The Legacy Of Robert Rodale

The rich story behind Rodale's founder with a mission to create a healthier world.

January 21, 2015

Robert Rodale became the editor of Organic Gardening magazine in 1960. His vision never wavered as he carried on and built upon what his father, J. I. Rodale, began in 1942. That year, the first issue of Organic Farming and Gardening gave Americans a glimpse of an organic future.

Bob Rodale—for he insisted that everyone call him Bob—was 19 when his name first appeared on Organic Gardening’s masthead as staff photographer. Within a decade, he was articulating the promise of sustainable, poison-free gardens and farms. Philanthropist, activist, environmentalist before the term became fashionable, sportsman, father, and husband, he presided over Rodale Press’ growing influence in creating a healthier world.

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At the hour of his tragic death in a Moscow traffic accident on September 20, 1990, Bob’s global outreach was touching the lives of hungry millions, as the food-system projects he had dreamed of 30 years ago became realities. His energetic contribution to the Soviet Union’s era of glasnost and perestroika would find its voice in a joint publishing venture called Novii Fermer (The New Farmer). It was this project that took him to Moscow.

It was at the Rodale Institute in the mid-1970s that Bob sought the answer to hunger and famine with amaranth, a little-known but high-protein grain once widely grown by the Native Americans of Central and South America. In recognition of his assault on hunger, Bob received a 1984 Presidential “World Without Hunger” award.

In cataloging Bob’s public achievements, though, it’s easy to miss the man’s most human dimension. He savored the outdoor life. A member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic skeet-shooting team, he returned from the games in Mexico City with a new passion: bicycling.

Bob Rodale was a quiet man, gentle, approachable, yet possessed of an unflagging determination, a silk-strong will that set him apart from those who spoke louder and usually achieved less. In spirit, he is very much with us, but we miss him. —Organic Gardening staff, December 1990

Remembering Bob—And Our Vision

When Bob and I were first married, we were one candle. We did everything together. As the family grew, Bob required more contemplation time. Gradually, we both became comfortable with Kahlil Gibran’s philosophy, in which he talks about the importance of spaces in your togetherness. We each needed the spaces of quiet to generate our own inner thoughts. We became two candles—but still complementing each other’s light. What did Bob do with his light?

I think back to the time in my youth when I was a camper. The last night, each person received a slab of birch on which was mounted part of a fern and a candle. The light-bearer led the procession as we all solemnly followed towards the river. As each one of us made our wish or dream, our candle was set afloat in the water. I think of Bob as that light-bearer. Wherever he went throughout the world, he was so busy planting the light of illumination in other people’s minds. The message was to work for making the world a better place.

 

We stand tall and challenged for each of us now to be the light-bearer for the dreams he planted in our hearts. It is a new beginning for you and me. Now it is time for all of us to try our own wings. —Ardath “Ardie” Rodale, December 1990