The perfect partnership.

The Burkholders brought their farm back from the brink by partnering with an organic research institute.

For some people, transitioning to organic is a lifestyle choice. For James and Ida Burkholder—and their partners at the Rodale Institute—it’s a little more complicated than that.

The Burkholders live in Berks County, Pennsylvania, near the organic fields and pastures of the Rodale Institute. James and Ida’s partnership with the Rodale Institute began in 2010, and it’s a simple relationship: the Burkholders get land on which to graze their cows, while the Rodale Institute gets an organic herd to jumpstart its livestock research program.

For James and Ida, the partnership with Rodale ensured that the Burkholders’ farming legacy would endure. James’ family has been farming since they emigrated from Switzerland in the 1700s, but when the conventional milk market bottomed out in 2009, James and Ida almost lost everything. “We were in danger of extinction,” James explains. As a small conventional dairy, he says, “It was tough to compete against larger operations.”

But rather than fold, the Burkholders dug deep and explored other options. And what they found was that the Rodale Institute was searching for an opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of the effects of organic and conventional dairying, using two environments where all other variables were exactly the same.

When a friend told James what Rodale was looking for, he jumped at the opportunity. James and Ida wanted to go organic, and Ida’s father—who ran a conventional dairy just down the road from the Institute—was willing to provide the conventionally raised herd that Rodale needed as a control group. A proposal was written. A plan was created. And, within just 12 months, there were two sets of Burkholder cows on Rodale’s pastures—one organic, the other conventional.

Today, both James and Ida and their cows are certified organic converts. “I used to think of organic as a fad,” James admits. “I realize now it’s not a fad. It’s definitely here for the long term. It’s good for the environment, and it’s good for people and animals. It encompasses a whole way of respecting life.”

Holterholm Farms
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