Replay of episode 171: Rodale Institute | Plant Production Specialist | Maggie Saska

Rodale Institute
I thought I’d replay the replay since I talked to Paul Kita from Rodale’s and he mentions the Institute and I am always so excited because I have someone from the Rodale Institute. The plant production specialist. I got an email and asked if someone would come on and talk about the things that are available there.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I can give you the nutshell version.
I took the job here just over 2 years. My official title now is Plant production Specialist at the Rodale Institute.
I’ve had along career in horticulture and farming both for non-profits… …. work now in gardens, greenhouse, high tunnels and fields. I work with a mix of plant materials- vegetables, medicinals, ornamentals. I have BS in horticulture and MS in plant science and over 20 years of horticultural experience.
I worked at a University as a technician
Grad School at a university and worked at other places in greenhouses and high tunnels. Commercial work.
Rodale is a place and with they type of structure I never experienced before!
Because of size and reputation for organics.
Exciting to be here as Plant Production specialist.
what I do now is working in the gardens and greenhouses
helping out the ASC which is like a CSA program to grow produce for farmer’s marktets and their members. I’m working with different plant material and different
people and it’s a great thing!
Wow well how exciting!

Tell me about your first gardening experience? How did you get excited about going to college and studying horticulture?

For me, it was being outdoors. My dad was more the gardener and outdoor person. I’m the daughter of a public school teacher. Someone who taught Earth Science. So I think that had a lot to do with it we were exposed to outdoors.
Weeding or something simple in my parents garden… and being around the house… Being outdoors and learning to love outdoors.
My first formative experience was working as an 11 year old kid. I was picking blueberries at a local farm. Starting to have that experience of the food production experience. The love of the outdoors.
I’m so curious to ask? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Northfeild, Connecticut which is sort of the north west corner of Connecticut. So it’s about a one 6. It’s a little bit colder then where I am now in Pennsylvania. But it had clear summers and clear winters. Definitely had a northern climate.
Î grew up in NY, so I know that well, although now I am in Montana.

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I probably didn’t think about the word organics in that formal way until after college.
I had the interest in farming and growing. I had that interest in gardening and growing and working on
Following that path to getting a degree in horticulture. A lot of that training was conventional. I think I really didn’t think that much about it until I started to work commercially. My first experience using organics.
I had a formal university training. My first jobs were working for conventional growers. For this I’m grateful that it gave me a solid background in understanding growing needs. It wasn’t until I felt that what I was doing professionally was damaging to the environment. Then did I look for ways to substitute conventional practices with organic alternatives. What is quite different about the organic practices is a concern for the health of all biology associated.

Growing- plants, soil, water, and farm ecosystem.

I probably didn’t think about the word organics in that formal gardens in
working on farms at a young age
following that path to University and getting a bachelors in Horticulture
a lot of that training for commercial
how to go about things differently
fist experience is using pesticides
expectation of the job…
seeing it was one
it was dangerous and 2 it is damaging!

Starting to think differently.

And wonder about if different ways would be profitable without one of the way of growing that?
damaging to the environment I have grown to love
exploring different options
Things like fertilization and seeing what whats out there in the industry. What other people were using successfully?
Formal training more a process of exploration.
I always tell people one of the things you learn when you go to college is about
learning about what you learn what you don’t want to do then what you do want to do… I was sitting in this philosophy class. Someone was talking about this USFS job where you could go out and take flower inventories of the forest.

Are you a millennial…

I don’t mind sharing my age, this year I will be 41,
not a millennial
my first semester would have been fall of 1994… things have changed
people who are seeking a horticultural path and more access…
You sound like one!

Do you want to talk about opportunities at the Rodale Intstitue now?

I could talk about
people don’t realize it’s such a large place
There are a lot of different departments that are happening here
I know a lot of people know about the work
the work for the farming systems trial
longest running comparisons
different things going on
with the orchards
vegetable production program happening here

Besides to the farming systems trial

There’s a lot of different research happening.
this year they are even setting up a vegetables systems trial taking place in the feilds.
comparing conventionally growing veg
versus organic grown veg
impact on soils and

Rodale Institute is BIG

When you come here and land on site
333 acres is a lot of space for production
broken up into these different uses…
field crops and grains
the new addition of animals
  • pasture raised hogs
  • pasture raised chickens – broilers
  • egg production
  • goats and sheep
that makes up our bigger hole
a lot of passionate people
there are different focuses when you come here on site
  • a lot of the work I do in the front area
  • more of the demonstrations garden area
  • smaller vegetable plots
  • smaller scale home owners
  • can see organic production
  • some plots that have pollinators and cut flowers
  • bringing in beneficials to the garden in a different way
  • flowers and foliage that they like to make their homes in
  • a small medicinal garden that we established there to grow differnt herbs
  • established with a French Company called Boron
  • show people what they can grow in their own gardens
  • homeopathic herbs that show people what they can look like in their environment…
Are there internships right now? or a job opening?

 Current Internships

Work for research.
Garden Area looking for summer interns
Folks who want to come to vegetable production – short summer stint
April – Nov farmer training.
Animal folks looking for people to come work with them.
Interns who want to live on site.
Possible take advantage of those opportunities
programs at that’s
Veterans farmer training program
-work with vets who are here at different times of year with difffernt focus
Volunteers who can come learn from us.
We should tell people where it is…

Rodale Institute Location 

Rodale Institute we’re in Kutztown Pennsylvania
maybe 15-20 minutes west of Allentown, Eastern Pennsylvania, Central as well.
surrounded by bigger farms
border that feels busier…
That NY, NJ type of thing…
Philly about an hour and change
NY maybe an hour and 20 minutes…
I remember when I worked at Apple, I call them the kids – but they were all college students or grad students, they were always talking about “We’re going to Philly to get a cheesesteak or something…” ROAD-TRIP!

Lots of internships…

  • Garden
  • Livestock
  • St Luke’s Organic Farm
  • research
  • accounting
  • communications
  • development
  • media
  • education – Organic Farming Program
I tend to forget they have those postings too, because
we spend time outside
communications to really message out there, but it’s huge at being a non-profit
research and education we do rely on people who come in as volunteers and interns and staff
we rely on those people
more oriented to getting our message out there..
helping us run the programs
Besides to all those things that we do.

There’s a good educational program.

People can take classes from the actual people who are running the programs.
  • gardens
  • medicinal area
  • composting that is a big popular area we have had success with.
  • for the educational things that are listed
  • learning from the people that are doing the work
  • everybody here has to have that skill to double with teaching as well as doing
I love that I am going to visit one of these days… I drove across the US with my step daughter once to look at all these different colleges. One of these days I’m gonna get there…… I always hear complaints about people who are too into their phones. Not communicating but getting to talk to people like you and then meet them it’s just amazing!
the other thing people are always talking about how fun would it be to meet people at a conference
Rodale Institute Calendar

The best time to visit

this is where I should have my calendar
annual field day
the 3rd Friday in July
open house essentially.
Doors are wide open.
Sign up for the program
  • wagon rides and tours
  • people running different research
  • animals
  • orchards
You can come out and can take a tour in the peak of the summer and different types of research opportunities…
You know like the movie Vacation with Chevy Chase and they go to California and it’s closed for cleaning or something…
Most of the year the grounds are open, self-guided tours
different types of gardening things
books and seeds

Garden Store

The store is open.
Heather does a great job stocking it!
Self -guided tour info in main office
My biggest thing would be come when the weather’s a bit warmer and theres more to see, spring summer and fall…
I’ll be a lot of listeners are like I’m gonna go, I never thought of this… or I walsy wanted to now I’m gonna.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

This year in PA was a good year for winter squash.
IDK if in Montana you fight Downy mildew at all?
The downy mildew held off until late season. Allowing for good fruit development on the plants. Downy mildew can be a killer for organic growers, as our options are limited. Making good contact with the underside of the leaves when spraying is always difficult.
We had a really good year for winter squash and things… I don’t know if your familiar with or fight downy mildew
nice year for summer squash
did really well for
spectacular tomatoes plants eggplants
been really dry
in many parts in the country
didn’t suffer from the late blight
cellanious crops as well…
Overall a good year.

Wasn’t it more like the Northeast it was really wet?

That’s the wacky thing… of us is was a dryer summer… for listeners it could be different?
Did you want to talk about if other years what to do if they did have downy mildew? Is that the powdery mildew?

2 different types

downy’s the one that
notice the yellowing or discoloration
might even look like
nutritional problem
flip the leaf over the downy
reproduction spores on the back side of it, kind of a gray color…
It’s different from powdery mildew
white coating on the surface of curcubits…
Most famously, if you have roses in the garden
kind of attacks those and those plants

2 different things for Powdery Mildew

powdery you can deal with
milk sprays… are actually effective
25-40% organic whole milk and spray that on the leaf surface puts that powdery mildew in check,
There are oils and organic sprays that address powdery mildew
powdery likes warm days and cool nights
powdery territory

Downy Mildew

downy is a different disease and pathogens
there’s not a lot of other
underside of the leaves…
really hard to do, your can go out and underside spray
good airflow
spray compost tea on plants
we haven’t done it successfully.
definitely a trickery thing to get a handle on.

Rodale Institute Pepper Plants

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Every year when we go through the seed catalogs I always get kind of waylaid with different new varieties.
new types of tomatoes
plant sale
a new type of kale called bare necessities
cyber frill
always looking at new varieties
to see how they grow
always fascinating for a new variety as a biologist but also as a
exciting as a cook to put something different
new varieties!!!
I’ve been reminiscing about going to Paris last year… and when you arrive you put your luggage and they send you out in this kind of daze and I only ate out like twice but I got a delicious eggs a lunch with this delicious arugula salad…


Love to add to that as a gardener, it’s important aha gardeners are cooks! There’s a huge difference between getting a woody tender that’s a flavorful carrot
good tasting broccolis
that had the right treatment
I think people forget what they do in the garden will come ou on their plate
Our health food store their motto is
It’s all about the taste
On the flip side Mike pickles beets in the winter. I can’t hardly buy a tomato from the store and the beets are different taste. It’s interesting on Feb 24th I’m talking to 2 soil scientists … my mom that’s her love is cooking…
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
The biggest challenge might be a heads up for your listeners in PA in 2015
the first year we have it hear on site
allyium leaf minor
allium pest that attacks garlic, onions
everybody in that family
it comes out in the spring
lay eggs
travels down
that larvae stage where it pupates
damaging the stems all the way down
growers have trouble where onion crops leeks are unsaleable
our fall leeks really suffered where a lot of them weren’t saleable…
wasn’t really the fault of the onions coming up
it’s a new pest coming up.
idk where else
first originally id’d coming from eastern Europe from perhaps Poland
a new pest that stays in these northern climates…
new challenge
most destructive thing
that just goes back to

Do you want to talk about climate change?

We talk about climate change. The positive effects of ag and getting that carbon back down in the soil through cover cropping.
getting our organic matter content
people being vigilant in demanding it…
It comes down to people demanding it…
all the fossil fuels
what they are demanding from the farmers
demanding from our government
really scary scary thing
It has to come down to us… us making the demands on the people we are getting our products from. And the folks that are making and changing policy.
I got snagged in this Facebook autism awareness thing… I talked to Dr. Stefanie Seneff. The links between autism and the curves on the graphs. And links between the rise in autism and rise in glyphosate. I always tell people that if Congress even if they agree with you, that they need people to back them up,,.. it’s an easy phone call.. You just dial and call and they are alway polite either side you call. and it’s so important.

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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!


Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

I hate mulching. IDK why, it’s so important so it’s not a commercial not to mulch your garden… but mentally it’s not my favorite…
I understand because it always looks itchy to me because mike uses hay a lot…
It’s good, this is where gardening there are other things in life what you may not like to do

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

all that spring work…
so satisfying..
I was just blessed fro my 2nd anniversary interview I talked with Jean Martin Forteir…
he was at Yale talking to their sustainable gardeners I remember that same comment
him transplanting beets and I was like wow
labor intensive… pays off for him…
He said I can’t it gives me 3 weeks on the season…

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

I think it’s such a big one… I think it’s starting to do with
love what you do
start small and
love what you do
and make sure what you do is managable
like a lot of things in lifewe get frustrated when we take on too much
ot that we don’t like the task
we become overwhelmed with the work
along those lines
the other day… at the dollar store… 4 packs for a dollar…
I always tell listeners I love to start but then I’m like what you want me to water again… I just watered yesterday?
make it manageable
if you hate to water
they seem labor intensive at first but
put out the drip tape and the soaker hose
dead heading
ornamental garden…
dead headings been a struggle for em.. Lisa Ziegler gave me a big lecture one day on dead heading!
there will be weeks where 3-4 days will go by and I won’t even see the garden… but I’m belessed and my husband gets to g there every day..
that’s me… other people are different…

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

My very favorite tool, is probably one of those really sharp gardening knives. It looks like a giant knife like a large cooking knife a chefs knife.
sharper edge
for transplanting
a good garden knife…
dividing roots up and perenials…
like a hori hori knife?
my favorite one is from ann leonard
bright orange handle
losing your favorite tool and you find it at the end of season when it’s rusted… thank god you didn’t hit iwth a piece of equipement?
lucky you didn’t

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

There are so many! I love to make soups in the fall- butternut squash soup or potato leek. Greens are always great, too!
Cooking cooking,
that whole things about fresh greens and fresh arugala coming out of the garden
That you can’t beat!
put up a small window box,
greens you get fresh blows the supermarket out of the water……
I always talk about a kitchen garden… my mom has herbs so goo fresh herbs right outside her front door!

How about a favorite internet resource to recommend?

I tend to surf places that sell things
I like to surf the websites that are selling things
2nd degree
botanical gardens
fine gardening..

I wrote a character about a person who worked at a botanical garden? What are you looking for at a botanical garden website?

design… growing in a garden is different then field production
ideas with
enormous staff at those places…
search from varieties from seed companies themselves?

Do you think botanical gardens grow organically?

IDK think all of them do
I was up in Maine
maybe Booth Bay is absolutely phenomenal
truly organic
that I have been to
other gardens
some certainly are not
I think it’s possible!
That’s very exciting

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Small growers
Growing for Market – Lynn Byzanski
do listen to different podcast

Recommend a podcast!

NPR you bet your garden local in this area…
Margaret Roach A Way To Garden Podcast
Margaret Roach I think she worked for Martha Stewart.
more ornamentals
Whatever comes into my world I talke a look at…

Do you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

I would say, know your market
a lot of competition
more and more small scale growers
know your competition and not be surprised by it.
Start small and build solid connections
starting out you want to have good quality produce
Goes back to my beliefs about cooking and putting the best things possible on a plate
work on your qualities and efficiencies because that’s what will carry you into the future…
And again not to overwhelm yourself…
I was gonna ask about building your conections… at the market? with other growers? with your customers? all of the above?
depends on what type of business model
csa farmers markets
build those solid connections
restaurants whole other ball of wax
understand who your client is, bring them along
show them something
grow with you…
if you are working with understanding
knowing farmers around you meet their needs… bring them along and no pun intended connections with you…
make those connections with
valuable to meet those other growers and share their experiences
see what kind of things they have seen in their fields and kind of commiserate
and get ideas from.

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about? Or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet? In regards to the environment?Either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Always gonna plug where I work… Rodale Institute is Is always looking for support
people who are interested in what we are doing…support us financially
level and interest and follow us and the ways we’re trying to connectt with our world
The way I see things, people aren’t gonna get it until they make that personal connection with themselves…
more people gardning… growing and doing that on a personal level
the connection between themseleves and the environment and our food – from that every other decions flows… once you see what you can do in your own garden. And when you grow organically. The quality that comes out of it you demand different from our super markets. Demand more from people seeting policy. Where your flour is coming from and more commidity crops.
starts at home
more people out there gardening…
I think the quote could be the grow with you… building those connecitons.. talking with different people…

How do we connect with you?

Can connect with me through the Rodale online and get my contact info there for my email or I hate to give out my phone but it’s online…
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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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