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WHERE IT ALL BEGAN:
ORGANIC FARMING AND GARDENING

Being ahead of their time runs in Maria Rodale’s family. Her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, was one of the first to sound the alarm about the increasing use of agricultural chemicals and their harmful effect on the earth. He’s credited with introducing the organic movement to the U.S. when he started Organic Farming and Gardening magazine decades before organic labels began to appear on grocery store shelves. Today, Rodale Inc. is the leading multi-platform publisher of health and wellness lifestyle magazines—among them Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Prevention—plus such books as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. And its nonprofit Rodale Institute provides vital information to help farmers transition to organic growing methods. We talked with Maria Rodale about everything from her family to the new online incarnation of Organic Style magazine, which Rodale published in print form from 2001 to 2005. Last year, Rodale sold the trademark to Organic Bouquet, and now the new Organic Style company is debuting its own digital magazine in this premier issue.

Q: Maria, what was it like growing up in the Rodale family?

A: Both wonderful and odd. Wonderful because I lived on the original organic farm my grandfather and grandmother started. We had pigs and cows and chickens and a big barn filled with hay and kittens everywhere, so it was a kid’s dream. What was odd though was that there were always people showing up because the farm had become a mecca. We’d be sitting at the dinner table and curious people would come and look in our kitchen window.

Q: Did you develop your love of gardening on the farm?

A: I couldn’t help but absorb it. What’s interesting is that while my grandfather and father were the intellectual pioneers and very interested in agriculture, my grandmother and mother were the gardeners. They were creating beauty everywhere. I’m kind of a hybrid. To me gardening is really about creating an environment that’s beautiful and productive and delicious.

Q: What prompted you to found Organic Style magazine, and what do you think of the new online version?

A: When we started saying “organic style,” people called it an oxymoron. They thought “organic” meant ugly, undyed, unelegant. I helped push the market for well-designed, elegant, yet ethical products. Now nobody questions that organic can be stylish. I love that the new Organic Style is online rather than on paper. We’re thrilled to see the brand live on under the direction of Gerald Prolman, the founder of Organic Bouquet, who has used the Organic Style brand as an umbrella for a group of ethical businesses that have come together as one company, and for the re-introduction of the magazine.

Q: How do you live today?

A: My husband and I built an eco-house two years ago. We have photovoltaic panels and solar-heated hot water. Almost everything in the house is either nontoxic or recycled or locally found. In my refrigerator, I have eggs from my mother’s farm and a lot of organic milk, because I have a one-and-a-half year old. But I also have Miracle Whip and Frank’s Hot Sauce.

Q: What advice do you have for people who want to buy environmentally friendly products but are confused by the labels?

A: Most people still don’t understand the difference between “natural” and “organic,” and “green” is a whole new can of worms. You have to do a little homework, not just read the labels. Know a little about the company that’s making the product and try to think through where it came from and where it’s going after you buy it. Consider buying organically and locally grown products: You’re voting with your dollars.

Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your parents and grandparents, and what can the rest of us learn from them?

A: Change takes courage and time, and the courage comes when you have to stand up to people who laugh at you and think you’re crazy. My grandfather and my father never lived to see the impact of their courage, which is why as a family we see our mission of enabling and inspiring people to improve their lives and the world around them as multigenerational.

Q: What are your goals for Rodale?

A: One of our major goals is to look at ways to build the connection in people’s minds between the environment and their health, so it’s not just about being green, saving the planet, or saving energy, but about saving your own health and the health of your children.


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