Sustainable Agriculture

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Weekend in Witzenhausen

dinnerhoppingThe weekend in Witzenhausen is full: Friday evening was the first of the Dinnerhopping events this year in Witzenhausen. The recurring event happens the first Friday of each semester and features progressive three course meals, each course cooked by a different group in a different house. For my partner and I the starter was a salad of dark greens and thick creamy dressing with a group of students in the dorms. We traveled to a shared flat in the center of town for a main dish with lots of cabbage wrapped meat, gravy and soup in a gold rimmed terrine. We then presented my grandmother’s pumpkin pie with whipped cream and rum filled eggnog at my partners flat outside of town. All the leftovers traveled with us to back to a communal space on campus where we finished it off, danced and talked late into the night.

käsefestMy Saturday started with a Milchkafe and a Käse Früschtuck (cappuccino, bread, cheese, egg) in Dorothee’s Weiner Cafe (2Cats in 60 years) near the Steinstraße campus. Then hiking up the local mountain to collect some wild mushrooms (Wild Mushrooms in Germany) which we later fried in butter and ate with a local pilsner from the Schinkels Brauhause on the edge of town. Then off to the Blickershäusen Käsefestival to do some book binding, eat a whole lot of cheese, cake and bread, and to make stockbrot (bread dough spiraled around the end of a stick – probably a precursor to the American marshmallow but savory) over an open flame with teams of excited children.

Walking slowly through the woods looking for edible fungus puts all the talk about science and nature into perspective. The endophytic insects have left their maze filled mark on the bark under which some edible mushrooms were growing. The fallen leaves cast a shadow on the soil allowing more warmer moist ranges for the sprouting of treenuts and the flourishing of the fungus; the formerly stone-wall-stepped slope farmland on the sides of the mountain are held now by the trees which have re-inhabited, the soils are clearly thinner than the permanent forested sections.

The many bellies full of food this weekend have come from extremely thoughtful food-conscious people, much of it came from a local producer, the meat of our dinnerhoping dinner came directly from the farm where the shared flat goes once a week to collect its animal products. The dinner hopping event, the breakfast, the wild mushrooms and the Käsefestival all provided nourishment for my body and more. Witzenhausen is a community of people who know and care a lot about where their food comes from. This food awareness is a product of the academics and the kind of people it draws and it is a huge contributor to the education we are all getting here.

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Witzenhausen on Wednesday afternoon

Fish and Brissel SproutsI am just sitting down to a lunch of fantastic dense German bread with Matjes and brussel sprouts, listening to ‘Coastal Ecology’ a mix from Cap. Andrew Peterson given to me before I left Bar Harbor. The sailing shanties, folky-contra music and old-time-american remixes meet this cold humid air to make me feel a nice warm nostalgia about Maine and life on the island.

Anyway, I wanted to write about the classes here in Witzenhausen now that they are in full swing. (The specifics of hours and course load are pretty standard: minimum of 5 classes at 6 credits each per semester.. roughly 180 hours of work per course.) The professors are very attentive and generally quite engaging – I find that I am quite well trained for Masters Level studies by the interactive classwork experiences at COA. We International Organic Agriculture students do more talking than some of the professors and I find this deliciously satisfying.

As an example I will talk about the class last Thursday with Professor Andreas Bürkert with a lot of interesting questions about Organic Agriculture production, how to fed the world, how to grow food in arid conditions, and many specific examples from him about his research in oasis conditions in Oman and in desert conditions in west Africa. The world produces roughly 600 million tons of the three major grains Rice, Mais (Corn) and Wheat. – Just two of those would be enough to feed everyone of we were all vegans and required no other nutrients. That is to say that the average need for calories per day and that would be met for 6.5 – 7 billion people today just through the production of the major grains (not to mention the other large crops being produced). This proved to be a major support for the diets of the vegans and vegetarians in the room but raised some more complicated questions about what is actually happening with all those calories and what sorts of steps are being taken to get those calories into the bellies of the 1 billion hungry people in the world.

We went on to talk more specifically about some of the issues with the idea behind sustainable agriculture and how even in Organic systems we find that sustainability is not necessarily met. In all types of cultivation systems the tendency is for loss of nutrients and carbon. This is not necessary but it does tend to be true. His work in Oman in oasis conditions (http://www.oases-of-oman.org/) was insightful for us to look at the tendency even for some very traditional agricultural systems to degrade and ultimately deplete the natural resources of the soil. The richness of Egypt for instance is built on the loss of nutrients in Ethiopia many thousands of years ago.

So, the point is that there is a lot of work for enthusiastic Human Ecologists here in Witzenhausen, and there is a whole lot to talk about. People need to eat, bioregions need to be protected, global climate change needs to be seriously addressed and this is your opportunity to plug in to an agricultural faculty and an amazingly productive learning community where will get close to and possibly even find and implement some real solutions.

Check out the home page of Professor Andreas Bürkert http://www.agrar.uni-kassel.de/opats/?language=en&c=21

More about Uni Kassel in Witzenhausen: http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb11cms/

More about Göttingen in Witzenhausen: http://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/104381.html


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First Week of Studies

Es Regnet (It Rains)

Es Regnet (It Rains)

Hello from a very cold day in the center of Germany. The weather here has been unseasonably cold with a fresh breeze, thick white frost in the mornings and rain in the afternoons. This weather keeps us happily in our warm classrooms and safely away from the distractions of forests and farmland surrounding Witzenhausen and Göttingen.

The first week here in the new Sustainable International Agriculture program was spent half in Göttingen and half in Witzenhausen.

The SIA degree is split in to three major study areas:

Our colorful group of 35 graduate students representing 15 countries (Kenya, Ghana, US, UK, Germany, Turkey, France, South Korea, Japan, China, India, Argentina…) met on Monday in a large classroom where the Göttingen ‘Studienberatung’ Coordinator introduced our group to the weeks work.

We split up for the first half of the week for intensive bridging courses in statistics, plant sciences, soil sciences, ‘Intercultural Communication’ and other introductions to the various Göttingen systems. Millions of forms had to be filled out to establish our status as students.

Finally most of us went to the ‘Global Thinking Local Responsibility‘ conference here in Witzenhausen which I believe they are planning to have again next year as part of the intro to SIA students.

The week ended with a long potluck dinner and then dancing all night at ‘The Club’ on the Witzenhasen Campus.

There is a general mixed feeling of tiredness, excitement for getting to know each-other and the program and preparedness for the work ahead for all of us.

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