Education for Sustainability through Organic Food and Farming – 2009

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Monika Déja; study visit coordinator, Ziarno, Wilhelm Lackenbauer; Germany, Munarnmet Donmez; Turkey, Henning Soholm; Denmark, Eva Smuk Stratenwerth; Ziarno, Poland, Glenn Strachan; UK, Piotr Hillar; organic miller Poland, Evmorfia Triantafyllou; Greece, Ivan Manolov; Bulgaria, Frederic Seguret, France, Finbarr O‘Regan; Ireland

As a director of Athenry Area Development Company Athenry ADC l applied to partake in this study visit in Poland. Study visits are funded by the E.U. through Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training and are administered for Irish applicants through our national agency, Léargas in Dublin.

Athenry ADC has recently achieved FETAC accreditation for its training centre and now offers a range of modules including some on Organic Horticulture and Education for Sustainability and we are interested in what’s happening internationally.

Sustainable Development

The purpose of the study visit was “to examine the educational potential hidden in organic farms, which could be used by farmers and agricultural counsellors and by teachers and educators”. One of the strengths of the visit was the diversity of the Study Visit team. With people drawn from eight different countries, participants represented diverse professional occupations and backgrounds, different types of educational institutions and local development organisations and enterprises. These included a research fellow from the International Research Institute in Sustainability, University of Gloucestershire, the Head of a German organic agricultural college, a professor of agriculture from a Bulgarian University, a Guidance Adviser for Environmental Education in Greece, a teacher from an Organic Agricultural College in Denmark, a water specialist from the Department of the Environment in France, a Director oi Vocational School Food Technology from Turkey and myself with a background in the integration of Education for Sustainability (EFS) in Carnaun National School, which has certified organic status.

The Study visit was hosted by Ecological-Cultural Association Ziarno, Grzybow, Poland run by Eva and Peter Stratenwerth, organic farmers, ably assisted by Monika Deja whose expertise as a translator enabled excellent communication between the participants. “Ziarno”, meaning “seed”, has existed since 1995, although its roots date back to 1987 and since then has dynamically developed a myriad of Education for Sustainability activities with partners throughout the world.

On a Farm Walk with Meiczslaw Babalsky, Pokizydowo second from left a poineer of the organic ‘revolution’. Meiczalaw preserves many old varieties of crops to improve organic farms systems.

Ziarno has engaged in a wide range of programmes aimed at sustainable rural development and developing the rural environment. Areas of activity include promoting co-operation between farmers, organic farming, education towards sustainable rural development (especially for young people), developing community entrepreneurship, and publishing their own local newspaper. They have also been involved in developing the culture, arts and traditions of the region. They have supported the development of a co-operative which sells agricultural produce directly in Warsaw and organic produce in the city of Plock.

Early Seeds

Peter and Eva are pioneers of the Poland Organic Agriculture Movement started in the 1980s due to growing public awareness. The first known facts about organic farming in Poland are from a period between world wars when, during the years 1931 to 1941, pioneer Stanislaw Karlowski was running a biodynamic farm in Silesia. He organized workshops and edited educational leaflets for farmers. Following his death during World War 11 the idea of organic farming did not come to the fore until 1960 when Julian Osetek started farming using biodynamic methods on his small three-hectare farm. He was farming quietly till 1981 when he gave his first lecture on the idea of biodynamic agriculture in Warsaw Agricultural University and some students and academics became interested in this idea.

Professor of soil ecology, Mieczyslaw Gorny, then became interested in biodynamic methods and put his theoretical knowledge into practice and became the most important promoter of organic farming among Polish farmers and scientists. From 1984 onwards courses in biodynamic farming given by Christian von Wistinghausen from Demeter, were held for Polish farmers. These early seminars given by the ‘revolutionary’ scientists and German experts led to the establishment of the first organic farmers association, called Ekoland, in 1989. The association became a full member of IFOAM in 1990.

Presenting Carnaun School’s method of integrating EfS in Primary Education

Wide ranging visits

Throughout the week we visited examples of best practice in EfS on organic farms and educational establishments in the provinces of Mazovia, Kujawsko-Pomorskie and Warminsko—Mazurskie to the north west of Warsaw.

Peter and Eva Stratenwerth provide hands-on experiential education enabling young people to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. They combine day to day farming with EfS for schools and local organisations.

We visited Aleksandra and Mieczyslaw Babalscy from Pokrzydowo, also pioneers of the organic “revolution” who welcome educational groups and add value to their organic farm by integrating the processing of grain and other farm products into retail goods that are distributed through a wholesale network. They also research old varieties of crops to improve organic farming systems.

Another farmer / educator, Krystian Kujawski, who has an ecological farm in Kurztnik, explained his innovative organic farming practice, on comparatively poor soil, to his many visitors while his mother supplements their income by catering for them using her delicious home-grown organic foods. While Krystian can sell his grain to the Babalscy organic processing plant his meat goes to the conventional market.

Piotr Hillar, Tuczki, took valuable time out to show us his water mill and to explain the process of milling organic cereals and later during a sumptuous organic lunch, prepared by his wife, educated us on Poland’s involvement in WW2 and lightened the gruesome stories with some hilarious jokes.

Dorota Lepkowska, whose educational ecological farm is situated in the most idyllic setting near Godki where we experienced a night of Polish music and folklore, hosts a residential experience in which students from both city and rural areas learn about the cultural heritage of their society through craft and performance in an organic farm context,

We visited Warsaw University where we met Professor Eva Rembialkowska, Human Nutrition Faculty and Professor Anna Kalinowska, Centre for Environmental Studies – both champions of the organic movement in Poland and throughout Europe.

The auther with Eva and Peter Stratenwerth of Ecological-Cultural Association, Ziarno, Poland

Academic Research

Professor Rembialkowska is head of the Division of Organic Foodstuffs and Research at the university and works on the quality of organically produced crops, storage and sensory values and on the potential impact of organically produced food on animal and human health. This division, with modules on the integrated development and multifunctionality of the countryside based on organic agriculture, conducts many food analyses, especially plant analyses on several bio-compounds and vitamins in their high-tech analytical laboratory and offers advisory services in the field of organic farming, agri-tourism and other activities of rural citizens.

It is also involved in Simoca – setting up and implementation of a sustainable and multifunctional -Rural development model based on organic and competitive agriculture; Irene (Innovative Rural Development strategy based on local and trans-national Economic Networks) and is the Service centre for this project. The division is an active member of FQH (Food Quality and Health Association), Isofar (The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research) and of Ifoam (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements).

Professor Eva was delighted to inform us her research has recently revealed that women systematically eating organic foods had better lifestyles and better physical and mental state than those on conventional foods”.

The group was privileged to meet Jacek Kiosiski, Headmaster, Vocational School, Plock, Grayna Rutkovska of Gymnasium No 6, Plock and Maria Perka, Primary School, Slubice, and visit their schools where their work on EfS and organic horticulture far surpasses that of the majority of Irish schools.

Group Findings

Peter and Eva Stratenwerth and Ziarno are interested in exploring practical ways of hands-on methods of education which connect concrete organic initiatives in rural areas with their educational potential. The main challenge is that sustainability is still more a slogan than reality. Their main focus is to present the educational potential hidden in organic farms, which could be used by farmers, agricultural counsellors, teachers and educators, and this was one of the main topics for discussion during the study visit. The approaches to Education for Sustainability (EfS) and organic farming in the nine countries represented on the study visit were presented and discussed by the participants. With regard to organic agriculture there was also a significant amount of common ground amongst the group. There are also differences and these differences seem mainly linked to the length of time a country has been engaged in promoting organic agriculture.

In our report to Cedefop the answer to the question “What is the most interesting/useful information that the group believes should be communicated to others” was;

“Education about organic food production is an important part of EfS and it is of educational value to all in the formal and non-formal sectors of education, including lifelong learners. it relates to human health and it is an excellent vehicle for teaching systems thinking, which is a fundamental principle of EfS.
Recognise the “farmer” as an educator and organic farms as educational resources. To enable this to happen certain actions need implementing:
Networks need to be established in order to facilitate co-operation between teachers and farmers.
Provide educational materials and teacher education courses to train teachers how to maximise the educational benefits of organic farms and integrate it into their curricula.

There are common problems across the EU with regard to organic farming and EfS, therefore there is the potential to co-operate to resolve these problems and prevent the creation of duplicate solutions, while recognising all solutions must take account of local contexts.

Young people, particularly young farmers, should be given the opportunity to visit different EU countries and meet organic farmers, as this learning experience is valuable not only for gaining knowledge of alternative farming methods, but also for broader citizenship education and international understanding”.

There was a unanimous decision by all partners that we must apply, with the host organisation, for funding to develop a lifelong learning project developing the educational (EfS) potential hidden in organic farms. The outputs from the project could be used by farmers and agricultural advisors and by teachers and educators.

l have always been interested in EfS and spent many happy years integrating it with the primary school curriculum in Carnaun National School. l have visited schools in Sweden, Finland, Latvia, UK and the USA where timesharing in the “wilderness” was a really enjoyable experience for school children. I visited schools where one day per week was devoted to EfS, but it all pales in significance when compared to the hands-on approach on working organic farms we were privileged to visit in Poland.

l am comforted with the thought that the sun rising in the beautiful eastern country of Poland will keep the EfS “Seed” of Ziarno flourishing and strong and will spread throughout Europe and beyond.

ln Ireland we could take a leaf from their sapling!

A full report on this Study visit can be seen at, Ecological-Cultural Association Ziarno – Léargas –, Cedefop –

Editor’s note: This article was first published in Organic Matters magazine issue 110, November / December 2009

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About this record

Written by Finbarr O'Regan

Published here 15 Feb 2024 and originally published 2009

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