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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Food For Thought

Rodale Press, Inc., a Pennsylvania company, is giving profit a good name. Last year this successful ‘publishing and research business grossed about $80 mil­lion. With that level of revenue, Rodale is increasingly able to get its message across to millions of people.

The “message”—of preserving our agri­cultural resources, advancing nutrition and health and encouraging specific ways for being ‘economically more self-reliant as individuals, families and communities —is being published in a series of adver­tisements on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. This is the space that was filled so frequently by Mobil Oil Co. dia­tribes against all who were not indentured to its viewpoints on energy.

For years, magazines like Prevention, Organic Gardening and New Shelter have been flowing out of Rodale’s rural Penn­sylvania offices to millions of Americans. . Do-it-yourself books on solar energy, fit­ness and housing were part of this out­pouring. But Robert Rodale, head of the company and son of the founder, still was not satisfied. So he decided to distill these tightly written but easygoing 400- or 500- word messages.

Many of these messages boil down to the rediscovery of old opportunities—bicycling for better health and energy savings, using small plots of land for gar­dening, fixing your house to reduce Exxon’s sales, caring for land and water resources before America loses its agrarian fertility, showing how thrift (now called recycling) can be socially fun, and bringing back more agriculture to Eastern states that now are reliant on supply sources for vegetables from Cali­fornia.

A set of these messages is available free from Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, Pa. 18049.

Last week, 400 people from many states assembled at – Lehigh University for Rodale’s first conference on The-Cornuco­pia Project. The aim of this project is to help individuals and small groups “to understand more about what’s happening today on the nation’s farms, in its super­markets, at its dinner tables. And then to do something about it.”

To attract people’s attention, the Rodale writers project prices by the year 2000 to be $7.66 for a loaf of bread, $5.23 for three large tomatoes and $45.06 for a 10-ounce jar of instant coffee. Six million acres of agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are being lost every year—half to developers and half, to the ravages of erosion and reckless glowing practices.

The Cornucopia Project, which I think will become nationally famous, wants to open peoples minds by having them ask and answer very basic and obvious ques­tions: “Where does your food come from? Do you know how much your family eats in a year? (Average per per­son is 1,451 pounds worth.) Do you know how much you produce in your garden? Do you know how much you could produce? How large is your food reserve?

“Do you know where the nearest farm is, and what food you could get from it7 How much food could your community produce? Do you know how much soil is lost in the production of your food? What is the energy cost of your food? Who is in control of our food system? Do you know how government food policy affects you? How much self-reliance in food is possible for the average person? Where is the U.S. food system going? Where could the food system be headed?”

It is a massive, down-to-earth educa­tional and involvement’ -project that Rodale Press is initiating, but Rodale is producing new information as well. For example, it provides designs of a solar hot box that fits in a few square feet in your back yard and can provide the leafy vege­table supply for a family of four during the winter. It has successfully tested a nutritious grain (once used by the Aztecs) that needs very little water to grow.

The Rodale people are very specific about their information. One illustration: The total value of food from all gardens in 1979 was $13 billion—an average yield of $386 for each garden—plus exercise, plus more tasty, nutritious food. Average out-of-pocket expenses were only $19.

Robert Rodale likes to admit that many of his company’s proposals are updated imitations of the past. Henry Thoreau, he notes, kept information about his food production and consumption. For eight months of living on the shores of Walden Pond, Thoreau spent a total of $8.70 for food.
Times are going to change must faster than they are a’changing. Rodale wants you to better believe it and start changing times for the better.