Organic oasis near Kutztown

This is not your basic manicured garden tour. A visit to the Rodale Experimental Farm is a fascinating, sometimes muddy and bug-laden, window into a working sustainable organic farm.

Hats are a must. Boots are good idea.

Here’s the backstory: In 1947, a man named J.I. Rodale started the Soil and Health Foundation on his small farm near Kutztown to promote his theory that healthy soil, not chemical fertilizer, is the basis for growing healthy food. Five decades and one publishing empire later, these 333 acres near Kutztown are home to a research farm and educational center that is open to the public for $5 self-guided tours and workshops on composting, soil biology, and other topics.

Tours start in an old red schoolhouse, where books on gardening and cooking and locally made honey and jams are for sale. From here, the sometimes-paved paths wind past wide garden beds, compost windrows, bank barns, owl hollows, and patchwork-quilt fields of corn, alfalfa, wheat, and soybeans. In summer, an unfathomable number of bugs and butterflies – plus the occasional herd of cows — will cross your path. I have yet to take one of the $12 Saturday guided tours, but I hear they are thorough and inspiring.

A tip: Don’t rely on your car’s GPS to find this farm. Map it out or call for specific directions before you leave. It’s not exactly on the beaten path, though it isn’t far from two great refreshment stops: Premise Maid Candies for ice cream and Brenda’s Eatery (15380 Kutztown Rd.) for Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.

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