Sunday, August 23, 2009

bitte schun

We wrapped up the British portion of our course in our finest clothes from the depths of our suitcases, an excellent meal including freshly baked, cheese-filled bread, and champagne on Thursday evening. This celebration followed a visit to Wakelyn’s Agroforestry center, where Martin Wolfe talked with us between the bountiful rows of hazelnuts with an alley crop of potatoes. Then, it felt nice to actually do a little work, measuring a distance with a long stick from the eight species of trees with wheat as an alley crop, as Martin rode on the cute little combine (1.2m wide). We kept the bags of wheat which were right next to the trees separate from the other wheat, so they can see if the proximity to trees affects the wheat yield. A few evenings before, a much larger combine harvested wheat from the field across the street from our house.We all stood on the brick wall outside, watching it harvest against the sunset, then getting covered with a storm of dust and straw, but it exposed sunflowers across the emptied field. Friday morning came in the blink of an eye, culminating our stay at the old (new part built in the 1600s) brickwall farmhouse, and we reluctantly said goodbye to our German students, as they left to drive to Germany. Then we drove down to Cambridge, where we were entertained by two magicians in the park, ate lots of cheese, and stayed with Kelly, a COA alum of the master’s program, who gave us some ideas about secret places to stay for the first few weeks of fall term. Saturday was a looong day, beginning with Suzanne singing to us at four in the morning. Roger dropped us off at the airport, and a flight and three trains later, we were picked up by our German friends in Witzenhausen. While we waited for the trains, we practiced our key German phrases, like ‘ich sprechen cain Deutch’ (I do not speak German) and ‘ich leibe dick’ (I love you). The streets were decorated with sunflowers and wheat wreaths to welcome us, and our friends had picked flowers for us! After some food and a cat-nap at our newest home, the third story student housing which used to be an old abbey, we went for a drive in the much hillier and more forested land of central Germany, and explored two castles. Then we went food shopping, where we were impressed to be able to buy everything we wanted organic. It felt great to finally sleep last night, and we woke up to an amazing German Sunday breakfast prepared by our wonderful German hosts, including croissants, rye rolls, seed spreads, jams…and complete with candles. We spent most of today finishing up presentations for the jam-packed week ahead, but took a break when we heard music approaching, dashing out to the street to see a parade going by, with marching bands playing Paul Simon, princesses, horses, candy, and much more. We had quite a dinner of bier-chips and bier outside with Professor Angelica Ploeger and her husband, professor Hardy Vogtman. Feeling quite full, we returned to our newest home to rest before our last week begins, but I can hear the Thanksgiving carnival going on outside, where the band just played ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘I love rock and roll’. Goot nocht!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The first two weeks flew by at Elm Farm. We had good weather for almost the whole time. This was good when we had excursions (probably not the drive) and sometimes it was used in our free time for long hiking trips on the wonderful public footpath system in the UK. Because the cooking facilities in Elm farm were great, most of the bread we ate was made by one of the students from COA. If the discussion finished in time, one of us was so enthusiastic to prepare a lunch for everyone Sometimes this was not the case, when the presentations went on and finally was cut off by Roger. In the second week we had the session of Andrew Wheatley (author of Bread Matters) focused on the processing of bread, about the quality aspects and the different components of bread and additives that are used to increase the „freshness“. Now almost everybody is afraid to eat standardized toast bread that stays fresh for longer than it should be. Other scary bread we found was crustless toast bread for those who don’t like the crust.
On Monday after our experience with a sterile travel lodge, we went to John Innes Centre for plant breeding in Norwich. This was a really interesting excursion; we got to know a little about their current breeding programmes. John Innes Centre focuses their research programs mainly on wheat, other temperate cereals and Brassicaceae. We learned about crossing techniques in wheat including breeding with wild and ancestral relatives of wheat. This backcrossing is for disease resistance, and environmental impacts like salt and drought tolerance. These factors are dependent on more than one gene, so they are not easy to solve by genetic engineering, the same thing is for yield increase that is dependent on more than one gene, but information on the flyer is positive about genetic engineering in sustainable agriculture.
In John Innes Centre we also had a look in the seed bank and we saw many different varieties (seeds) of wheat barley, oats, peas. After that we went to the field plots, where different wheat varieties were grown and were harvested with a mini combine. There are just a few days left in the UK, but we will enjoy the last few days and also our stay in the beautiful old farmhouse near Stowmarket.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Second Chapter

None of us feels like two weeks have passed - each day we've spent here at the Organic Research Centre has been jam packed with lectures, discussions, and fieldtrips... for two weeks. Friday we had a morning session with Thomas - a crops researcher here - we learned about and discussed seed quality issues, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of seed breeders and producers making profits from seed sales, and what policies are appropriate regarding the ability of farmers to grow and save their own seed for replanting. I think we all came away feeling a bit frustrated that the systems currently in place leave little room for anything but reinforcement of the status quo. Our afternoon was spent with Dr. Hannah Jones, who used to be a crops researcher here at the ORC, but now works at the University of Reading. She firmly and energetically embedded in our minds the conditions and factors involved in the production of good and poor quality grains - from essential amino acids, gluten, and starch to mycotoxins, grain structure, and the chemical bonds that hold our precious wheat together. It was a long day, but afterwards we went with Lawrence Woodward (the Director of ORC) and some of the staff to the Craven Arms - a pub about a mile down the road - for some drinks and deadly-good pub fare. This sunday we move east where we will be spending a few days at Wakelyn's Agroforestry in Suffolk, and will be staying in a house near Stowmarket. An exciting new area to explore, but I'm sure we'll miss the folks here at ORC, and the footpaths, canal, and White Hart pub of Hamstead Marshall.

Friday, August 14, 2009

On Traveling Through Time and such

Yesterday we travelled through time. We spent the morning at Butser ancient farm, a site for practical archaeology were we were able to see and experience what it might have been to be alive in Britain about 2000 years ago. Fascinating! As part of their project they had several little plots were they grew ancient varieties of wheat, including emmer- a grain that began being used approximately 7000 BC, Einkorn and Spelt.

During the afternoon we travelled all the way to Dorset, where we visited Pat Bowcock at Ourganics evolving systems, a permaculture project set up by her 10 years ago. Pat received us with a cup of tea and biscuits (which were well accepted by the group since in the rush of getting there we had to limit our lunch to some rather suspicious pasties and snacks that we got at the gas station).She showed us pictures of the place and what it had looked liked when she got it, it was amazing to see how much the land had changed. What was once a pony field now was filled with fruit bearing trees and a bountiful garden with many kinds of vegetables, flowers and herbs.One of aspects of her project that I was most impressed with was its creative irrigation system. Pat explained that traditionally the pasture was flooded 3 times a year to encourage verdant pasture for cattle grazing. She has re-used the technique, and arranged her paths to double as stream-beds; in this way watering the garden is achieved by means of diverting a stream of water to a little pond, and from there to the garden. After the plants would get the water they need, the water drains back into a stream all the way to a river and then the ocean. Through this process Pat uses the flow of water to her own benefit but replenishes the water back to its source.

We finished our day by heading out to a nearby beach where a couple of us jumped into the ocean.

Beautiful sunny summer day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The beauty of walks

Once upon a time (In a British Accent),

there was a very small English village with intricate footpaths. Some passed manner houses, some passed cows, others passed Seuss trees and others still passed by sites where castles were built. A strange sort of group went walking one day, a Wednesday that is, to catch up on the sun and the air that they missed. It was at the pink hour when the sky looks like paint, when the excited group climbed trees on a hill. Later on they walked down towards a magical white layer, but realizing their direction turned round to aim straighter. The goal of this journey was also for culture, since the only planned stop was a pub not much further. But winding on paths and looking for a castle and plum trees brought the group down some paths that made sense not much longer. The same magical white house appeared behind now, and a drive full of sheep lead them into night darkness. The hours were passing and the group was still laughing when they got to a road and turned around again faster. Passing cows, ferns, trees and fields quicker the happy group found themselves on a car road with some traffic. Their pack moved in formations with one back light flasher, when they got to their own pub, across from the organic research center.

The night was not close to over, for when they home rice and salad was made to devour and a story was told outside in star shower.

They slept happily the nights after,
the end

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the group

We have been having a little trouble posting photos, but this seems to be working now which is exciting! This is a photo of the wonderful group doing the course(except me), I took it while we were doing the farm tour at abbey's home farm.
More photos soon to come,

Sunday, August 9, 2009


The students with Suzanne Morse (College of the Atlantic) and the Organic Research Center staff at their get-together at tuesday. Lovely day, nice people, good talks and discussions and awesome organic wine ;-)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Soggy Dove's Sheep

This morning the sun was shining on us, but by mid-morning, whilst we had a morning session with Laurence - who conducts energy, emissions, and ecology assessments of farms here at the Organic Research Centre (ORC) - the clouds had returned. It seems that the summer here has been nearly as wet as the East Coast of the US. Yesterday we observed Triticale (a wheat/rye cross of grain) in the field and ready for harvest, but some of it was sprouting on the stalk due to the rains. Today was intended (we had hoped) to be sunny, but we experienced some sporadic hard rain for the rest of the day. The Afternoon was spent getting soggy at Dove's Farm, standing in a sheep pasture and talking with founder Michael Marriage about rotations of sheep and cereal crops, then in drier spaces - in the confines of the mill. It always amazes me how restrictive codes are in food-processing areas - we all had to empty our pockets, remove jewelry, and relinquish our pens, notebooks, and cameras before donning hairnets and white 'remay' smocks - only then were we let into the flour mill, where we had a briefing on the workings of their equipment - from delivery to packaging. Having read loads about roller mills, it was smashing to actually see one at work, and feel and taste organic wheat flour in it's various stages of being milled. Michael graciously gifted us with bags of flour and other tasty offerings when we left - to fuel us in the coming days as we live and breathe grain, flour, and bread.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

a game

Trying to be a little creative with our blog we decided to play a game that united the thoughts of all of our team members: 4 Germans, a Mexican, an Ecuadorian and 6 representatives of the land of freedom, the United States of America. The game consisted in writing a couple of sentences and not being able to read what the other person wrote first (except the last two words). So here it is, don’t take us too seriously and enjoy!

Our farm visit today proved that the ugly ducking is in fact, a sheep. The sheep stood in a typical cotswold flock surrounded by ca. 700 of the same kind. The garden used the same kind of stock-less rotations advocated in some part of England during the last century. In the last century many farmers converted to organic farming. Abbey farm was a great example of an extremely diversified system, like a cheese room and a café, and tractors, music festivals, totem poles, blue spotted sheep and line backer cows, 200 varieties of vegetables, big fat pigs with large tusks and little piggy wiggies, free range chicken protected by rotating rubber owls. There were also a lot of cereals, rye, barley and wheat. All sprinkled with colorful poppies. John, the manager of the farm gave us a great tour to get an impression of everything. Everything was green and covered in trees and pastures of white clover.
Advantages of white clover: It stays longer because it builds roots, from which new plants can grow.
Disadvantages: It fixes less nitrogen than red clover.
It was very difficult to resist the temptation to dive right in and give these farm system practices a closer look.
There was a bit fat black slug under the canopy of wheat stalks. A totem pole, yart in the woods. I never imagined that fields of grain in England would be so large, but I guess they are. A glass of cider and a pasty of veggies and potatoes convinced me.
I don’t know how he did it, but he did after a long time, convince me that sheep do not naturally have tails. Nonetheless, it was dusk now and the moon was rising, in such a way that I could be convinced of almost anything. It was nothing but pure bliss. That is if you forget about the fact that we were attacked by mosquito like miniature creatures and that an ATM swallowed one of our mate’s debit card. But we did it; we survived another day in wild England.
more soon

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back-to-school Time

A drizzly day in England. Quite lovely if you ask me!

This morning was when the reality of being back to school set in. We had plenty of time to get ourselves organised (although two of us slept until 9 inadvertently), and then it was presentation time. A large number of the staff of the Organic Research Centre (ORC) gathered to hear us, as students, present our assessment of grain production and bread baking in our respective places of study. We American students presented a little history of grain growing in Maine, a brief synopsis of what we learned at the Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, and a few of the external factors - primarily diseases - that are currently affecting grain production. Our German counterparts gave us a glimpse of how the organic market has developed in Germany, how the organic system is organised, some market statistics, and then some data on bread production in particular. It's been fascinating to me throughout the day to learn about and compare organic standards and practices in these three different locations (Maine, UK, and Germany), and then even thinking about specific certification standards that I'm familiar with from Pennsylvania. It's really quite fascinating, for example, that here in England, there are packaging standards for organic produce. I know that some people choose not to buy organic bananas at Hannaford because they are packaged in plastic bags. Here, any packaging of organic produce has to meet certain standards, i.e. compostable plastics, etc. I've run out of energy at the moment to go into greater detail, but the discussion that came out of those presentations had to eventually be shut down in order to eat some lunch before the next session was scheduled to begin. The same trend continued into the afternoon as we heard from Nic Lampkin, the director of the ORC, with some thoughts on "historical perspectives on wheat, settled agriculture, sustainability, and the survival of civilisations." It seems to me we spent most of our time hashing out the definition of "sustainable agriculture" and what that may, may not, or could, look like. The discussion could have gone on far longer, but Nic pulled in the reins and wrapped up with a few variations of sustainable agriculture, many of which I'm not familiar with yet (I've now got some research to do!), and then looked more specifically at the question of what is organic farming and what should be in included in the definition by pointing out what's lacking in the USDA definition.

It's been very engaging and thought-provoking to participate in these discussions today. It's so exciting to be here, talking about these issues, with these people, but I'm exhausted! I'm still a bit tired physically as I adjust to the 5 hour time shift, but I'm also mentally exhausted after the day. It's time for a little fresh air, exercise, dinner, and bed. Tomorrow we're heading to Abbey Home Farm for the day. Check it out at or stay tuned for a report tomorrow!

Word on the street is that Stonehenge might be in the itinerary for Saturday...?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 1

This is the first official post of the Our Daily Bread course, currently positioned in the quintessential English town of Newbury, UK. Our culturally diverse group consists of 7 COAers, 4 Witzenhausers, and of course Susan and Roger. Our wonderful and newly renovated accommodations have been provided by the Organic Research Centre and we all agree are quite excellent.

Day One: Jet Lag Recovery and Introductions

We began our day with a rousing briefing on the health and safety, followed by a tour of facility. After meeting the many staff members in the brand new offices we returned to the lecture hall (a beautifully renovated hay barn!!!) and learned what each office was responsible for. In addition to understanding what the ORC is all about, from Roger, we learned what in fact it is we all came to this island for.
Around the time, we finished the presentation and moved over to our brand new, shiny, and of course energy efficient, kitchen. Here we prepared an assortment of cheese, bread, and some very spicy mustard. This proved an excellent source of energy for our 2 hour walking of the 110acre (50 hectares) farm property, complete with cows eager to greet us. After the cows, our group of botany and all around farm geeks could not help but stop and examine the flora every 30 yards or so. From this we derived a first impression of the farming systems, techniques and guiding principles of organic/sustainable farming in the United Kingdom. One particular feature to note from our pictures is the field margins throughout the grass fields, used for conservation and biodiversity. This unique perspective is one often suggested by the ORC when they advise farms for conversion to organic/sustainable from conventional farming. For those blog readers interested in the historical background, you should note the slightly depressed margins. The depression in the land is a result of the extraction of the heavy clay and lime layers of the soil, used by the Romans for building the vast Roman infrastructure still found to this day.

Upon returning we quenched our thirst and satisfied our stomachs with a wonderful selection of food and drink with our hosts at the ORC.

Now to prepare for our presentations tomorrow....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Daily Bread

"Our Daily Bread: Following Grains through the Food System" is a College of the Atlantic (COA) course, co-hosted by the Organic Research Centre (ORC) in the UK and the University of Kassel's (UoK) Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences in Germany. 11 students from COA and UoK will spend the month of August learning about grains and visiting farms, mills, research stations, bakeries and other sites both in the UK and in Germany. The course is part of our Trans-Atlantic Partnership in Sustainable Food Systems, made possible through the support of the Partridge Foundation.