Piecing Together Rich History Amid a Patchwork of Farmland

GIS Researchers Take a Close Look at a Pennsylvania Farm

A 330-acre certified organic research, teaching, and demonstration center, the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in southeastern Pennsylvania is rooted aerial view of the Rodale Institute Experimental Farmin the past, but researchers there are anticipating the challenges of the future. An Esri conservation software grant has enabled them to implement a GIS, which has helped them produce a series of high-quality maps and understand and communicate the opportunities and constraints of the site.

In 1940, J.I. Rodale was a man ahead of his time when he introduced the concept that healthy soil and human well-being are directly linked. On a small farm in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, he demonstrated his techniques, and in 1947 he established the Soil and Health Foundation and began to publish newsletters and magazines including the now famous Organic Gardening.

Above right: Aerial view of Rodale Institute Experimental Farm. (Photograph by Anthony Rodale)

Robert Rodale, J.I.'s son, established the experimental farm in 1971 on a nearby property to further the farming and health-related research begun by his father. As part of the Rodale Institute, Robert founded the Regenerative Agriculture Association, which emphasizes helping developing countries adopt farming systems that renew local resources. Today, the institute has important exchanges with farmers in Africa, Japan, and Latin America in an effort to help them provide local food sources while preserving their own natural resource bases.

Jeff Moyer, farm manager, describes the institute's work: "We grow mainly grains but also produce apples, fresh market vegetables, herbs, flowers, compost, and bedding plants. We believe that agriculture and the food industry must be shown how they can adopt more healthful methods and still prosper."

In 1998, Anthony Rodale, who now heads the institute, directed a group of researchers to begin a redesign of the infrastructure and activities at the farm that would enable it to continue to serve its mission. The first task was to accurately depict the site's current conditions—its topography, soils, geology, flora, fauna, hydrology, history, and geographic context. Understanding the nature of the land and its value would help the designers articulate which problems to address.

Bill Heasom, an engineer involved in the assessment and redesign effort says that although the landscape and history of the farm were familiar, the information was fragmented. He knew that organizing the data into maps, tables, and illustrations would bring an enlightened assessment and serve as a base on which to begin the design. "Using GIS begins to unlock the knowledge contained in the data, and, in some cases, give it a second life," he says.

Heasom set out to give spatial reference to the bits and pieces of information that had accumulated and to depict them graphically. ArcView GIS; its extensions ArcView Spatial Analyst, ArcView 3D Analyst, and ArcPress for ArcView; and Data Automation Kit software enabled him to begin developing a quality basemap.

For the elevation model, he digitized 10-foot contours from a U.S. Geological Survey map and matched them to a two-foot contour map of the property prepared by a consultant. The resulting triangulated irregular network model shows the finer detail of the two-foot elevation interval on the landforms inside the farm boundaries. The 10-foot contour interval of the surrounding area shows the topographic relief of the farm's geographic context.

Two other changes enhanced and speeded up the map production process. They switched from Windows 98 to Windows NT. They also began using ArcPress to render the maps and fine-tuned the graphics in Photoshop.

Topographic map of the farm and surrounding lands. The watershed map was one of the first maps they produced. It was well-received and drew out several observations. "Even people who walked these lands for years were somewhat surprised to realize how this familiar ground really sits in the watershed and how the hydrology works. In short order, we had located seven interior springs and other features," says Heasom.

Above left: Topographic map of the farm and surrounding lands. Relief is shaded with natural colors.

One of the strongest implications they readily observed from the map of the watersheds was that the farm was situated at the headwaters of two watersheds—even some old-timers were not aware of this fact.

Assembling the physiographic features map involved collecting data from different sources in different projections. To resolve this, the team developed a procedure for converting and storing all of the basic data sets unprojected and bringing them into themes with a projection appropriate to the exhibit being prepared.

Using the GIS to locate common elements on the geology map has enabled the research team to see how the faults and formations relate to landmarks and is helping them to better understand the nature and potential of the farm's soils.

The slope and aspect series, along with the solar aspect map and solar arc map, were derived from the basic TIN used for the elevation model in the watershed map. These exhibits explain the amount of solar energy available with regard to slope, aspect of the ground, time, date, and weather conditions.

For more information about the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm, contact Bill Heasom (tel.: 610-683-1449, e-mail: BHeasom@aol.com).

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