Studying organic agriculture in Germany

Renee Ciulla is an American graduate student studying Agroecology at the University of Kassel in Germany. She wrote to offer a small description about her course, her personal experiences on organic farming with a European perspective and some ongoing research projects. Sure, we said, and here it is. Thanks, Renee.
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ReneeCiulla.jpg As an American passionate about the global food system and how we can foster more organic farming and local food initiatives, I have devoted two years to getting my MSc in Agroecology studying in various European countries including Norway, Italy, Germany and Holland interacting with a plethora of different food cultures, nationalities, and physical environments. For anyone interested in organic or biodynamic farming, agricultural biodiversity, renewable energy, soil biology, plant nutrition, or organic food quality, processing and marketing, I would highly recommend checking out this graduate program.

My first few days in Witzenhausen, Germany as an exchange student at the University of Kassel’s International Organic Agriculture program kept bringing memories into my head about childhood fairy tales. The perfectly painted half-timbered homes, meticulously groomed trails through surrounding thick, mystical forests, and castles dotting the rolling farmland outside the town create an enchanting experience. Set in the Werra River Valley in central Germany, Witzenhausen is the smallest University town in the country. This means that after a few weeks you can’t leave your room without seeing someone you know and it seems to have resulted in a close-knit community of very friendly down-to-earth people. The rolling farmland surrounding the University is full of cherry trees that blossomed into brilliant white flowers in early April and have now become loaded with delectable deep red bursts of sweet cherries. I’m looking forward to helping some local farms harvest cherries in late June, but until then I’m distracted by the dozens of incredible types of sourdough wholegrain breads from the small bakeries throughout town. Organic enthusiasts can feel instantly at home by the plethora of organic food in all the supermarkets, a wonderful health food store, many community garden plots, a large student garden and a weekly farmers’ market. There are also several local, organic farms producing honey, meat, vegetables, grain, dairy, berries and fruit where it is easy to grab a shovel, get dirty and attempt the tongue-twisting German language.

One of my favorite things about this program is the diversity of “organic themes” offered through the 23 different academic Faculties. Some examples of Departments include Agrobiodiversity, Soil Biology & Plant Nutrition, Organic Farming & Cropping Systems, Ecological Plant Protection, Agricultural Engineering, Biodynamic Agriculture, Economics & Agricultural Policy, and Organic Food Quality & Food Culture. Although I hadn’t planned on studying renewable energy here, once I visited the outdoor lab for Agricultural Engineering and saw the student windmills (which generate some of the electricity for the University), solar distillation and solar herb drying experiments and several of the solar panels being utilized, I was intrigued to try following a German course in this subject. Furthermore, it has been enlightening to learn about the various current and past agrobiodiversity projects led by Professor Hammer which include an EU-Project about networking on conservation and use of plant genetic resources in Europe and Asia, analyses of agrobiodiversity on national and international levels under tropical and subtropical conditions (including home gardens), the biodiversity of wheat and barley in Oman, Iran, and Ethiopia as well as several underutilized and neglected crop plants in the Mediterranean area, Iran and Oman.

Classes are generally small and professors are easy to approach with research ideas or questions about how to bike to a nearby farm for a weekend festival. If you are interested in a career in international agricultural work this program is particularly fitting because you are in contact with students from every corner of the globe. A bulk of research is being conducted in tropical and subtropical areas as well as arid regions such as Africa. There is a Tropical Crops greenhouse on campus founded in 1902 which is open to the public. It houses 350 agricultural species from semi-arid to higher altitude crops and is the largest facility of its kind in Germany. Students are welcome to take part in research in the greenhouse as well as at the large campus research farm located near Kassel where grazing cattle and fields of cereals and vegetables are found. Furthermore, professors have contacts with countless numbers of influential international agricultural organizations (such as the FAO in Rome and FiBL in Switzerland) and countless other Universities in Europe. The worldwide umbrella organization for organic farming, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) is located in Western Germany and BioFach (the largest annual World Organic Trade Fair and lectures) takes place in Southern Germany.

I am pleased to continue my exploration into the complexities and dramas of our planet’s food supply in the hopes that I can teach others about the importance of sustainably managing a biologically diverse soil, growing their own food and eating as local and organic as possible. Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding studying in Witzenhausen or general European organic agriculture inquiries (especially related to Italy).

14 Replies to “Studying organic agriculture in Germany”

  1. Dear Renee Ciulla ,I am really impressed with your work & devotion.I am also fan of Organic farming and promotes personally Oraganic Farming in Pakistan.
    Wishing you very bright future.
    Hamood A. Siddiqui

  2. Hello dear Renee! Thank you very match for your article! I’m from Russia, work and study in Research Institute of Forages. During 1991-2003 I was a farmer and since that time interested about organic farming (our dairy technology was as close to organic level as it was possible in Russia). My mother (72 y.o.) till this year by herself and my 10 y.o. son kept 10 cows, but in this year they decided to become beekeepers. I was trying made some experiment about organic technology in our institute but our doctors and professors wasn’t interest in it. The same situation is in another agriculture and research universities and institutes. But in Russia there are a lot of areas which could be used for organic production (fallow lands). if you will be interested in visiting Russia, make some research about perspective of organic agriculture there, we can invite you and help to visit some organic farms (big and small), to see and study the situation with soil parametres etc. may be we can get some grant for such research.

    Rennee, please tell, was it difficult to came into the German institute? Do you receive any scholarship? Can you speak with some researchers about Russian researchers who would like to study organic agriculture in Germany and make researches in this branch. We also can invite them to Russia. In our institute we have some long term experimental plots (since 1936, 1946, 28 y.o. experiment with hay grass stands etc). the main direction of our present researches is resource and energy reducing technologies (by the effects of biologisation for example).

    Please tell what will be the theme of your diploma work? Thank you again for very interesting report!!!

    I’ll be waiting your answer with hope to future semicontinental scientific collaboration!

    Sincerely yours,


  3. Hi Maria,
    Thanks very much for your comment and I would love to talk more with you about my experiences in Germany as well as the direction of my thesis work (most likely a comparative study of local food initiatives and multifunctional agriculture projects). I am currently in Tuscany where I just took a course on Rural Development and the various support schemes for integrating tourism/organic farming/preserving food traditions, etc). I would possibly be interested in travelling to Russia if there was some funding opportunities so please let me know your thoughts on that. Can you please send me your email address so I can contact you?
    Thanks again,
    Renee Ciulla

  4. hi,
    i am glad so to share with you, i am tongan i love organic farming i have been doing organic farm for 6 years and i might need a scholarship to expand my skills and knowledge. I have a diploma in agriculture and a diploma in education. I have organic vegetables at home. Help me for a scholarship.

  5. Dear Renee,
    Thank you for your article full of enthusiasm.
    I know Witzenhausen, I am German, but now outside Lahore, Pakistan. I am interested to contact the guy from Pakistan who wrote you, but cannot find out his email. Anyway . . . .
    We are doing organic farming here, now with a young German graduate.
    Would be nice, hearing from you…

  6. i am glad so to share with you, i am a Nigerian i love organic farming i have been doing organic farm for 6 years and i might need a scholarship to expand my skills and knowledge. I have a diploma and aBachelor of Agriculture in education. I have organic vegetables at home. can u send me application form

  7. I have been studying organic agriculture ,i have a diploma in it and currently persuing Bachelor of organic agriculture.I am ineed of a scholarship to add my knowledge to help implement organic agriculture in kenya.please help

  8. I am a Cameroonian and interested to continue my study in organic agriculture. I am a holder of a diploma in agriculture from Amadu Bello University Nigeria. Please kindly assist me to have a scholarship and further my education on organic agriculture.
    Hope to hear from you.

  9. Please,I have a BSC Agriculture Education from University of Education,Winneba-Ghana. How could you assist me with scholarship to study MSC Organic Agriculture at your prestigious institution?

  10. Dear sir,
    My name is kiran naik and iam from india, i have completed my graduation in agriculture. I am searching for the top agriculture college in germany for doing pg in organic farming and livestock. Please help me in finding the college
    Thanking you

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