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Jeff Tkach: Just Eat Real Food

Jeff Tkach

Episode 24

“What we eat really does impact how we perform in life.”

Does Agriculture Matter to Cycling? Find out the answer to this question on this week’s episode of Talk of the T-Town where Joan sits down with Jeff Tkach from the Rodale Institute. They discuss the rich history between the Rodales and cycling, organic farming, and even earthworms.

Jeff Tkach -Chief Impact Officer for the Rodale Institute

Jeff Tkach


Website: https://rodaleinstitute.org
Instagram: @rodaleinstitute
Instagram: @jefftkach
Facebook: @rodaleinstitute
Twitter: @rodaleinstitute


Transcript

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of The T-Town podcast, where we discuss all things track cycling, broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, I’m your host and executive director Joan Hanscom, along with my co host athletic director Andy Lakatosh.

Maura Beuttel:

Hey listeners just as a heads up. During this episode we discuss our guests experience with using alternative medicine treatments. This should not be taken as medical advice. And please consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment or therapeutic programs.

Joan Hanscom:

All right listeners, welcome to this week’s episode of the Talk of The T-Town podcast. We are very excited to have as a guest this week, Jeff Tkach from the Rodale Institute. And I particularly personally am exceedingly excited about this conversation. It’s not about track racing at all, but it’s going to touch on our shared history of the Rodale Institute, it’s going to talk about Jeff’s personal journey through fitness and wellness and bikes and how he ended up in organic farming. And we’re going to talk about why agriculture matters to cyclists because it really truly, honestly does. So with that, I’d like to welcome Jeff to the pod. We’re thrilled to have you. Jeff, welcome.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, Joan, thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be here today. Thank you for allowing me to be your guest today.

Joan Hanscom:

So Jeff, you’ve got a really interesting resume. You have been with Rodale for a while in various capacities. First, you were on the board of the Rodale Institute previously, but you were also active at the publications. And now you are the chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute. Tell us a little bit about that journey through the Rodale family and how you are where you are today?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a journey, it has been. It’s been about a 20 year journey, to lead me to the work that I’m doing now. But… And interestingly enough, cycling has paralleled that journey. So I’m grateful to the sport in many ways, because it connected me to the work I’m doing now. So I graduated college, and then was-

Joan Hanscom:

Local, right? You were local here?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, I grew up in the Lehigh Valley and graduated from Kutztown University. And at the time, I had just discovered mountain biking and was super passionate about the outdoors. And as anyone sort of with those passions, I kept thinking in my mind, well, I guess I’ll have to move west, maybe out to the Rocky Mountains and build a lifestyle around my passions. And someone said to me, “Well, you are aware that this global publishing company exists in our backyard, that publishes bicycling and mountain bike and all the things you love doing?” And I was like, “No, I didn’t know that actually.” And they said, “Well, Rodale.” And then once I discovered I was astonished to find out that this publishing company was literally just a few miles from the very home I grew up in. And so connected with some people through the sport of cycling that were employees there, found my way into an interview shortly after graduating college in 2001, landed an entry level marketing job, and that really set me on a trajectory that I’m still on today.

Joan Hanscom:

But that’s so cool.

Jeff Tkach:

So I spent about 16 collective years with the publishing company, I did move away to Colorado from 2013 to 2016. And then came back here in 2016 to assume a leadership position with the Rodale Institute.

Joan Hanscom:

So it’s funny, this is a sidebar and this for our listeners, I told Jeff, before we started, I tend to go down rabbit holes and there’s lots of sidebars and tangents, and then we always bring it back around. I too, took a little side trip away from the East Coast out to Colorado for a three year spell. And I’m going to put you on the spot. I think the riding in Pennsylvania is better than the riding in Colorado.

Jeff Tkach:

That’s not putting me on the spot at all. I could not agree more with you.

Joan Hanscom:

Everybody thinks Colorado is so rad for riding and I think the riding here is better.

Jeff Tkach:

Oh, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I think… I lived at the epicenter of Boulder, Colorado, right in Denton in the downtown and there was an incredible cycling community. But you got awfully bored doing the same seven rides day in and day out. And so I couldn’t wait to get back on the roads of Pennsylvania when I moved back here.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, that’s so funny. So yeah, that’s my controversial topic of the day, is that I think the riding here is better than in Colorado. Because it was the same thing in the Springs. I was in the Springs, and there was essentially four road rides you could do and there was some good mountain biking too, but it was limited and I’m like, “Oh, riding in the East Coast is better.” So there we go. My controversial stand on-

Jeff Tkach:

We got that out of the way.

Joan Hanscom:

We got it out of the way early. Later we’ll talk about surfing, but is it surfing better in New Jersey or New Hampshire? Don’t-

Jeff Tkach:

Oh, let’s have that debate.

Joan Hanscom:

We’ll have that after. We’ll go down that rabbit hole later. So one thing that jumped out to me was your time with Yoga Journal. I’m just to go because yoga has been something we’ve been touching on with our listeners as well here. So talk to us a little bit about Yoga Journal before I let you go back to the topic of the Rodales and our combined and shared history here. But the Yoga Journal thing jumped out to me.

Jeff Tkach:

Wow! It’s been a long time since anyone’s asked me a question about that little sliver of my career, but I did serve as publisher and general manager of the Yoga Journal brand when I was living in Colorado. That’s the job that actually took me out there.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, really funny.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. And I’ve been practicing yoga for about the same amount of time I’ve been cycling. So about 20 years, I’ve been deeply, deeply entrenched in yoga. And to this day, I devote a lot to the practice.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, that’s super cool. I have found that this last year with COVID, I always have had a pretty decent yoga practice myself. But this last year with COVID actually, people doing Zoom yoga has been like a God sent to my personal yoga practice. I’ve been able to practice yoga more consistently in the past year because of Zoom than in the last five years of my life. So I found that that’s been-

Jeff Tkach:

Well, I’m going to say the same. Shout out to my teacher. His name is Naime Jezzeny, and he runs Digg Yoga, which is done in Lambertville, New Jersey. And I was driving an hour and 15 minutes every other week to practice with him. But then through Zoom, he has been able to take his classes online, so now I can literally do them every morning on my phone. And it’s been awesome.

Joan Hanscom:

And my teacher is in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Jeff Tkach:

Oh, really?

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So, it’s been amazing. So, yeah, that’s why when that-

Jeff Tkach:

Silver lining.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, it’s been great. And it’s been a lovely community. We just had a little party celebrating our one year of online yoga together.

Jeff Tkach:

So cool.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So that’s why that jumped out at me. I was like, “Oh, I got to ask Jeff about his yoga practice because there’s so much benefits to yoga practice for cyclists.”

Jeff Tkach:

And just to life in general.

Joan Hanscom:

Yes.

Jeff Tkach:

It’s really kept me grounded through this season, through this year that we’ve all live through. It’s an amazing both physical, spiritual and mental practice.

Joan Hanscom:

And just too I think our practice together online has been so nice. I’m single I live by myself with my cat. It’s been so nice to have this group that’s met consistently throughout. It’s been like you said, more than just making my hamstrings loose, it’s been really-

Jeff Tkach:

Building a community.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, it’s been great.

Jeff Tkach:

Cool.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So that’s why I wanted to go down that particular rabbit hole with you just to ask you if you are still actively doing the yoga thing, and the answer is yes.

Jeff Tkach:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joan Hanscom:

So, yeah. Sorry, listeners. We’re going to go down lots of rabbit holes with Jeff I think today. So I’ll let you talk about the things though, that we really wanted to focus on which is our shared history with the Rodales. This is a velodrome founded by Bob Rodale in 1975. So we are in our 46th year of existence here, which is super rad coming up on 50 in 2025. And obviously, you work for the Rodale Institute. So that name gives it all away. We share the the Bob Rodale connections.

Jeff Tkach:

Yes we do.

Joan Hanscom:

You want to talk about that a little bit?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. This is really humbling to have to share about… To get to share about actually, because I’ve never met Bob Rodale, he passed away in 1990 while he was doing some work in Russia, he died tragically in a car accident on his way back to the airport. But his life has deeply touched me. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Bob or that he’s written himself. And if I can meet one person, I would choose him.

Joan Hanscom:

When they do those, “Hey, if you could have dinner with any person?” He’s on the list?

Jeff Tkach:

That’s the person. Yeah, he would be the one. Bob Rodale was a fascinating human being. And it’s rare because his father J.I Rodale was our founder. He started the Rodale Institute in 1947. And many people don’t know this, but J.I Rodale, our founder was credited for really, for number one coining the term organic as it’s used today. But he really was the modern day pioneer of the organic movement right here just a few miles from the velodrome. The whole movement began right here in Pennsylvania, and it’s now $100 billion industry worldwide. So, J.I Rodale was our founder. But then what’s really rare, is when you have a founder and then a next generation leader, who’s even more visionary, and that was Robert Rodale. He was J.I Rodale’s son, and he took over his leadership of the Rodale Enterprise, both the publishing company and the nonprofit after J.I I believe, passed away in 1971. So Bob Rodale took over as leader, and he became a world traveler.

Jeff Tkach:

He was on and off airplanes all the time traveling both for his work in agriculture and his work in publishing. And he was raising a family and running a business and as with anyone under that amount of stress, his doctor suggested that he take up a hobby because he just loved to work, he was so passionate about what he did, but I guess maybe he had some high blood pressure. And his doctor said, “You might want to find a hobby.” So he took up of all things skeet shooting. And if you know the skeet shooting facility behind us here, behind the velodrome, I do believe Bob was also instrumental in starting that. So he takes up skeet shooting just falls head over heels for it. And it’s very much a mental game to what I understand. So it got his mind out of his… It got him out of his body and into his mind. And he was a deeply contemplative man, I believe, and made it all the way to the Olympics. So he became an-

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, that I did not know.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. He became an Olympic skeet shooter, while he’s running this global enterprise and a nonprofit. And so he was super into it, he would go out and do altitude training in New Mexico. And then ultimately, he shot I believe in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Is that right?

Joan Hanscom:

That sounds the right time for-

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. So he’s down in Mexico, shooting for the United States and he sees this thing, and he’s like, “What is that odd looking building?” And he walks across the street. And I can almost imagine him looking down upon this building, it’s a velodrome. And around that late 60s, began the energy crisis, if you remember. So he’s seeing these people whip around this bicycle track, and I think he just all these light bulbs, I can almost imagine were going off in his head, and he’s like, “The bicycle, the bicycle.” And he just became so enamored by the bicycle. And he came back here and took his own money and built a velodrome and then donated it back to the county. But as I understand it, on the opening night of this very track, he was out there working in the parking lot directing cars into the parking lot. That’s just who he was.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

Deeply, deeply generous man, visionary. And the whole reason why the Lehigh Valley has this rich cycling community was because of Robert Rodale. And there is a lot of employees that would often spot him… Think about this wealthy CEO. He could have had a limousine driver take him between the corporate office in Emmaus Pennsylvania, to Kutztown to where the Rodale Institute was based, but not Bob Rodale. He was riding his spectrum that Tom made for him-

Joan Hanscom:

That’s cool.

Jeff Tkach:

… between the offices. So you’d often see Bob taking a bike ride during the middle of the day just so he can come and check on the Institute.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s so cool.

Jeff Tkach:

What a cool guy!

Joan Hanscom:

And I love the spectrum connection too, it speaks tons to just what this community is and the richness of this community and how deep the cycling routes are here. It’s just very unique here.

Jeff Tkach:

Super unique.

Joan Hanscom:

And I love going just a step back pre Bob Rodale, to is father, I love that the whole farming thing, if I’m not mistaken, had a genesis in his own sort of health issues, right?

Jeff Tkach:

Oh, yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Like, he was sort of a sickly fellow and decided that this organic farming thing and the food that he was consuming mattered in terms of his own health.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, I should talk about that actually.

Joan Hanscom:

You should because it’s really fascinating.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. So people are like, “Well, how did the whole organic movement start here in the Lehigh Valley?” Well, Bob… I’m sorry, J.I Rodale and his brother were entrepreneurs. They grew up in lower Manhattan. Their family was of the Jewish descent. And I think his family actually… He came from poverty. But in his late teens, he and his brother became entrepreneurs. They started a business. He had learned accounting, so he became quite proficient in running businesses, and started a business in lower Manhattan that was making electrical components for switch gears. And the business did pretty well. But he realized, “Oh, wait a minute, if I can lower my labor costs, then the bottom line improves. So what if we move the business out of New York City and to out to the countryside?” So they ultimately landed on the Lehigh Valley, and he and his brother and their families moved out here. That company, by the way, still exists today? It’s called Lutron. So Lutron was started by the Rodales.

Joan Hanscom:

Right.

Jeff Tkach:

And then J.I thought, “Well, wait a minute, I grew up…” He had a whole lineage of unhealth. His dad and brothers and his uncle’s all died at a very young age, due to mostly heart conditions. And J.I was beginning to have some health ailments early on, in his 20s and 30s. He’s like, “Wait a minute, if I don’t get ahead of this, I’m going to be heading in the same direction that my father did.” So he becomes enamored with health, and then he’s like, “Well, I’m moving the family out to the countryside, why don’t we buy a farm and then I can grow my own food, and then I can be healthy?” And he just knew that there was this connection with agriculture and health. So they bought a 40 acre farm, which the Rodale Institute still owns today that’s off of Minesite in Cedar Crest Boulevard. We call that the Founders Farm. But that was actually America’s first intentionally organic farm right here on Cedar Crest Boulevard.

Jeff Tkach:

So he buys this homestead, and then what was super cool about this, is he’s like, “Okay, now I’ve never farmed a day in my life…” J.I Rodale, you never saw him not wearing his suit. He was a businessman, he wasn’t a farmer. So he starts going to Penn State to the extension offices, and he says, “Okay, how do I farm?” And almost two a person, everyone he interviewed of asking them about agriculture, they all said the same thing because it was right around post World War Two. And they said, “Okay, J.I, you want to know how to farm, it’s really simple. You go out and you buy these things called inputs, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and you bring them onto your farm, and you apply them to the soil. And that’s how you grow food.” And actually, that idea initially made sense to him because he owned a manufacturing company.

Jeff Tkach:

So he knew that in order to make really great switch gears, he had to bring in the very best inputs into the factory in order to make the best product. So the idea of inputs in, outputs out, that idea made sense to him. But then he thought, “Wait a minute, I’m talking about growing healthy food. So could someone please explain to me, is there some magic that happens by bringing these synthetic harmful pesticides into a system, a biological system? Can someone explain how do you grow healthy food using these harmful chemicals?” And of course, no one could explain that. So he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to take a different path. And so he started his own research and began studying organic farming. And in May of 1942, he wrote some words on a chalkboard, where he said healthy soil equals healthy food equals healthy people. That was his was seminal moment. And that is our mission, even to this day.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And that’s what I wanted to get to, because I know we’re going to tie it all back around to that somewhere down the line later, at least because I’m super interested in that personally. So we are going to do it because I’m interested in it. But yeah. So I wanted to really make sure that we touched on that because I think even before Bob Rodale, I think it’s really interesting genesis story. To me that’s fascinating that A, that it’s here-

Jeff Tkach:

It’s here.

Joan Hanscom:

That it is a true homegrown story. But it’s also really important to understand what the roots of it were and why what the thinking was behind going against the grain so much. And so thank you for sharing that particular thing because again, I find it really fascinating. And I don’t think most of our listeners knew about the Robert Rodale velodrome story and what their inspiration was, and just how deeply connected this building that we are so fortunate to have here in Lehigh Valley, was just a brainchild, right?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

It was inspiration, a light bulb moment as you-

Jeff Tkach:

We have a lot to thank Bob Rodale for, even beyond the velodrome. If you’re a cyclist in the Lehigh Valley, the amazing single track on the backside of Emmaus on the Wildlands all that land, that was Bob Rodale, who bought that land and donated it back to the county. What is there now, 15 miles of single truck up there.

Joan Hanscom:

And that’s the thing. People need to know this stuff. People need to, I think have an appreciation for the history and how fortunate we are, we have the park [crosstalk 00:17:52] across the street. Yeah, the fitness park across the street. It’s such an important legacy for us all to recognize and just sort of appreciate and know that we’re unique. I’ve lived personally many, many places by this point. Sadly, I’ve moved around a lot and rarely have I lived in a community where the cycling community particularly has benefited so much from one benefactor. And so I think it’s just really important for-

Jeff Tkach:

For us to honor that.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, for us to honor that and for the people who come here and see the Robert Rodale way sign in the in the driveway, understand what that means and why it mattered that we have that recognition for him because it’s unique here. Most places are not so fortunate to have that type of legacy and that type of benefactor and then I sort of hope that when people drive into the parking lot here at the track and they see that Robert Rodale way sign, we very carefully along with Heidi Rodale picked calling it Robert Rodale Way, versus like Robert Rodale Circle or Robert Rodale Street. We called it Robert Rodale Way, very cognizant of wanting to do things in the Robert Rodale way.

Jeff Tkach:

Yes. Which was all about regeneration, by the way.

Joan Hanscom:

Yes. And so that-

Jeff Tkach:

It’s a way of life.

Joan Hanscom:

Right. And that was really important when we picked that to us that people understood and honored what the Robert Rodale way was.

Jeff Tkach:

That’s really beautiful.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And I love that Heidi Rodale got to have her hand on that. So you’re keeping that continuity of the family connection as well. And she was-

Jeff Tkach:

Well, the whole reason you and I are sitting here is because there’s a continuity that we want to continue.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So I think it is really important for the people who come here to appreciate that and maybe people from other places to get some inspiration from it as well, because it’s really a cool story. So with that said, we started to touch on it, we just said it, the institute’s global mission and work today still based on those words on the chalkboard.

Jeff Tkach:

It is. It’s been unwavering. It’s rare to find a mission driven organization that for 75 years has been unwavering in that mission. We’re laser focused on helping farmers all over the world, transition away from chemical dependent agriculture. Some people call it conventional, but I don’t think there’s anything conventional about spraying harmful pesticides and herbicides on land. But we’re in the business of helping farmers move away from that kind of farming towards these regenerative and organic approaches to agriculture. So we are a science organization, we’re a nonprofit. We’re a team of 70 employees, located now at eight campuses around the United States, but our main campus is here, just outside of Maxatawny. I’m sure many of the listeners ride by us all the time. But we’re a 333 acre research farm, where every square inch of this farm is research, we’re conducting the science that is helping to empower farmers all over the world embrace the best techniques using biological methods instead of chemical methods.

Jeff Tkach:

So we’re a research and education organization. Not only do we do science, but then we have a team of educators that go out and inspire and educate and equip farmers to move away from that old way of farming towards this new way of farming, or new old way of farming, I should say.

Joan Hanscom:

How many people do you have, quote “in residence” right now at the farm?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. So let’s see, we’re probably about 65 full time employees, not all of them are based here. But a majority of them are. We’re 10 PhD scientists. And then we have a very robust training program where we have interns from all over the United States. And some from all over the world that come and actually live on site. We have intern housing, we do a lot of farmer training, there’s a huge gap over the next 20 years, there’s going to be millions of acres that are changing hands. And right now they’re six times the amount of farmers over the age of 65 in the United States, then there are under the age of 35. So there’s this real gap coming where we have to fill with new farmers, we need to fill that pipeline. And so Rodale is working hard to train the next generation of farmers. And so we have one of the most respected farmer training programs in the United States. So any young farmer that aspires to embrace agriculture, most young farmers see the writing on the wall that organic is the future, and so they come to us for training.

Joan Hanscom:

I have a candidate for you.

Jeff Tkach:

Great.

Joan Hanscom:

A guy who used to work for me on my US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series, is now a farmer in upstate New York, and I’m going to make him come talk to you guys.

Jeff Tkach:

Amazing. Send him my way.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I’m going to send him to you, because he’s a fascinating person in and of himself. And so I saw a little light bulb moment there. You said something though, about the number and volume of organic farmers and how it’s the direction of the future. And I think what we were doing the pre show chat, we talked about what the last year has meant for farmers, and for organic farmers and for people reconnecting with farming and farms and growing their own stuff. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about that thing so that people have a really understanding of how it actually touches them.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, I think we’re living at a time in human history where people are beginning to reconnect with agriculture. We have become so divorced as a society about where our food comes from, and how that food was produced. During the World War Two years, there was something called the Victory Garden Movement. In the early 1940s, 45% of all the produce consumed in this country was grown in our own backyards. So 70 years ago, almost 50% of all the produce in this country was grown in our own backyards. Today, let’s just call it pre-pandemic. 17% of all the food at the grocery store comes from other countries. So we’ve seen this like sort of 70 year divorce from agriculture, we’ve become so… And it’s all because consumers are demanding cheap food. We have devalued food in this country. And in the name of $1,000 iPhones, people are putting less emphasis on food. In 1960, we were spending three times the amount of our GDP on food than we were on health care. Today, we’re spending double on health care than on food.

Jeff Tkach:

However, one silver lining in the pandemic is all of a sudden immunity, health. How can I stay healthy became instantly on the hearts and minds of most Americans. And as a result of that, the National Gardening Association reported last year 22 million new gardens were planted in this country.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s astonishing.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. Direct farm sales. So farmers selling directly to consumers. Those numbers increased by 420% last year. And so I think what we’re beginning to see is humans reconnect with the Earth. We were all sent home from our offices during the pandemic, we weren’t traveling, we weren’t going on vacations. And so I think families took to their backyards, and they said, “How can I inspire and equip my family to be healthy?” Just like J.I Rodale did 70 years ago-

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, exactly.

Jeff Tkach:

… when he’s like, “I want to move from New York City to Pennsylvania so I can grow my own food.” Well, guess what? Now people are saying, “I want to build some raised beds in the backyard, or I want to come to the farmer’s market at the velodrome on Saturday mornings.” I think that this sort of shift is beginning to happen. And I think all the listeners today have a responsibility. Here in the Lehigh Valley, we are very blessed. We have some of the greatest organic farms that surround this county and we have access to those farms.

Jeff Tkach:

And I think all of us that have the ability to get to know a farmer and to have a relationship with a farmer right here in the Lehigh Valley, we need to do that and we need to reconnect with our agriculture and begin to keep and I think there’s something powerful about us keeping our food dollars right here in the great Lehigh Valley instead of putting all of our money into Costco and Walmart and Whole Foods, what about coming to the Trexlertown Farmer’s Market, or supporting the local farmers between Bowers and Mertztown and Kutztown?

Jeff Tkach:

There’re some of the best farmers right here where you can literally drive up to the farm gate on the weekends and purchase most of your produce there. And by doing that, then we begin to build a local food economy. And then we don’t have to turn all of our farm fields into warehouses. And then-

Joan Hanscom:

We have great roads to ride on.

Jeff Tkach:

The byproduct is that we have great roads to ride on. So, that’s the mindset that we need to begin to re-embrace.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And it’s so interesting. Not just I think… Obviously, we’re in a time in our society, culture, universe, globe, where all of a sudden, people are finally starting to pay attention to the importance of a healthy environment. And let’s not pretend that the COVID thing was a good thing because it wasn’t. But there are good things coming out of it. And people you can’t buy a bike in a bike shop today. There was a three month waiting list to get a stand up paddleboard, you couldn’t get things to do outdoor recreation, because suddenly people were discovering the outdoors again. They were discovering hiking, they were discovering their local trail networks, they were discovering sort of the beauty of appreciating outdoor spaces instead of sitting in their space with their $1,000 iPhone in front of them. And I think this is an incredibly… And we’ve said this before on different podcasts. This is the year of opportunity.

Jeff Tkach:

Yes.

Joan Hanscom:

And this is why we’re having this conversation today, is while we have people’s attention on things like outdoors and immunity and health and the environment, let’s double down on it, let’s reemphasize how this stuff is so important. And even if you don’t care about eating organic brussel sprouts, if you’re a cyclist and you live in the Lehigh Valley, you should care about your farming business, the health of your local farms, just like you said, because we don’t want another Amazon warehouse put up here. We don’t want another major truck route going into these beautiful roads that we want to protect. We want to protect everything beautiful about the outdoors and our health and our access to great food that we don’t have to have trucked in from South America or flown in from South America.

Joan Hanscom:

We want to have that stuff available here to us. It’s healthier, it goes back to all those points on the chalkboard, healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people. Those are the things that I think we’re in a position where people are appreciating it right now. And how do we build on this momentum is really interesting.

Jeff Tkach:

I think it’s about reordering of values. And I think we’re all being called to do that right now to begin to value… I’m speaking now to our listeners that we need to begin to value the very things in our own backyard. The velodrome being one of them, because it is a gift to have this track here. It is a gift to have this park here across the street, it is a gift to have access to these incredible agricultural roads. And so you’re absolutely right. We’re being called to reorder our values and to begin to reprioritize our spending habits and how we spend our time ultimately. And by doing that, I think we create a healthier community for all of us.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And I just… It’s weird to see such a golden moment of opportunity coming out of something as terrible as the COVID pandemic was, but it’s sort of how I choose to view all of it. It’s how we’re choosing to view our community programs here, right? Hey, all of a sudden people want to buy bikes and want to be on bikes. They’ve dug bikes out of the basement. How can we help them appreciate that experience out on bikes? And how can the institute and the track work together to help people appreciate all of the value that comes with the organic farming piece that comes with supporting their local agriculture, how do we all do this together to even strengthen this even more?

Joan Hanscom:

And it’s funny I was looking at your event calendar on the website of the Institute and this is going to be the weirdest thing, but I don’t have a yard I live in an apartment, but I still find it really fascinating. You have everything available for our people who might be interested in this stuff happening at the institute, whether it’s an on a webinar or in person. You have things right down to webinars about earthworms.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

And it’s fascinating stuff to look at what a resource you guys are for people who from our community are healthy minded people. And how many people know that you can take a class about tomatoes, grafting tomatoes?

Jeff Tkach:

Grafting tomatoes, yeah. And I really hope that all of us… I encourage everyone to consider Rodale Institute, their farm too. We’re open to the public seven days a week, you can drive out, we have a visitor center, we’ve got a massive parking lot, restroom facilities. Maybe once in a while start your ride from the Rodale Institute. We have refreshments and food and drink and lots of events to your point Joan. Both digital and virtual events, as well as in person events. Our plant sales are some of the best you can find anywhere in the northeast, our classes, anything from hobby beekeeping, to organic gardening 101, to how to start composting at home. These are very rudimentary things that we often take for granted but Rodale Institute’s experts are some of the best in the world at what they do. I would encourage you to come out and take a class and enjoy our farm. It’s open to you-

Joan Hanscom:

And it’s beautiful.

Jeff Tkach:

It’s incredible. Yeah, bring a picnic and begin and end a ride and let’s consider the Rodale Institute, a really great resource in-

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I think as we talk about people starting to take this responsibility of connecting with their local environment, it’s a great place to start. It is a tremendous resource.

Jeff Tkach:

I’d be remiss to not mention something, we actually won a very generous grant recently, that’s going to enable us to install a bike share program at Rodale Institute.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, that’s cool.

Jeff Tkach:

So yeah, you’ll now be able to check out a bike using an app on your phone and you can do a whole tour of our 333 acres on a bike.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, that’s super cool.

Jeff Tkach:

So, come out and do that.

Joan Hanscom:

We should organize a group to go out and do that just from here. Yeah, that’s really cool. I think people often wonder how do I get started? How do I transition from shopping at Whole Foods to doing things like growing my own tomatoes?

Jeff Tkach:

Bring them here. I would say the first thing you can do is come here on… What is it? Every Saturday at 9:00 AM.

Joan Hanscom:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Saturdays from nine to noon.

Jeff Tkach:

Come get to know a farmer. I support your farmers market here at T-Town and the farmers that you bring in as vendors are some of the best farmers in the Lehigh Valley. They’re growing food in healthy soil using regenerative and organic methods, and have a conversation with one of them, get to know them, they’re some of the most intrepid souls you’ll ever meet. And in addition to supporting a farmers market, try growing something. Build a raised bed in your backyard, come take a workshop on organic gardening 101, we’ll teach you. But it’s not hard. We are blessed with amazing resources right here in the Lehigh Valley. And all of us can participate in this active farming.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, it’s super cool what you guys do. Again, your schedule is just packed. Right through the fall with all the apple stuff, there’s not an excuse to say, “Well, I’m busy this weekend,” because you guys have it going on the entire calendar year. It’s an incredible resource. And as we are starting to look at making those first steps, it’s good to know where the starting line is. Just like when you go to a bike race, you need to know where the start line is. It helps I think, for people who may be curious, but don’t really know what a great resource you are. And so we will make sure that we put links into the show notes for this, so we can get people connected with you guys, because I think it is incredibly cool what you all are doing. And let’s sort of circle around. So this is personal for you too. Right?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

This is not just your job, this is something that matters to you. You are a lifelong cyclist, we already talked on you being a lifelong yoga practitioner. Talk a little bit about what this means to you. Because we’re not just here to talk about the Institute, we’re here to talk with our guests and how this has personal meaning for you.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. So I’ve had two seminal moments in my life having to do with my health. One was at a very young age growing up here in the Lehigh Valley as a young boy, I had a lot of health problems that actually kept me from playing sports. I had severe asthma and allergies that around the age of 13 decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore. Kind of woke up one day, and how fortunate was I that at 13 I had this idea that I could empower my own health and I started reading as early as 13, about nutrition and the role nutrition plays in health and began to change the way I ate. And that led me to a healthier lifestyle. By the time I hit my teenage years, I started riding a mountain bike, I started finding some of the local trail systems and began to embrace a lifestyle of health and fitness at a young age.

Jeff Tkach:

But food was really the power of that transition in my life. And then fast forward to 2015 when I came back to the Lehigh Valley, I was invited back to be one of the leaders of the Rodale Publishing Company, and that’s when I began serving on the board of directors at the institute. So I began connecting with the work of Rodale Institute and how agriculture was fundamentally broken. And then I got sick about a year into this whole thing. I fell ill out of the blue. And that was about October of 2015, and I had to go on medical leave, I wasn’t getting any answers from the doctors that I was being sent to. No one can figure out what caused the health collapse. By February of that following year, I was still sick, I was bedridden at that point, and found my way to a doctor up just outside of the Lehigh Valley, who practices something called functional medicine, which is sort of more of a systems based approach to health.

Jeff Tkach:

And he was able to do some diagnostics, found that I had chronic Lyme disease, and that was the cause of my health collapse. But he said, “Listen, Jeff, at this point, you’re six months in, and there’s no pill I could prescribe you that’s going to get you better.” He said, “So you understand farming, right?” And I said, “Well, yeah, of course.” He said, “Because of your work with Rodale Institute.” And he said, “We’re going to farm your body back to health.” And I just looked at him and there was something in me that was like, “This is going to change the rest of my life this moment.” And from that moment on, my doctor began to see that my body was a system, and it needed to be brought back into homeostasis.

Jeff Tkach:

And so we used things like nutrition and herbal therapy, and acupuncture and ozone therapy, and infrared sauna, and all these modalities that weren’t pharmaceuticals. And it took time, but it got me back to full health. And in that sort of darkest moment of that whole journey, I decided that I wanted to give the rest of my life to the advancement of regenerative agriculture, regenerative organic agriculture. And so that’s what gave me the courage to ultimately step out of my work in media and publishing and into the work with Rodale Institute as a full time employee. And that was four years ago, but it’s deeply personal to me to see the parallels of our healthcare system, and our conventional farming systems. Both of them are looking at how do I treat a symptom with either a pill, or how do I treat a symptom with a chemical? If I’m a farmer and I have a past, well, there’s got to be a chemical for that. Right?

Joan Hanscom:

Right.

Jeff Tkach:

Or if I’m a doctor and I have I’m treating a diabetes patient, well, there’s got to be a pill for that, right? Instead of, “Wait a minute, let’s address the root cause. And let’s look at this person as a system. Let’s look at this farm as a biological system, not just a chemical cesspool.” So that’s why I think agriculture and human health are deeply connected. Our founder said so in his very mission statement that soil health has everything to do with human health. And I bore witness to that in my own life. And that conviction is what drives me.

Joan Hanscom:

And I think that I find that super interesting largely, because it’s how good athletics should work as well.

Jeff Tkach:

Yes.

Joan Hanscom:

There is a deliberate… There’s a line there that when you are an athlete, it is also regenerative, it is also systemic, it is also foundational, and you can’t just go to the gym and squat a lot, you have to have all of the components done, you have to have the mental component, you have to have the physical component, you have to have the cardiovascular component, you have to have so many of the foundational pieces in order to be a high functioning athlete and a healthy athlete. Food of course, being a major part of that, a major one of those systems that you need to regenerate, because obviously, the body won’t perform unless it’s fueled properly. But there’s also a parallel to how you do athletics wrong, that is also similarly chemical based, I would say.

Joan Hanscom:

And we want to avoid that method of athletic performance and really look at the positive method of athletic performance and how do you get there and it isn’t necessarily this chemical supplement, it’s nutrient dense food, it’s eating food that promotes just that restorative thing that that athletes need when you tear your body down through exercise, you also need to build it back up. And so I find the parallel, there’s the farming component, there’s the medical system component, and there’s the athletic component, and they’re all really running-

Jeff Tkach:

In extricable lengths.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, they’re all really well tied together. And so that Well, I think this is a really again, interesting conversation for our listeners to think about when we talk about organic farm and healthy soil equals healthy food equals healthy body, then when you’re an athlete, you have those same calls to action. You still have to have the healthy foundation. You too have to have the healthy soil.

Jeff Tkach:

Because an athlete is a system. It’s a biological system.

Joan Hanscom:

Exactly. It is just a biological system. And so we should all be thinking about all the aspects of our life in this way.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. Let’s… I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about one more topic that has to do with athletes actually and Rodale’s work. So at Rodale Institute, we’ve sort of coined this term or this phrase hidden hunger. So over the last 40 years, we’ve seen this dramatic depletion of nutrients in our foods. So people ask all the time, why should I buy organic food? Is organic food truly worth it? It’s more expensive. And that’s arguable by the way. If you shop at farmer’s markets, you’re likely are not going to be spending more money on food, because you’re cutting the middleman out of that supply chain. So there’s savings for the consumer. So at Rodale Institute we’ve been hard at work doing studies, long term studies, comparative studies that are looking at organic and conventional crops, and doing the science to answer the question, is there a difference? And our most recent work is this study called the vegetable systems trial. That is the first study of its kind in the world that sets out to answer that question, is organic food truly worth it?

Jeff Tkach:

And so we’ve got a side by side comparison, it’s a 12 acre study that’s growing organic vegetables, using organic methods directly next to plots where we’re spraying it with roundup and other agro chemicals. And we’re looking at… We’re actually looking at the soil health and what’s different in the soils of those crops. And we’re finding dramatic differences. After just four years the study’s only been going four years. Last year, we sent some samples of potatoes off to a laboratory. This is not published yet, this data I’m about to give you, but it will be peer reviewed. And this one study looked at samples of potatoes that were grown organically, versus potatoes grown conventionally, and there was 26 phytonutrients, micronutrients, compounds, minerals, so 26 of those things that existed at levels 100 to 700 times higher in the organic potatoes than in the conventional.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

And if you play that out, because at Rodale, we believe in long term studies, where are we going to be in 10 years, 20 years? As that soil gets depleted through the conventional plots as they continue to get sprayed, season after season, those chemicals kill all the biological life in that soil. Therefore, the nutrients are not ending up in the food. So here in the United States, we’re all walking around, many athletes are walking around with what’s called hidden hunger. We may be eating food that is perceivably healthy, but that’s why Rodale Institute believes that you need to be eating organic food, because those organic foods are grown in healthier soils. And an athlete can ensure that they’re getting the nutrients they need.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And think about that, if you’re an athlete, right? How much money do you spend taking the additional extra stuff. I have my beet juice powder, and I have this and all the things you’re doing to get the-

Jeff Tkach:

The edge.

Joan Hanscom:

… the edge, the minerals, the vitamins that you think your body needs to perform. And we’re spending all of this money on supplements to supplement our food that we’re eating, whereas if you’re eating food that actually has all of that stuff in it, you don’t need to do the supplementation to the same degree. Why do you have to take magnesium supplements? Well, because you don’t get it in food. Okay, well, how can you get the things that you need for your body as an athlete?

Jeff Tkach:

A friend of mine used to use this acronym jerf, just eat real food. And I would add just eat real organic food.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

That’s, I think the secret-

Joan Hanscom:

Well, that’s the big difference, right?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. People ask me all the time. “Jeff, what do you eat? What Did you eat to heal from Lyme disease? What do you eat to feel yourself as an athlete? What do you eat to feel healthy?” And I just eat real organic food. I eat mostly plants, I eat lots of healthy fats. I eat grass fed meats and Coldwater fish and pasture-raised eggs, but I eat real food. I don’t eat… If you’re coming to my house, there’s little to no packaged food. It’s pretty simple, really.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And it’s easy.

Jeff Tkach:

It’s really easy.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s easy and I do think that eating real food matters. I was on a similar… I didn’t have the Lyme disease issue that you had, but I have had a lifelong history of eating disorders for one which we’ve talked about a lot on this podcast, but that leads to some weird eating and unbalanced eating. And so somewhere around 2017 I started working with a sports nutritionist-

Jeff Tkach:

Really?

Joan Hanscom:

Who really looked at what I ate, and he just straight up said, “You are not putting the things into your body that you need to be putting into your body.” And essentially his list that he rattled off for me that changed my eating. And I’ve always eaten healthy, but I didn’t eat balanced or I didn’t eat enough of the right things because I had disordered eating. So while I might have been buying a lot of organic lettuce, I was probably only buying organic lettuce, maybe skipping some of the other things that I needed to eat with it. But he really changed my thinking on food as well from a sports performance perspective.

Joan Hanscom:

He said, “Well, if you want to get the most out of your interval sessions, if you want to get the most out of your time on the bike, you’re not eating enough fat, you’re not eating enough proteins, you’re not eating enough of the complex carbohydrates that you need to have your body properly fueled to do the thing on the bike that you want to do. And essentially, your brain is in low power mode.” He compared it to being on the phone. When your phone-

Jeff Tkach:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

… when your battery runs down, and it says low power mode and starts turning down the apps that are functioning? He’s like, “From a neurological perspective, you are not giving your brain the fuel it needs.” And he was specific, not about even my muscles, but about the brain. He said, “You are not fueling your brain to be successful at doing the things you need to do. You need to eat this.”

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

And it was essentially the list of things that you just rattled off. And I can say that since I started following his plan… And it was a leap of faith for me to say, “Wait, I have to eat chicken.”

Jeff Tkach:

Wait, I’m not going to eat energy bar on the bike, I’m going to eat a date or a banana.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. When I started following his just eat real food and balancing out the real foods that I ate, it was astonishing the difference in my body composition in everything that I did. And he was like… My change came in three weeks.

Jeff Tkach:

Three weeks?

Joan Hanscom:

Three weeks. He was like, “You are an incredibly fast responder,” was the term he used. But he said, “It was also a testament to how out of balance your system was.” And so for me the power of that eating real food, real organic food, I lived it. I’ve lived the difference in my own body similarly to you, and it’s been astonishing.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. Amazing.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

That’s great.

Joan Hanscom:

But he took it completely from the neuroscience perspective, because that was his core competencies in neuroscience. And so you look at it like, “Okay, well, this guy’s a neuroscientist, so he’s not a rocket scientist, but he’s a neuroscientist. So that’s pretty close, I’m going to trust him and take this great big leap of, all right, I will eat some proteins and I will eat some fats.” And what a difference it’s made in my own overall health, it’s astonishing. And as an athlete, that’s what matters, right?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

As an athlete, if you want your body to perform, you got to give it the right stuff.

Jeff Tkach:

An athlete and just do you want to perform in life?

Joan Hanscom:

Right.

Jeff Tkach:

I’m big just in performance as a whole. What we eat really, really does impact how we perform in life. How do I show up? Am I showing up a rooted and grounded and centered person at work? In my personal life, for me food has everything to do with my ability to show up as a good person.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I would agree with that. And it’s something that I think a lot of people in our sport particularly struggle with. We have complicated relationships with food.

Jeff Tkach:

I agree. I agree. And as the cycle [crosstalk 00:48:24]-

Joan Hanscom:

And I think it doesn’t need to be complicated. Right?

Jeff Tkach:

No.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s the moral of this whole story, is that we should really simplify it and make our relationship with food less complicated and be very simple about it because it’s just real food.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah,

Joan Hanscom:

There you go.

Jeff Tkach:

I couldn’t agree more.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, yeah. That’s good stuff. Right? We’ve done good stuff here in this conversation, I think. And I would highly encourage all of our listeners to dig deeper. Like you said, come to our farmer’s market, or go to your local farmer’s market if you’re listening to this in New Zealand, go to your farmer’s market and talk to a farmer there. And when you’re here in the summer racing your bike, come talk to our farmers on a Saturday morning and visit the Rodale Institute and take a class online, take a webinar about earthworms because I think I want to do that one-

Jeff Tkach:

Because that’s just really cool.

Joan Hanscom:

It is really cool. It is super cool. Earthworms are cool. Like when you were a kid, didn’t you go out and pick up earthworms?

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah, totally.

Joan Hanscom:

Maybe I… Maura is looking at me like, “No, I did not go out and pick up earthworms.” Oh, I did. I used to collect them and put them in their own little jars of dirt.

Jeff Tkach:

To play with. Well, you will now.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. At the very least come see me at the Rodale Institute, let’s go for a ride together. You can find us @Rodaleinstitute, or @JeffTkach, it’d be great to connect. And again, thank you, Joan, so much for having me as your guest today. It’s an honor. It’s a privilege to be able to partner with you in the way that we are. And it’s good to come here.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And I think it’s going to just be more partnership coming from our two organizations moving forward as we start to emerge from COVID and people can start to do things again. It’s my hope that we partner more on stuff.

Jeff Tkach:

Yeah. Mine too.

Joan Hanscom:

So, cool.

Jeff Tkach:

So let’s do it.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Great.

Jeff Tkach:

Awesome.

Joan Hanscom:

Thank you, Jeff, for joining us. This has been the Talk of The T-Town podcast. I’m your host Joan Hanscom, the executive director and we were very lucky to have Jeff join us today.

Joan Hanscom:

This has been the Talk of The T-Town podcast with host Joan Hanscom and Andy Lakatosh. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode brought to you by the B. Braun Medical Inc. Head on over to our website, the velodrome.com, where you can check out the show notes and subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode.