing was creating a path for our farmers and thank us that our goal as farmers is not to produce food, it's not even to manage the soil; it's really to produce healthy people. He saw farmers as the first line of offense in human health. Yes, we go to the doctor when we're unhealthy but he said it's the farmer's job to keep us healthy in the first place. I think that was pretty prophetic and very visionary in many ways.

The work that we do here at Rodale Institute is all centered around the concept of improving the health of the soil because that's the media we work in and we want to improve the health of people. That's what we do, that's how we go about it.

Now, in the context of what he was doing, he had purchased a farm. He was not a farmer, he was a businessman. In fact his company made electrical switch gears. He was into electrical engineering. Him and his brother had a factory and they build switch gears. He learned as a young person that his family was somewhat unhealthy and many of the men in his family died young and he set himself on a course to improve his personal health. You know, the concept of "you are what you eat" really resonated with him almost to the point where he said it's not just what you eat but how what you eat was produced. That really is important to your personal health.

He said we need to change the way we produce food because how can we possibly use tools like insecticides, fungicides, herbicides; they're basically poisons. How can we use poisons to produce healthy food? "I don't understand," he said. "As a non-farmer, somebody needs to explain that to me."

Well, of course, nobody can explain it to you because it's not possible. If using poison made us healthy, then clearly the more poison we use, the healthier we get and that's just not the truth. Even people who make bare chemical who now owns Monsanto and makes Roundup would never say that spraying Roundup makes people healthy.

Dan: True.

Jeff: That's not the goal of that material. The goal of that material is to kill weeds. Clearly it kills weeds, but again going back to what J.I. Rodale said, he said that's not the goal. The goal of farmers isn't to kill weeds, it's to make people healthy so we should only use tools that encourage human health in the systems that we use for production.

When you ask me what is organic, it's really a systems approach that thinks about the entire production system and what it is that we're using as inputs that could improve human health. It's more than just saying we don't use pesticides. It's not about what we don't use, it becomes about what we do use if we focus our energy on soil health.

We use tools that improve the health of the soil. We use crop rotations, we use cover crops. We often use compost or natural fertilizers to improve the health of the soil, feed the soil, and the soil feeds us. That's really the basic premise about what organic agriculture is.

Now, organic agriculture. The very word "organic" as it's used in at least in the U.S. economy is owned by the USDA and that's by design. What happened when J.I. Rodale passed away, his son Robert Rodale took over the organization.

Robert was a real world traveler. He saw that agricultural systems in the developing world were really lacking and lagging behind where they were in the developed world. If you ask those people … you went to Africa and you ask people and you say, "What do you think about sustainable agriculture?" they would laugh. I mean, they didn't want to try to sustain what they had, they wanted to improve it. So he said, "Well, we really shouldn't be simply sustaining a type of system. We should improve the resources while we use them." He came up with the idea and the concepts around regenerative organic agriculture because he wanted to move the market for organic agriculture farther and faster.

He also, now that he's looking at human health, he was interested in planetary health. He was looking at the impact, even back in the 70s and early 80s, he was looking at the impacts of climate change on the world, on agricultural production systems and said if organic agriculture is a tool that can help improve soil health, help mitigate the impacts of climate change, should we not be expanding the use of organic agricultural principles in production around the world?

In order to do that, in order to expand or grow any industry, the fastest way to do it is to give it away. So what he did was he decided to give the concept of organic away and he wanted to find a good home for it. He found a suitable home with the USDA.

The USDA controls the standard for organic, then we can have national and international trade and we can really grow the industry faster and have more positive impacts on human health as well as planetary health. That's what he did. That's what he worked on.

Dan: I love that. In fact,Katherine DiMatte was actually talking about how that came about. Thank you for sharing that and connecting those dots for me because I wasn't really sure about how all that played in.

Let me back up a little bit. One of the things that Gary Hirshberg said is that we need to vote four dollars. Paraphrasing a little bit, he was saying that why would you spend money to pay a doctor to fix something that you created because you didn't eat healthy? I've always said, and going back to what you're saying, if you are what you eat and what you eat matters. What I mean by that, Jeff, is that if you are what you eat and what you eat matters, then eating the right products, eating the healthy nutritious products is going to give us more fuel to get through the day and give us more brain power and give us the ability to be able to do more and be more.

For our few extra pennies on shelf at the time of the purchase, I'm actually buying something that's going to sustain me longer, so no longer cheaper and that's one of the things. We were talking about this when I talked to you earlier about how I think as an industry we need to do a much, much, much better job of explaining and communicating and clarifying this message to brands, to consumers.

As you're developing the system, and by the way I love the way that you spelled it out and the picture you painted in my mind about how we need to look at this as a systems approach and not this is one thing that we do to call it organic. As you're putting that together, what is your role in helping to guide and educate other farmers, other industry veterans, brands, et cetera on this important mission?

Jeff: Well, I think … Let's take a quick step back and focus on one of the points that you just mentioned which was the real cost of food.

So often what we've done with our conventional food system and the brands that are focused around that is we've externalized many of the cost of a production system which artificially makes the food less expensive at the point of purchase but more expensive when you re-internalize all those costs on the back end.

Dan: Good point.

Jeff: An example would be the idea of human health. What we're seeing at least in the United States and for the most part around the world is that as we spend a less percentage of our income on food, we're spending a much greater percentage of our income on healthcare.

Back in the 60s we spent about 17% of our income on food and about six percent on healthcare. Now those numbers are completely reversed. We spend about 17% of our GDP on healthcare and only about six percent on food. You can't look at those numbers and not see some direct correlation.

The same thing would be true with some of the impacts that we have on the environment from conventional agricultural production. We're destroying the very resource, the soil resource, the very resource that we need to sustain our life on earth; we're destroying for short term profit when the only tool that we use, the only metric that we use as a production farm, is yield.

We're saying yield at any cost is what's most important, and that's extremely shortsighted. We're going to pay for that on the back end when we destroy the resource that we need to sustain our very life on earth.

You don't have to be an organic farmer to go to a meeting today anywhere across the country and the subject of soil health comes up. It wasn't very long ago that soil scientists refused to think about the concept of soil health. What they really wanted to talk about was soil quality. The problem with using the word "quality" is that there's no connotation of life. Once you assign the word "health" to something, then you automatically assume that it has some form of life related to it, it has a dynamic state of being which you can define as healthy or unhealthy, and if it's dynamic that means we as farmers can impact it.

If the soil is truly a component of living, breathing organisms, then the way we manage it or the management that we superimpose on the landscape can have a positive or negative impact on that dynamic state of being that we call health. That's a huge responsibility.

On the other hand I can have a high quality wristwatch or high quality pen, I'm just looking at things on my desk, but I can't have a healthy pen. I can't make my pen healthy or unhealthy. It's inanimate, it's dead. But soil is not like that or human being isn't like that. We can have an impact on our health based on the foods that we consume and the way that food was produced. Really, it all funnels back to the way we manage the soil. The way we treat the soil is really the way we treat ourselves.

Dan: I really appreciate- I like that. That makes so much sense. One of the things that I was sharing with you before is that when I get in front of a lot of different audiences and I talk about this, consumers are confused. The point being is that if the consumers are confused and then the retailers are confused and so on and so forth, then that's where I think we need to do a better job educating.

I have a slide where I show two different oranges with a not equal sign in the middle and I asked the audience what's more important, natural non-GMO, organic, clean level, et cetera and I asked for them to try them in.

What's sad is that a lot of people, even people in the industry, brokers, distributors, and brands, et cetera can't define or can't explain what the difference is. So I used, to really drive the point home, the analogy that … I kind of draw a picture in their mind, that something as not dramatically modified just simply means that the seed is not genetically modified. It doesn't mean that the ground is clean and they can use pesticides and herbicides. It goes as far as saying that a pesticide is something that is designed to knock out a bug's nervous system. Why would we think, honey to your point, why would we think that if we ingest that poison, that it wouldn't impact us?

One of the things I was talking to Gary about is that we don't remember all the different ailments, the food allergies, the other issues that people are dealing with back when we were little, back when we were younger. Even though maybe it's not scientifically proven out, my belief is that it's those things that are causing a lot of the problems, whether it'd be autism, again not proven, but some of those other issues. Can you talk a little bit about what you're saying in the industry and then what are your thoughts in terms of how do we educate not only the brands, the farmers, and the retailers and everyone else and more importantly the consumers because ultimately if they don't buy this stuff, then we have no reason for being.

How, Jeff, would you recommend that we do a better job as an industry of educating the people that are buying the products as to why this matters?

Jeff: Sure. Great points, and you brought up a whole bunch of points there so we'll try to tackle them-

Dan: Thank you.

Jeff: -one at a time. Certainly, pesticides can have negative impacts on our own personal health.

I was talking about an amino acid that … Rodale Institute is working with Penn State University to look at an amino acid called ergo theanine. I never even heard of it until about two years ago. It turns out that ergo theanine has been known to humans since 1907 but we didn't know where it came from or how it was produced. It turns out that it was produced by a soil fungus, certain mushrooms can produce it but mostly it's produced by soil funguses and bacteria in the soil that act like funguses and can produce ergo theanine.

Ergo theanine is the most powerful anti-inflammatory known to man. It helps your body fight off certain cancers and neurological disorders that can lead to autism and Alzheimer's. What's expanding in our society, Alzheimer's, autism and certain cancers.

In working with Penn State Hershey Medical Center and their research scientists, they're trying to find out why there's less ergo theanine in our food. Well, it turns out it only comes from the soil. What happens when you spray herbicides and some insecticides, mostly herbicides … The reason farmers spray them is not to kill fungus, but that's what happens.

When you spray Roundup, it kills off the fungus, the fungus doesn't make the ergo theanine. No ergo theanine in our diet or any animal's diet, if you eat the meat, and there's less ergo theanine in our bodies because there's less in the soil, and cancer rates go up.

Isn't that fantastic and amazing what the soil is doing to protect our health that we don't even know about? How much more is out there that we have no concept about because we just haven't discovered this minute … they're not even vitamins or minerals or nutritional qualities but they're phytonutrients that have a huge impact on our personal health. We really need to start looking more deeply at this concept of healthy soil and how we can use that to improve our personal health.

Pesticides have a direct correlation where they can impact our personal health and they also can have a byproduct of application on the intended consequence of killing off fungus in the soil that helps to protect our personal health. There's all these little intricacies and I think what it really proves out is that we are, whether we like it or not, connected to the soil. We cannot break that connection and if we try to, we do it at our own personal health risk.

Dan: That is so interesting. I'm busily taking notes. I had no idea. Another thing, inflammation is the body's way to protect something, so we're damaging our body and yet if we can remove the inflammation that's how it heal. To be able to share some of those insights with people in terms of why this matter so much, this is absolutely fascinating.

So, ergo theanine. What other things have you learned or what other things can we share with, with the audience?

Jeff: Well, we're working right now with Colorado State University and we're looking at a blue potato. I believe it's called purple majesty. Don't quote me on that. I think that's what it is. The word "majesty" is in there, but it's a blue potato.

What they found is that the same, I guess it's a chemical that makes the potato blue, happens to be a really strong cancer-fighting agent. In fact, with certain cancers that they identify with mice, they give the mice infused cancer into their bodies and then they treat them with chemotherapy drugs and they treated them with blue potatoes. The blue potatoes work better than the chemotherapy at destroying cancer cells. Fascinating information.

One of the things they are looking at doing is trying to get the material that makes the potato blue into many cancer patients' drink product called Ensure or something that's a high protein, high nutrition drink to start to stabilize their physical health while they're working on fighting cancer because they can't keep food down or something.

They're looking at putting this purple enzyme into that Ensure drink so people can get their medicine. The idea that in the future, and this is a long time away I'm sure, but what if when you went to the doctor and you got cancer, their treatment was feeding you blue potatoes? I mean, I happen to like potatoes anyway so that would not be the worst treatment in the world for me.

Then it begs the question, and this is I think where we're getting back to this idea of education and where brands come in, why would we wait as humans until we get sick to change our diet and start focusing on the importance of soil health in our human health package? Why wouldn't we do that right now, and how can brands begin to educate people about the concept that food is really medicine and they should be really thinking about and putting money behind what they eat and how what they eat was produced, how is it grown?

One of the things that we're doing with Colorado State now is we're trying to find out if blue potatoes were grown in organic systems, are they more potent in terms of that enzyme than they are if they're grown in conventional systems.

Again, we never point out or try to point our finger at conventional agricultural systems or food brands for that matter and say that they're wrong or they're evil in some way. That's not the point. The point is that there's a better way for us to produce and market food products, and we should all get behind that as a community of concerned citizens that want to improve our health and start to demand, literally demand, that our food be raised in a certain way.

If people went to the supermarket and said, "I want a food product that's high in ergo theanine, please" people will start to scram around saying we need to find that, we need to produce that, we need to … Whether it's a packaged product or a processed product or raw vegetables. You would like to know that's in there. I would like to know that now, now that I know; but if you don't know, you don't think of asking it.

The average person going into a supermarket or wherever they purchase their food really needs to begin to be educated and think about how that food is impacting their life. Of course, we need to have brands that understand that, internalize it into their corporate structure so that the product they bring to the consumers is verifiable and traceable and is honestly giving consumers the products that they demand and that is not somehow whitewashing or greenwashing up a problem or a situation and try to dupe customers because they'll see through that in the long term.

We're really excited about the value structure, the core values that consumers are beginning to bring to the marketplace. I'm sure your listeners see that firsthand in the products that they're bringing to the market; that the shopper of today is not the shopper of even 20 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. They're bringing different values to the marketplace. They want to know that their personal values are embedded and embodied in the products that they're buying.

Dan: Absolutely.

Jeff: That's true even about organic. There are some things that organic does very well and there are some things that organic production is relatively quiet about.

One of those issues where organic is relatively mute is on the issue of farm worker justice or fair labor and fair justice, human justice. It doesn't say anything about that in the organic standard and yet we know that when consumers come to the marketplace and they're buying a particular product, they want to know that the soil is being improved, the animals are well treated, the people who work on the farm are paid a fair living wage. If they're going to buy that product, they want to know that all those things are embodied in the product, not just that pesticides weren't used in the production of it. That's one piece, but there's so many positive pieces to organic that we want to create structure around.

That's one of the reasons that we've worked with certain brands to create the regenerative organic seal which is something new that's going to be coming out shortly.

Dan: Yeah. I definitely want to get in to that, but back up a little bit, that's exactly why this podcast exists. This is exactly why all the content I produce exists, it's to help brands understand this, so let me frame this.

One of the biggest challenges, Jeff, that brands have is that retails are blood support. I mean, really no other way to put it. It is expensive to get on our shelf, it's expensive to compete head to head, toe to toe with the big brands.

I'm working hard to level the playing field between the small brands and their more sophisticated counterparts by teaching them how to tell that story, by helping them communicate more effectively what you're talking about.

Consumers do want healthy, transparent, clean label products that they can know, like and trust. Yet, because they don't have the volume and they don't have the dollars to put behind their products, it makes it difficult for them to compete or to get on their shelf.

This podcast exists because I'm trying to teach small brands how to leverage out, how to bake it in to your selling story to help consumers and help retailers understand that your products are better for them and healthier. I love the fact that you're talking about healthy soil, but to go one step further, to help them understand how it's those products that are driving themselves across every category.

What I'm getting at, use the organic as an example, a consumer that walks into a store and buys organic dairy, or organic produce, or organic- anything else, is going to spend money on other organic products. They're going to read the labels. That consumer, when they leave the store, is far more valuable. To the retailer, which would you rather have? A consumer that's spending more in every category, that's helping you to grow your category, that's helping to differentiate you from your competition being the retailer or would you rather just have a consumer that comes in, gets what they need and leave?

This is why I want to celebrate this. This is why I want to talk about this, so thank you so much for getting into that.

Jeff: I agree 100%. I think that in this particular instance, and we're at a unique place in time when it comes to brand scale and marketing and shelf space, I agree … I'm not a marketing person, but I can certainly sympathize with the concept of a blood support. As you mentioned, and the picture I have in my head is very vivid and I think very real, but it's a unique place in time in that consumers, particularly consumers who want information, have it literally at their fingertips.

Dan: Oh, yeah.

Jeff: Whatever else is unique in time is that we're seeing that consumers and customers, yes the millennials are leading the charge but it's really now being driven by generation, like a Z, they call them, in that there's a real lack of trust in the kinds of normal commodities and organizations that we used to take for granted that were trusted.

Dan: Right.

Jeff: People don't trust. For example, people don't want to trust … they don't trust Campbell's Soup the way they used to. Campbell Soup used to be good and it was perfect in every way and it was in everybody's grocery, in everybody's pantry, in their house. It was just given that Campbell's Soup is the very best of the best.

Now, consumers are looking at that, and I don't want to pick on Campbell's Soup because they are great company, but they're looking and saying, If they come out with an organic product, I don't trust them. I don't trust them. They don't trust … and it's not just food companies. I mean, they don't trust banks and big banking institutions, they don't trust the stock market, they don't trust the church, they don't trust their government agencies and government organizations because what they've seen is when things fall apart, when the banking industry collapsed back in 2008, 2009, there was no punishment there. They're saying these are not trustworthy organizations the way they used to be.

I think this is a real opportunity for smaller brands to capitalize on that and say, "I have a different product that sets itself apart from what the big brands are doing, and you can rely and trust on this." People will trust what they see on a Facebook post much more than they will some large scale media blitz that a big food company puts out.

It's a unique place and time where people have access to that. People do chat about even food products on Facebook and Instagram and exchange information and things go viral and they go rapidly and small brands can and should take advantage of that.

Dan: Absolutely. My friend Bill Bishop, the chief architect of Brick Meets Click and the former chairman of Willard Bishop Consulting, we talked about this a lot, how consumers look beyond the four corners of their package meaning that they are looking at the product to your point. They whip out their cellphone and then they take a picture of it. They do research at shelf to learn more about the product, how can they use it, how do they interact with that product, et cetera, who uses it.

The other thing we find that's really interesting is that when I started in this industry it was all about how can we get X product into a store at a huge volume. Nowadays, the reality is that selling never stops and so with the larger brands we're thinking about, okay I got the product delivered into the back of my local Kroger or wherever.

The small brands need to think about the conversation that goes on with the consumer. In other words, it goes to the register, they take it home, they share it with their friends and family. At that point people are sharing their stories, their feelings, their impressions about that product and that's where that real trust exist like you said on Facebook.

Jeff: Yeah, that's right.

Dan: Yeah, and I think that a lot of brands really need to cap- and this is why I wanted to share this, spend this time with you. You made a statement earlier and I want to go back to it. You said that farmers yield at any cost, but yet it's not sustainable.

I want to go one step further. A lot of the big brands look at sales or volume at any cost, and I've been having a lot of conversations with people about how they need to rethink their business. Instead of having business models that talk about how much product we can put to restore shelf, instead … kind of your point, actually the exact of your point, how do we develop the products and the solutions that consumers need and want that are best going to fit the needs of their family?

Jeff: Right.

Dan: Changing that dynamic to how do we benefit the people, how do we make a healthier human, healthier person, that's got to be the focus, and I love that. The parallel is there.

One of the things that I run into a lot and you probably get kicked out of this or at least it probably resonate with you, is I find that the large brands tend to commoditize what makes natural, natural. I use this example a lot.

The larger brands, not to pick or anything, but they essentially think LOHAS consumer, someone who needs a couple of salads and goes for a couple of walks. In our world what makes natural, natural is that we're focused on the consumer that's reading the label and sharing that with their friends and their family, the experience, the whole experience with them that wants to know where the product came from, how it's produced. Complete transparency.

I've got a client that actually has a snowflake on their bottle. You can see when the product was planted, who picked it, everything, all the way back to its origin and beyond; and so, how that kind of transparency and how that built that story? Yet, that's I think what's the Achilles' heel of big brim. Yet, to your point, that is I think the opportunity that the small disruptive brands have to really leverage their place on the shelf, because the reality is they are the future of CPG. They are the future of this industry.

How do you help work with brands that are trying to carve out that niche to help them understand what we're talking about here today?

Jeff: Well, the Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works in the area of research and education. What we try to do is put science behind the story so that when consumers pull back the curtain on any brand or any product that carries, in our case, an organic seal or a regenerative organic label down the road, when they do that, to your point about transparency, it's very clean, it's very clear, and it's very open so that they can understand that it's not just a story that somebody is trying to tell them or sell them. The reality is it's the same as the other brands. There's no difference; I just told a great story around it because I'm a good storyteller, and you bought it.

Dan: I like that.

Jeff: There needs to be some science behind it so that people understand that, oh there's more in here, or there's more of this and there, or there's more of this, or this is the reason, or there's less of this if it's a pesticide contamination, or this meat really was grass fed, or it was … whatever it is that you're putting on the label. They want to know that there's science behind that and that it really makes a difference and then they'll reward that in the marketplace. But if-

Dan: Yes.

Jeff: -all you're doing is trying to put a different label on the same product, we've all seen that through time when they say "new and improved" and it's the same material. They just put "new and improved" on the label. There's nothing that says they can't do that, and it's the same old product which may be good or may be bad. It's just a marketing game. People get tired of that and they hate being marketed too.

Dan: Yes.

Jeff: They don't mind buying products but they hate buying something that isn't what it's supposed to be. So, Rodale Institute put science behind that.

We also work very diligently to, of course, educate farmers on how to deliver the product that a brand wants. A brand wants a particular organic product and the farmers says, "Well, how do I produce that?" Well, we have to supply information to the farmers so that they can grow it and produce it on scale and meet the specs of what the buyer wants or the processor wants. We have to do all of that.

Then we also work in consumer education as well because we believe an informed consumer is really the best consumer of any of these brands. We want those consumers to say, "I have real information and real knowledge and now we're going to go find the brands that meet my criteria."

That's where we get back to that concept of yield at any cost. We're saying that there's a lot more metrics that we should be judging the success of our farms and our producers, and they should be producing yield. Of course, we all have to eat and we can't all just eat one tomato that a farmer grows so they have to produce food in quantity, that we need to feed a growing population.

If they do it in a regenerative fashion, and that's where Bob Rodale comes back into the story, he was saying we can actually improve the resource that we use while we use it. He was, as I mentioned, a world traveler. He was also an Olympian and he was in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Dan: Really?

Jeff: He was fascinated by all the bicycles that he saw. He came back, he fell in love with some of the bike riders that were racing on the Olympic team. He actually built a training facility in Pennsylvania. He built a velodrome so people could train for the Olympics here in Pennsylvania with bike riding. He was an avid bike rider after that.

What he would say to me was … he would say, "You know, the more I ride my bicycle, my health actually improves. The only thing that wears out is the bicycle."

When we create a factory model mentality with farming, we're actually destroying the soil, the resource that we need while we're producing food; but he said if we would focus on the biology of the system … and he said, "I improve, my health improves because I'm a system of biology. If I think of the soil as a system of biology, then I should be able to," and we can, "exercise it, make it work, make it produce food. As long as I feed it properly, rest it properly, and give it the right amount of water, it will actually improve while we use it." That's what we're seeing in our production systems here, and we can put science behind that.

That showcases very positively that we literally can have our cake it eat it too. We can improve the soil while it produces more and more food over time, which is pretty amazing.

Dan: Absolutely. I'm so glad you said that. I am so thrilled that you're here because this is exactly what I wanted to talk about. I didn't know we'd get in to this exactly like … that you'd be framing it this way.

I agree, this is so critically important. By the way, since we get off this, I'm going to be going on a bike ride. I mean, I ride every day. I love it because it's so much fun to get out there and to be athletic and be energetic and not sit around. Anyhow, they say that's the new smoking is, it's people sitting too much but people need to get engage and that's where the communities found … Anyhow, I digress.

I'm looking at … This actually is a nice segue in the regenerative part of the conversation. I'm looking at all the certifications and what's involved in it. I think it's fascinating. If you could please, what is regenerative agriculture? Why does it matter? You've talked about that a little bit but then you've got the three pillars here on the website. What does that mean and how should brands and consumers be thinking about that? Let me throw it one more thing in there. How should a brand be communicating the value of that message or the importance of this message to their consumers?

Jeff: Okay. Again, a whole bunch of things wrapped up in that comment and question. I would say that as I lead into this part of the conversation it is really incumbent upon brands to take a leadership role in this education and marketing of the regenerative organic certification because it's only through brands that we're going to move this concept farther and faster. Brands have a critical role to play in the success of the ROC standard.

What we try to do when we created this standard and this concept to that regenerative organic, there are people who want to separate those words. In the marketplace, maybe some of your listeners have been involved with this whole concept of sustainability and sustainable agriculture and sustainable labeling. The problem with sustainability is it's kind of a sad word in many ways. I have a friend, Greg Bowman, who is a journalist who always said if somebody asks you how your relationship was with your significant other and you said "Oh, it's sustainable," would they be happy or would they be sad? Of course, they would go, well that doesn't sound too great to me.

If we think about the concepts of regeneration, it's a much more positive word. Now, many people in the ag industry are moving away from the word "sustainable: and gravitating towards the word "regenerative." The problem is, they don't take the word "organic" with it.

As I mentioned earlier, J.I. Rodale really put the word "organic" in front of agriculture in this country and moved that part of the industry forward. It's now, what, like a $50 billion a year industry in the United States alone.

We already have the word "organic" in the Rodale umbrella of words, and then Bob Rodale put this word "regenerative" in front of it and said, well, regenerative organic is a much more positive concept because what he said was, if we can regenerate the soil, if we would agree that the way we farm the soil or the way we manage the soil can regenerate it or degrade it depending on what we do, if we agree that that's true then we should work on regenerating the soil. If we regenerate the soil, we can regenerate human health. If we regenerate human health, we can actually regenerate communities, we can regenerate human spirit. All those things can improve simply by changing the way we manage the soil because if people are healthier they, by default, end up being happier.

Those are important concepts, and he said, "How do we wrap that up into a package? There are many people today that want to separate those words that I mentioned. They said, "Well, we're just going to focus on regenerative agriculture because we don't like all the work that's involved in organic."

We would say that that's an oxymoron. It's impossible to separate those words because it's like saying you're healthy but you don't exercise, and you smoke and you eat. I don't know, pick any product that's not good for you. Too much sugar … you eat too much sugar, you smoke cigarettes, you don't exercise and you say, "but I'm really interested in human health." You would have to say to that person, "No, you're not, because if you were you wouldn't live that lifestyle. You have to change some things in order to improve."

People inherently don't like to change, and so what farmers would like to do is say, "Well, what I'm doing is already regenerative, therefore game over and I can keep spring around up and doing whatever it is that I'm doing." We would argue that that's not true.

When we created our standard, the regenerative organic standard which is a real standard, you saw it on the Regenerative Organic Alliance website. We're actually in the pilot phase of testing our standard which has been out in the public now for only about, officially maybe about eight months and we're in the pilot testing phase of the standard. When you look at that, we said that in order to be regenerative you must first be organic. That's the launching pad. That's the starting point from which we will begin to move forward. We're saying you can't be regenerative if you're not organic but organic may not be … it doesn't encompass everything that we think is important to consumers.

I've had some farmers that … One farmer said at best to me, he said, "I feel like a boy scout with a sash full of merit badges. I'm certified organic, I'm animal welfare approved, I'm a HALAL, I'm a non-GMO. I'm all of these things. Can't I have one label that says it all?" Just, again like in scouting if somebody says I'm an Eagle Scout you automatically know that he has all these other merit badges because he can't get that without them, and so can't we get that Eagle Scout badge? I hate to pick on the boys scouts, but it's a good picture …

Dan: No. It makes sense.

Jeff: We got a mental picture. "Can I have one seal that says I take care of the soil, I take care of the animals that are involved with my farm, that are fed from my crops, I take care of the people who work on my farm and pay them a living wage and give them the ability to organize and have a voice in our farm operation, and at the same time I improve the health of the soil. Can I get a label that says all that?" We said, "Sure, you can and you should, and we're going to give it to you."

We worked with the USDA National Organic Program to make sure that our standard is in full compliance with the organic seal because we believe that we enhance the strength in the word organic and strength in that in the marketplace and build-

Dan: Good.

Jeff: -on the 70 years or seven decades of work that have gone into that word organic that consumers do trust in the marketplace. We don't want to throw that away. We're going to build on that but we're going to bring those other values that consumers already bring to the marketplace, we're going to bring them to our standard and our label.

That's where you saw those other three pillars that we add to it. One is about soil health, because even though you're an organic farmer you may not be doing everything possible to improve the healthier soil, and within our standard you have to do that.

One of the things we lost when the Federal Government took over the word organic was the concept of continuous improvement because it's very hard to certify to a standard that says "continuous improvement." How do you track that? How do you test for that? How do you audit continuous improvement? That's a real challenge.

In our standard, we went out of our way to create three separate tiers, and you can't stay at the entry level. You have to move from the bronze to the silver level to show that you're continuously trying to improve your farm. You're going to be encouraged to move from the silver level to the gold standard to continuously show improvement. Each of those levels will over time incorporate new science and new technologies that will help them improve continuously. Over time, we're always trying to get better, never feeling static or never being just sustainable, always trying to be regenerative.

Dan: I love it. By the way, as an Eagle Scout, this makes a lot of sense to the world.

Jeff: Oh, good for you.

Dan: Yeah, because-

Jeff: Congratulations! I couldn't get out of cab scout.

Dan: Really?

Jeff: It was too much work for me, so congratulations.

Dan: I loved it. It was great and what a great experience. Boy Scouts, it was a lot of fun and I love going back. I used to be a mentor and working with the scouts as an adult. That was fun too, to bring them up to the program, but the point being exactly like you said. I hear this and I'm glad you said this this way. A lot of people feel that there's just so many certifications and so many things are tripped over, and I'm looking at what you've got here for your certifications.

Yeah, there are a lot of things incorporated in them, but going back to what you said earlier, Jeff, people don't trust anymore and I understand why. There's a lot of confusion, like what we're sharing earlier, about what is organic or why does it matter, and yet to have a seal that would be a one-size-fits-all, I hate that sound, but to have something that measures everything and puts everything together and help people get behind that, I'd like to help campaign this.

Jeff: Great.

Dan: I'm so impressed of what you're doing. Again, I think that this is so critically important. This is a huge area of my focus. Again, helping brands communicate this value, this unique value that they have to the retailer, to their consumer and help them succeed on shelf, to help them get their products on more retailer shelves and get them into more shoppers' hands. I think that what you're doing here and in talking about the health and everything and what comes together, I think it's just really beautifully packaged.

Can you talk a little bit more about the three different pillars?

Jeff: Sure. When you look at those pillars … Let's take animal welfare for example. We know that there is some very well vetted language out there around animal welfare and what those standards should look like and what consumers believe they're purchasing when they buy a product that meets an animal welfare standard. What we did was we brought folks into the room with us who already have worked on that language, have well vetted ideas and words around that and just incorporated that language into our standard. We did not go out and create new language.

We did the very same thing with the Fair Worker Justice standards. We worked with people who are out there in fair trade and other organizations and said, "You guys have already been working on this for decades. Why reinvent the wheel? Let's just use what you already have." Then we built that on the NOP Organic model.

This is an international label and standard that we're working on, so we recognize that not everybody adheres to the National Organic Program of the USDA and so we've worked with IFOM, the International Federation of Organic Movements, to create an international compliance component to that.

If somebody is selling from Japan to South Korea, or the other way around, whatever … I don't know which way trade goes these days, they don't have to adhere to the NOP rule but they would adhere to JAS or some other seal that's recognized in those countries.

Dan: Great.

Jeff: But then, the one piece that we did focus from Rodale on and put our attention to was the pillar around soil health. You've heard that word come up over the last few minutes here routinely because we keep coming back to this idea of soil health. We said soil health has to be key to making this all work.

We recognize that the organic standard that we have today talks about soil and soil health, but yet it's not an out-of-the-ball component of the certification process and we wanted to put more teeth into this standard.

When you look at the soil health component … Let me step back, when you look at all of the components of the standard and the way we build it, you can build a standard in my opinion at least on three different models.

The one model would be based on philosophy. Biodynamic would be a good example of that. There's a whole lot of philosophy wrapped around the practices that are incorporated in biodynamic and it struggled to find this place on supermarket shelves. Not that it's not a good standard, not that the farmers who produced biodynamic standards aren't good farmers because I'm sure they are, it's just that it hasn't taken off in the marketplace and farmers haven't really embraced it at least in the U.S. Maybe in Germany a little bit more, but they really haven't embraced it globally as a production system because you have to buy in to all this philosophy that's right around it.

You can create a practice based on testing. The problem with a standard based on testing is you've really created a standard based on cheating. Unfortunately, that's human nature. That's how it works. It's a race to the bottom, to the lowest common denominator. How can I pass the test as simply and as a cost effectively as possible? That's not the goal of our standard. We didn't want to base it on cheating.

Some people say regenerative agriculture, for example, is all around carbon and carbon sequestration, which is important, and I will give you that; but the easiest way to improve a carbon test on our soil here in Pennsylvania is go to the coal fields and get coal dust which you can haul for free, damp it on your field. Coal is carbon. When you test the soil for carbon content, it's going to look really great, but the reality is you've actually decreased or depleted the healthier soil by doing that, not improved it, but you have passed the test.

The goal shouldn't simply be about testing. Although testing is important and testing, if you read it the standard language that we created, there is some testing in there but you're really testing yourself against yourself to see if you're making improvement. You want to find out, am I improving my system with the strategies that I impose on it or am I not? If I'm not, then I need to change something because there is some testing involved, but I'm not testing myself against you as a farmer or some other farmer or some other soil. I'm testing myself against myself.

Then the third way you can build a standard, again in my opinion, is you can build it based on practices. An example in terms of human health would be we know that if you stop smoking cigarettes your lungs will regenerate and get healthier. We don't know what rate that will happen at. If you have a room full of 10 people and they all stop smoking on the same day, some people's lungs will regenerate faster than others. At some point you say it doesn't really matter as long as they've all stopped smoking and they're regenerating. That's what really counts. And so, we're saying to farmers there are practices that we know improve soil health. Cover crops is one of those.

The ground that we farm in this country, a good benefit across the northern tier, spends eight months out of the year bare and brown. That's cruelty to the animals that live in the soil. There's more life below the soil than there is above the soil, we just don't see it. We have to feed that microbial life in the soil. We have to feed the earthworms and all the macroflora and fauna. The only way to do that is by covering the ground with something green and growing. We know that that improves soil health, it's regenerative, so we encourage in our standard the practice of cover cropping.

Dan: Interesting.

Jeff: We don't know how fast that's going to improve the soil but we know it's going to move and that's why we do some testing, but we know it's a practice that improves soil health. Our standard is based on practices.

We know if you encourage your employees to organize by creating meeting space and giving them time to have a meeting that is going to encourage them to be productive workers and come forward with solutions to problems on a farm or on production system that everybody benefits from, even the owner. We want to create space for that to happen and that's what we do with our practices.

We know that if you let animals outdoors they're healthier and happier, so we say in our standard animals have to go outside. They don't have to just be given access to the outdoors, they have to be encouraged to go outdoors. We expect to see the animals outside, not sitting inside with a little door at the far end of the barn and that, technically, a lawyer would say they have access too but a chicken on the ground 400 feet away would never know that that door even existed. You can say that they have access to the outdoors because technically the chicken could walk out that door, but they never do.

Dan: Right.

Jeff: We want our chickens outside acting like chickens and pigs acting like pigs and dairy cows acting like dairy cows. That's important to us, and that's why it's in our standard. We think it's important and consumers have told us it's important to them that's why we put those pieces in there.

It's based on practices, not solely on testing and not really on philosophy. It's based on practices that we know improve the health of the soil which will improve the health of people and that's what consumers want.

Dan: I'm so glad that you're doing this. Again, I'm just thrilled to have you here and just learning so much about this.

On the podcast, different episodes, in episode 11 I talked to Tim Joseph of Maple Hill Creamery and we talked about exactly this, about how they move the cows from one area to another, grass fed. Cows weren't designed to eat greens and hay, et cetera. We had a really good conversation and we got into that.

You probably would also like, and anyone else, to listen to episode 56 with Caryl Levine of Lotus Foods and then episode 58 with Kyle Garner of Organic India. The reason I'm sharing that ….

Jeff: Oh yeah, I know all those folks.

Dan: Oh, you do?

Jeff: Yeah. Tim has been on our farm many times so as Kyle.

Dan: Great. One reason I want to share this because you know the story about how there were a lot of farmers in India that were committing suicide because they could not make ends meet and because they couldn't take care of their land, and so Organic India went in and retaught the farmers how to go back to their traditional ways. As a result, now they have healthy crops that are organic and so on and so forth.

It's a great story around that and it seems very similar to what you're sharing but you're doing it on a much broader scale.

Jeff: Well, we certainly want farmers to be successful. It hurts all of us when a farmer commit suicide whether it's in India or the United States. That should never be the goal of consumers, to drive farmers into a financial strait where they see no way out. That's not the goal of consumers, although that's unfortunately what's happening so often.

We believe that there are tools in place. There's enough money already embedded in the system that we can make these positive changes and get ourselves on a better path. There's enough money for people to transition, that there are products that organic farmers would purchase and machinery that they're going to need, and there's room for equipment dealers to make money and product manufacturers to make money and consumers supporting it.

All those things can be very positive and that's really what we want to focus on as we build out both the organic seal and the regenerative organic label because that's where the bright future lies and, again, because we work at Rodale Institutes putting science behind that so that we have not just a positive story to tell that everybody feels good about but something that's very real and we can literally take to the bank and put science behind it so we know it's real.

Dan: I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, we're along the same plane. We need a subunit, a disposable society. There was a big thing on the news last night talking about all these trash floating around in our ocean, washing up around beaches. We got to get away from the mentality. I was talking to Gary Hirshberg about that and several other people about how … I remember when you'd buy a pair of socks they'd last longer or pair of pants or anything. Now things are made so that you use them and you throw them away. Same as with the soil health and same as with the food that we're buying and the packaging.

That's another area that I'm really focused on, Jeff, is trying to help communicate that or bring those learnings to this industry about what is compostable packaging and what should it look like and how do you use it. I mean, how do you get involved, how do you get behind it, how do you get the kind of products to the right packaging so that you've got a truly sustainable system? Anyway, I'll look forward to more of that.

Jeff, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much. I love to stay connected and find ways where I can help support what you're doing and become a part of this important mission that you have. My hats off to you. I really want to thank you for what you're doing, what the Rodale Institute is doing. I'm just so thrilled that you are able to make time for us today on the podcast.

Any last thoughts, anything that I missed that I should have asked you?

Jeff: Well, no not necessarily, just that it's very hard of course to tell an entire story that's taken decades to build in a short podcast so I would encourage any of your listeners that find this conversation interesting to join the conversation, look us up online. We're easy to find. Come and see us. Our farm and our research station is open to the public. We are very transparent and we do work with brands on a daily basis to help support the work that we're doing, but more importantly show them and work with them to get the message out to a broader audience that we know we need to reach.

I would invite any of your listeners to reach out at their convenience and let's discuss how we can work together to make this a more positive story and reach more people. That's what it's all about. That's how nonprofits work. We are a brand, but we're not a brand that … We got the worst business model in the world, we give everything away-

Dan: Me too.

Jeff: -but that's what we do and we work with partners to do that. We would look forward to any of those conversations that might stem from this brief time that we had together.

Dan: Well, I appreciate that and I'll certainly encourage it. I will make sure to include the links that you gave me on the show notes and on this podcast webpage. I didn't realize that this is only eight months old, the certification, and it's in the beta stage. I'd love to help you take this to the next level.

Jeff: Absolutely. We need all the help we can get. We think it's an exciting time-

Dan: It is.

Jeff: -for brands to get involved. Check out the Regenerative Organic Alliance. Any brands can do that. Make the contacts there. We just hired an executive director so we have an employee now at the ROA. We're moving forward, baby steps. Maybe not as fast as everybody would like but everybody can get involved. There's opportunities there for sure.

Dan: I'm thrilled. Thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it.

Jeff: My pleasure. Anytime. Good luck with the rest of your podcast.

Dan: I want to thank Jeff for coming on and sharing his insights. I'll be sure to put a link to the Rodale Institute and Regenerative Organic on the podcast show notes and on the podcast webpage. You can get there by going to

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