Rodale jumps off the deep end with Organic LifeThe last issue of Organic Gardening magazine lays on my desk. The cover is a somber brown sepia-tone image of J.I. Rodale, founder of the magazine in 1942. This is a "special collector"s issue," with those words in gold at the top of the cover, so if you are someone who Dumpster dives at the recycling bin to find reading material, you can find it.

Come March, the magazine prints with a new name and new focus. It will be Rodale"s Organic Life, and its focus will be more broad than just gardening.

"Organic is now about so much more than gardening it"s about your whole life your home, your health, and our future together on this beautiful, amazing Earth," Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale Inc., wrote in an introductory column in the final issue of Organic Gardening.

Organic has become widespread, she explained, what with the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituting the National Organic Progam and Whole Foods offering its organic bounty via 360 stores.

Already, advertising for Organic Gardening has outgrown its gardening niche to include Bob"s Red Mill flour, Organic Valley dairy products, Eden canned, packaged and soy products, organic cat litter, Yogi teas and the chance to become a medical billing specialist while working from home.

I know they are onto something. According to Fresh Facts on Retail, organic vegetable sales increase nearly 21% for the third quarter of 2013 and organic fruit sales grew nearly 16%.

Consumers earning more than $100,000 annually were more likely to buy organic food, as were shoppers age 21-39 and households with kids living at home. That is an attractive demographic for anyone selling ads in a magazine.

We have enjoyed Organic Gardening magazine for years, and for me it was accepting some of the organic lifestyle premise without jumping into the deep end.

I think a garden thrives best if you fork in lots of humus and maybe some well-rotted cattle manure. We avoid pesticides, if only because I am too cheap to buy them, and besides, we don"t want to kill the butterflies that visit the garden. We appreciate the tomatoes, peppers and squash we grow. It is a special meal when we harvest.

However, I am not ready to commit to an "organic lifestyle" publication.

History of eccentricity

Maybe Rodale Inc. is going back to its roots with the magazine"s change, and that is a little scary. J.I. Rodale was a character who was suspicious of post-World War II medical advances, such as the polio vaccine ("Isn"t there a better way of conquering polio than jabbing all the children in the country with a needle?" he asked in a September 1955 article in Prevention, another Rodale Inc. title).

He threw out wild claims such as rimlesss glasses and saltwater cause cancer, "Negros" in the 1950s were a "happy people" who did not get cancer, and drinking artificially softened water causes heart attacks.

This info comes from an article by Maria McGrath published in August on NewRepublic.com, and it corroborates stories I had heard or read before.

She is a community college history professor working on a book about the natural foods movement titled "Food for Dissent."

As McGrath recounts, the business of Rodale Inc. was catching fire in the early 1970s, and J.I. Rodale caught some publicity in an article in The New York Times and then was interviewed for "The Dick Cavett Show."

Sounds like it was an interesting interview, but no one has viewed the video of it. The episode never aired. After boasting about the health benefits of his diet and saying he had never felt better and that he may live to be 100, J.I. Rodale had a heart attack and died, age 72.

I wonder if losing their eccentric leader may have paved the path to success for Rodale Inc. His son took over, and it seems he doubled down on composting and gardening and built the company"s other brands. Besides Prevention, Rodale Inc. also publishes Runner"s World, Women"s Health, Bicycling and Running Times.

Surely the present management would not embrace the company founder"s crackpot theories.

Oh, but this is a different time, isn"t it? There is GMO paranoia everywhere, and anti-vaxxers threathen to let terrible diseases regain their foothold.

Recently, a friend shared a video link on Facebook of Robyn O"Brien giving a Tedx-Austin lecture. She has written a book titled "The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It." She also has founded AllergyKidsFoundation.org.

During her lecture, she explained she had been a financial analyst and then became a mother of four. Something had caused the face of her youngest to swell, and it was diagnosed as an allergy to eggs. That put her on the warpath.

Her lecture wove together some general facts and correlations. She blamed Monsanto, Procter &amp Gamble, Wal-Mart, Kraft Foods and scientists for conspiring to create profits while, as collateral damage, causing an alarming increase in childhood food allergies.

She connects some pretty far-flung dots in a short lecture. I can"t address all of it, but let me cite an article on the increase in food allergies and suggest we don"t know what is going on there.

In a 2010 "Need to Know" article found at www.pbs.org, a study commissioned by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said food allegies are wildly misdiagnosed. One reason is that a positive blood or skin test does not equate to an allergy, the researcher said. There are false positives and other issues.

In short, no one knows why there is an increase in food allergies, whether it is a problem with diagnosis, increased awareness of food allegies or a multitude of environmental factors.

O"Brien, however, can make the connection.

I think she is the model consumer for Rodale"s Organic Life. I fear she is the model correspondent for them too.

Rodale"s Organic Life faces an already established competitor in Mother Earth Living, which also has recipes, gardening tips, health suggestions and homemaking advice. They have a healthy advertising base, so surely there is enough for both.

For myself, I will miss Organic Gardening"s horticultural discussion without the charged controversies, jumps to conclusions and crackpot theories I fear are coming to its successor.

crobinson@thepacker.com

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