Bernward Geier

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We did our thing

My studies in Witzenhausen were a good four decades ago. When I think back on it, it is largely joyful thoughts and predominantly positive memories. This has mainly to do with the social environment in a shared apartment in Oberode, the university political involvement in the "Basisgruppe Landwirtschaft", the "Club" and the pleasantly relaxed life in the rural region. I was also lucky enough to study at a very exciting time. A time, by the way, in which the then comprehensive university was determined not to be a university, and I thought that was a good thing, too.

Bernward Geier - Diploma in Agriculture, graduated in 1981. Currently: activist, film producer, book author and practical in organic farming.

About my career

After two absences from school, I graduated from high school at the age of 21. Instead of military service, I did a social peace service in the ghetto of the US capital Washington D. C. (during the Vietnam War!). After two semesters of study at the National University of Mexico City and two internships, I came to the Werra for the summer semester at the legal age of 25, which had the advantage that we were only 50 freshmen. In line with my passion for animals, I studied animal production, which was terrible for an "eco", but honest in its name. We had to learn how to produce animals, which led, for example, to the schizophrenic situation that I had to cram chicken farming in cages for the exam, although I was already committed to freeing the chickens from this perversion.

It was clear to me that agriculture only has a future if it is consistently ecologically oriented. It was a perfect fit that I was able to get involved in the final phase of the ten-year struggle for a chair in organic agriculture. In 1981, Prof. Hardy Vogtmann in Witzenhausen became the first "organic professor" worldwide and I had the honor of being his first diploma student. As a topic, I conducted a study on the marketing and pricing of organic products, which was also published.

Actually, the plan was to emigrate to Ireland with my partner and our daughter to practice organic farming. A terrible stroke of fate put an end to this and so, as a single father, I accepted Hardy Vogtmann's offer to join his newly established team. It was a welcome challenge for me as a generalist to now devote myself to a crop-related subject. My specialty became "non-chemical weed control". A PhD was an obvious choice, but I came to the realization that I was not cut out for a life as a researcher. For one thing, I had increasing criticism of the established research establishment, to which we "alternatives" also had to submit. In addition, I lacked a basic prerequisite for scientists, namely the burning curiosity to clarify "why's". I was always much more interested in the "where to".

Going global: building the international organic farming movement

When in 1985 the world umbrella organization for organic agriculture IFOAM - Organics International, which had its epicenter with Engelhard Boehncke as president in Witzenhausen, advertised the position of Secretary General, it was my chance. Although I was comparably young for such a task with 32 years, I could assert myself against 60 competitors. It became my life's work, because I was responsible for IFOAM for 18 years. There I was able to use my rhetorical skills, which I had also honed in my studies (but not in the teaching program), and my political ambitions. It was an ideal task for a passionate networker like me. However, despite all the fascination and satisfaction, the thought of being a director at IFOAM until retirement age became daunting at some point. So, at the age of 52, I dared to take the step into self-employment.

Local back: Public relations and agriculture

Now I could also return to the passion of my younger years - making films. Since then, I have created a whole series of successful productions as a filmmaker and as a (co-) producer. I have also been able to intensify my journalistic activities: Currently I am co-editor of the book "The prices lie - Why cheap food costs us dearly" and main author of the book "THE POISON and WE - How death came over the fields and how we can bring back life".

Precisely because of my sometimes extreme jet-set life, rootedness to practical agriculture has always been important to me. For 30 years, therefore, my center of life has been on a farm. In 1987, one of "my" graduate students, my wife and I leased a 120 ha farm with 60 dairy cows in the Saarland, which we of course immediately converted to organic. For 18 years now we have been living in the Bergisches Land on a comparably small certified 20 ha organic farm. Strongly influenced by our three daughters, we dedicate ourselves mainly to the breeding of Icelandic horses. Today, my wife runs a full-time farm with 70 horses, where the youngest daughter is the mainstay as a trained horse trainer. I enjoy being "Chicken Joe" to very happy chickens, gardening and being involved with the farm.

What did the study time in Witzenhausen bring me ?

Well, as far as the actual education is concerned, rather little. Certainly more than 2/3 of my knowledge comes neither from school nor from university, but from life. But I got a basic framework of expertise - and that from inspiring professors like Engelhard Boehncke, Reinhold Kickuth, Christian Richter, Bernd Wirthgen and of course Hardy Vogtmann. This made up for the fact that there were also quite unpleasant "old school" professors. By the way, at that time there was only one female professor among 30 men in Witzenhausen! The course of studies was very "cathedral" and "eco" student life at that time also meant a lot of experience with resistance. We used the free space of student life to impart the knowledge that was important for our idea of agriculture. So we not only invited interesting speakers, but also designed our own seminars and courses. I was also on the committee to help plan the Organic Agriculture course. However, the idea that one day "only" organic agriculture would be taught was unimaginable at the time. In the end, however, from my point of view, this is the salvation of the university location. I also met my wife at the department, to whom I have been married for 38 years and with whom I have raised four children.

Wonderful friendships from that time have shaped me to this day, right up to the great vision for which I am now committed. Namely, nothing less than 100% organic agriculture worldwide. We can achieve this and Witzenhausen, as a globally recognized epicenter of research and teaching in organic agriculture, is and will remain an important place for this.

All in all, I look back fondly on my time at the Werra. I enjoyed coming back to the alma mater for semester meetings, visits or lectures, and I also like to do so for anniversary celebrations. Not only because it is necessary to defend my reputation: "No celebration without a vulture".


Bernd Kramer: Thank you very much for the very descriptive report, which I (graduating 88) can only confirm in many areas. For me, WIZ was a very important building block in my development, and although I did not attend every lecture, I never missed a tropical festival.

Saro Gerd Ratter: I was allowed to spend the night in Bernward's WG when I first came to Witzenhausen to find out about the study program. For this hospitality and the great time of the study I will always be grateful. I am happy to meet Bernward again every time (mostly at the BioFach). His book "Biologisches Saatgut aus dem eigenen Garten" I had only a few days ago again in my hands and warm memories in my heart.

Joachim Milz: Well, I felt the same way about the study program and later professional reality, but in the FB International Agricultural Economics. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that not so much has changed in this regard. It's eco today, but the teaching there doesn't offer much in the way of practical experience (my son studied in WIZ). Despite everything, I also associate a wonderful study time, more the context, club, etc. than what was offered in terms of content.

Berthold Märkle-Huß: Witzenhausen-GhK-FB 20-Basisgruppe Landwirtschaft BGL-Boehncke. Even half a century later, these are magical terms and associations.
Born and raised in the university town of Tübingen, a classical university education was out of the question. I knew enough of the eternal, breadless students, the "bums". So short and sweet. But then the Nürtingen University of Applied Sciences frustrated me with barely tolerable school lessons. In addition, in 1977, the CDU state of Baden-Württemberg created a fait accompli with a higher education law and the ban on the AStA, the student union: student co-administration was neither desirable nor possible in the state. The Bavarian (CSU) FH was out of the question as an alternative. Maybe the red (SPD-) Hessen there?
We drove in a fully occupied VW Beetle through the winter night. Lack of heating, frozen windows. Almost disoriented, we drove through the Hessian mountains. A lonely light shone in the darkness. It was the club in Witzenhausen, where warmth and open-mindedness embraced us... And we all stayed.
What is still remembered from the studies today? Anecdotes like the only demonstration in Germany against the NATO double decision in 1979. At the nearby "zone border" we let friendly balloons rise to the other side. Then the already existing "computer", which printed out its results on a paper strip, similar to today's sales slips. For the Swabian, of course, the perfect Tagesschau German of the peasants a few kilometers further north... Unfortunately, in my last weeks of study, I only caught Vogtmann's trial lecture. I could (had to) leave, but WIZ was in best hands.
But the homely shared flat, the political home in the BGL, the studies were over. The hole was there. It lasted, until with the "project group Hamburg", the planning of a left ecovillage with 100 people and 100 ha again a life goal emerged. What unfortunately flopped just as afterwards similar with the anthroposophical NEUE WEGE in the Tauber valley. Intermediate solutions were plant breeding in Stuttgart-Hohenheim and the agricultural office in Simmern. Then, surprisingly, the good spirits helped to improve the world in Germany with the Recycling Management Act. Environmental studies courses did not yet exist, so many sitting-around foresters, biologists, teachers and agricultural engineers got a good job. Mine was to introduce the organic waste garbage can in Böblingen. The same afterwards in Constance. Then, who would have thought it, there was a lateral transfer in the district office, "because I had studied agriculture. Thus, fruit growing at Lake Constance became my last field of activity. Although I never heard the term "tree" in the cherry town during my studies. (Boehncke also did not mention the pig acorn fattening in the forest)
So almost everything was never planned or foreseeable, but it was right and I am satisfied.

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