Sustainable Agriculture

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Summer Academy on Organic Animal Breeding and Organic Husbandry

ekoconnect_logoFor all students interested in temperate regions organic animal husbandry and breeding there is a course this summer in Dresden, Germany from EcoConect e.v and the EU lifelong Learning Program. The Organic Animal Husbandry course takes place from September 7 to the 20th near the center of Dresden through the University of Kassel, Witzenhausen. The expenses will all be covered and 4 credits will be offered for the coursework with the possibility for 6 credits with an extra written work.

LLP logo

Check out the EcoConnect e.v. advertisement (scroll down for English)

Download the English version of the course program

Download the application


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Biodynamic Science?

Just back from an afternoon in the Steinstraße lab basement. We’ve been calculating the dry matter content for a biodynamic germination test with 500, Rudolf Steiner‘s prescribed Horn Manure preparation, under different stresses. This is all part of a ‘free project’ within the SIA Masters Program (More on the SIA study program and schedule. The SIA Practical guide). Our free project groups objective is to see if the application of Rudolf Steiner’s prescribed Horn Manure preparations offer an advantage to plants (Barley, Pea, Tomato, Quinoa) in the germination stages.

This has required exhaustive research and work on our part, as all free projects do. However, it is an incredibly unique opportunity, as we are working with Prof. Dr. Ton Baars from the Uni-Kassel Professorship. Professor Baars is the only professor of Biodynamic Agriculture in the world, right here on the Witzenhausen Campus, much to the chagrin of some of other professors, here and away, and to the scientific community.

Biodynamic Science has been a topic of many heated forums and community meetings here in Witzenhausen as the funding for the position is soon up. The general consensus from the student body is that we need to keep the position so that we can look beyond modern day science and into the possibilities that Biodynamic has to offer. The general feeling from the scientific community is that having Biodynamic listed as a science here makes Witzenhausen seem less scientific. The professorship has enough work to do just supporting the pure organic studies.

The first question I asked Prof. Baars when he presented his research goals to me and my SIA colleagues this winter was about other theological sciences methodologies and their influence on biodynamic sciences. Prof. Baars told us that the biodynamic sciences use modern scientific practices and leave all theology aside. This turns out to be entirely untrue, in our experience so far biodynamic science is an amalgamation of theological, spiritual and scientific practices. It is at times very confused and at times quite refreshing. I have found myself working on this in the greenhouse and in the lab several times a week since that meeting.

The long and the short of it is here in Witzenhausen is the chance of a lifetime to do some ‘way out’ studies in a field that most scientist will laugh at, most laypeople will give you the hairy eyeball about and you’ll be endlessly explaining to anyone who cares to ask. Sound familiar?

Here is a paper on the subject that I found quite informative and inspiring in a funny way: Taking a Scientific Look at Biodynamic

Here is a poem by Arthur O’Shaugnessey for all those who are willing to be way out enough to consider a place like Witzenhausen for Masters Studies:

We Are The Music-Makers

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down. 

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.


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Sustainable International Agriculture Opening Ceremony in Witzenhausen

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom here in the middle of Germany just in time for the big celebration. This Friday the official Sustainable International Agriculture Masters Program Opening Ceremony by the Ministers of Research of Hessen (for Witzenhausen) and Niedersachsen (for Göttingen) will take place here in Witzenhausen. All are all invited. Presentations will be given by the presidents of the two universities as well as a few SIA students. Strong media presence is expected.

All SIA students have prepared posters for presentation during the ceremony and the catered event to follow. Below is the poster that we are working on for Community Shared Agriculture in North America.


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Witzenhausen and Prague

Just back from an intensive two week course and spring blossoms in Prague with the Czech University of Life Sciences and Witzenhausen. The course focused on practical management and research strategies for tropical and sub-tropical regions in everything from animal husbandry to conservation tillage from Czech and German professors. The Czech university is doing work in some incredible places that only a former soviet country can have positive access to, including Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and North Korea.

When I think about leaving Witzenhausen to get more practical experience in tropical agriculture practices Prague is not the first place I think of and rightly so. Prague is a great place to go to be in awe at architecture, to dance all night, to watch the spring come. It is a little mad to go there to study tropical agriculture. ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men’ -Roald Dahl

A little Madness in the Spring, by Emily Dickinson

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur, — you’re straightaway dangerous,
And handled with a chain. A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!


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Sustainable Packaging

We are all back in snow covered Witzenhausen uni-bio.de and classes are in full swing with all the red cheeked students and a din of inspired conversation. In these first couple of weeks of 2010 we have had a visit from the Vermont Bread and Puppet troop for a puppet making workshop and a theater. We have had visitors from the College of the Atlantic for discussions about the vision for the Trans Atlantic Partnership and opportunities for students to do research and take classes at College of the Atlantic. The Organic Research Center and here in Witzenhausen with Kassel, Göttingen and Fulda.

Dr. Angelica Ploeger’s Sustainable Nutrition class is now concentrating on Life Cycle Assessment. We heard a comparative life cycle analysis of organic and conventional dairy farms from three colleagues and from Phd Candidate Mehrnaz Aminforoughi about on sustainability in milk packaging. The really intriguing thing about all this was the proposed ecological solution from a Norwegian study. According to the authors the best possible packaging solution, after a full life cycle analysis from production to disposal, is plastic bags. The plastic bags get used once and then burned. According to the research this uses much less electricity, requires less diesel in shipping and creates less overall GHG emissions.

This class leaves us all with a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of follow up research to do. What do we make of this if it is true? How much of a role does consumer awareness play in the food industry? Are we all so fed up with scientific analysis that we have stopped paying attention? Should we start buying things in plastic bags instead of in glass bottles?

Some helpful resources:

Science Direct, IFEU, Enviro Pac


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Witzenhausen and Copenhagen

It is nice to be part of a politically active community again.

Witzenhausen is getting ready for the UN Climate Change Conference COP 15 in Copenhagen. When exams are over next week many of the students are headed up there via collective buses, some are hitchhiking and still others are going up with the Mitfahrzentrale.

The Uni Bio website has a lot of information about who is going and when and the student activist community has been reaching out for participants in actions there. The Greenpeace headquarters in Hamburg are very close both geographically and ideologically and many of the students here work and volunteer for them while they study.

The Couchsurfing Witzenhausen group will hopefully soon have some information about the organization of these trips.

Witzenhausen students and various activist groups (including ASeed) will be going from the World Trade Organization(WTO) meetings and protests in Geneva.

Greenpeace Witzenhausen, the WOW group, FSR and LÖLA are also organizing some events related to COP 15.

More about the Sustainable Agriculture Program and the International Organic Agriculture Focus.


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Excursion to the Kassel Organic Farm

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Inside the New Barn

Today the Organic Agriculture section of the SIA program went with Professor von Fragstein to the University of Kassel’s Organic Farm in Domäne Frankenhausen . The farm is roughly 45 km from Witzenhausen so we started our class during the long ride there, talking about soil pH and nitrogen as we looked out the many farmers fields now planted in winter cover crops.

The school’s farm has over 300 ha of organic production and produces a huge amount of milk, potatoes, geese among other things for market. The farm has both an educational and an economic purpose and meets both. It was cold and raining on the farm, enough so that we had a tough time paying attention all the way through, but we got a general sense for the place.  We saw almost a hundred cows, over 300 geese, huge barns full of giant farm equipment meant to cover many meters at a time, and many busy farm workers. We learned a lot about the distinction between the organic standard and the ‘spirit of organic’ in practice on this large scale organic production. This organic spirit shows through in many of the activities here, for instance the new barns are made with FSC certified wood.

Being on the University’s farm gave us all a reminder about the practical meaning behind all the classroom work we are concentrating on now. All this ‘nose in a book’ time spent memorizing different aspects of the kingdoms of life, the properties of soil and the mathematical questions about sustainability has a purpose. It was also another good reminder that for all the food we eat there is a lot of work going on somewhere – that some of our fellow students are doing some of that work and that the option for getting our hands dirty and having a place to practice is near.

Read the FQH about the Uni-Kassel Organic Farm.

Read Professor von Fragstein’s work: HOLISTIC APPROACHES TO TEACHING OF ORGANIC FARMING THE MODEL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF KASSEL

Organic Eprints from Uni Kassel Farm mostly in German but some offered in English.

History of the Department of Organic Farming and Cropping Systems