11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Power of an Organic Hot Dog

This weekend I grilled approximately 450 organic hot dogs in the rain. It wasn't easy, standing in the mud from 9:30 am until 5:00 pm (ow!) trying to keep a giant grill evenly hot (impossible), and catering to people's varying desires for burnt or unburntness. But I now know most people do prefer a bit of burn to their dog (or as one volunteer at the end of the day said, "a hot dog needs a bit of crunch to it.")

The scene was the first annual Organic Apple Festival at the Rodale Institute. We decided to hold it in spite of constant rain and drizzle, but thank goodness we did because we all agreed we wouldn't have been prepared to handle the crowds if the weather had been nice. There is a pent-up desire for pick-your-own organic apples--even in the rain! And I have to say there was also a lot of curiosity about organic hot dogs.

People in general now mostly understand what makes an apple organic--but a lot of people (young and old) weren't sure what made a hot dog organic. Fortunately, we had the best organic hot dogs ever, donated by Applegate Farms. These hot dogs are so good that my 12-year-old didn't even realize they were organic.

What makes an Applegate Farms dog organic? I love their tag line: All of the meat, none of the mystery. Most other hot dogs contain meat that was removed from the bone mechanically, so often the hot dog contains mystery bits. The Applegate Farms beef comes from grass-fed, organically and humanely raised animals. Which means the animals' feed contains no chemicals, no growth hormones, no antibiotics and no crap--literally. Every ingredient on the label of the hot dogs is something you recognize (and the pink color comes from paprika). Most important, they taste yummiful.

Why hot dogs? They are the great uniter. It's hard to find people who don't like hot dogs at all, or don't have some fond memory of eating one somewhere. And if you can convince someone that the organic version of his or her favorite food is not only great, but better, then I think that's success. My greatest moments on Saturday were when the old guys came out of the barn after eating my hot dogs and gave me a thumbs-up or a nod or word of approval. Where I come from, most of the old guys are what we call "Dutchies" (Pennsylvania Dutch), who are locally renowned for their stubborn clinging to tradition and resistance to new things. The fact that my organic hot dogs were "chust right" for some of them was, to me, a huge happy feeling.

I was also proud of the moment when a beautiful lady pushing a stroller came up to me at the grill and said, "I have a request for next year: Could you also serve vegetarian hot dogs?" And I was able to say, "Why I have some right here." She was so happy and thankful that I couldn't bring myself to tell her that the veggie dogs weren't organic, and probably had GMO ingredients in them.

Oh well, maybe next year I can find a good organic veggie dog. But this year, my experiment was a success.

You can see some highlights from the festival, including me at the grill, on

For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria"s Farm Country Kitchen.