The Rodale Institute maintains its long-standing leadership in composting with a multifaceted portfolio of compost-related programs addressing issues from compost production through compost use. The Rodale Institute researches and promotes composting to help people improve our soils, grow healthier crops, conserve resources, increase efficiency and protect our environment. Partners continue to be very important to our composting programs. Two prominent partners that cooperate on many aspects of the programs are the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania State University.

Compost Utilization Trials

Previous research that we conducted on compost pointed out both potential benefits and problems with using compost for field crop production, and raised many unanswered questions. Therefore, we initiated in 1991 a long term field trial comparing multiple composts to each other as well as to more conventional fertility systems. We are monitoring crop nutrient uptake, nutrient movement through the soil, crop yield, food quality and other potential compost effects on soil and crop health through three-year rotations of corn, small grains and vegetables.

On-Farm Compost Production

The compost production component occurs both at our research center and in conjunction with cooperating regional farmers. At our Research Center, we are upgrading our compost production site to be able to increase our research and education capacity while maintaining a high level of environmental protection. Our enhanced research capability will enable us to have replicated piles, develop compost recipes, test new compostable materials in controlled, field-scale situations, and measure potential environmental impacts.

We also work with regional farmers to do on-farm research on many different aspects of composting. This includes testing alternative composting technologies, demonstrating the benefits of working with local municipalities, analyzing the cost of compost production, and testing compost utilization, especially to try to understand the nitrogen mineralization rate of compost.

Economic Analysis

The two primary areas of focus in this area are:

Four case studies of farms that compost manure were conducted to document pros and cons associated with this type of manure management. Results from the studies will be publish in the summer of 1995.

we are working with agricultural economics professors at Penn State to develop a marketing manual for farmers to make producing and selling compost more profitable.


While field days and publications will continue to be important methods of educating various audiences, a major new initiative is currently in the planning stage: The Rodale School of Practical Composting. Offering week-long courses on a variety of topics, from production through use, the courses will feature a balance of classroom and hand-on learning. Classes will be geared toward farmers, nursery growers, greenhouse operators, landscape managers and others interested in composting organic residuals. We aim to hold the first course in the Spring of 1996 at the Research Center.

Advocacy and Outreach

Partners also play an important role in promoting the appropriate role of composting and use of compost. These groups include the Composting Council, the newly formed Pennsylvania Composting Association, and the Compost Working Group of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources. We are working with the latter group to add a composting supplement to the state's Manure Management Manual, to develop a general permit for commercial scale farm composters, and to add composting as a "best management practice" to the Chesapeake Bay Program. We also work closely with Penn State Cooperative Extension to conduct a variety of educational programs on Agricultural Composting, including updating our Directory of On-Farm Composters in and near Pennsylvania.

Backyard Composting

Rodale has always been a source of information for the homeowner and small-scale property manager. Backyard composting techniques are demonstrated in the one acre Demonstration Organic Garden at our Research Center. Composting and gardening techniques are covered in our weekly workshop series and at Gardenfest!, attended by thousands of people every August. Demonstrations, presentations and publications all reinforce the message: "yard trimmings and food scraps are a resource -- reduce, reuse and recycle these organic materials and help build healthier soils.


cary oshins: agricultural and community composting
carolyn reider: compost utilization trials
cyane gresham: backyard composting and home organics management

support for these projects have been received from:
the w. k. kellogg foundation, the rockefeller brothers fund, the pew charitable trusts, and the usda's cooperative states research service, extension service, and alternative ag reserach and commercialization center