With rye harvest, N.C. State students will participate in commemoration of Berlin Wall end

Last fall, students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Introductory Crops Science classes, the AgriLife Council and Agronomy Club, along with some Park Scholars, planted rye seed in the Fike Crops Garden that will be part of an international celebration later this year. After being harvested in June, some of the rye seed will play a role in the Peace Bread – or FriedensBrot – project, during a November ceremony marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On Nov. 9, Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the end to the wall that divided the city of Berlin – east from west, communist from free – between 1961 and 1989. The wall divided family members from one another; as many as 100 to 200 East Berlin residents lost their lives trying to escape the walled city watched by armed guards.

The connection to the Berlin Wall project came from CALS’ Dr. Bob Patterson, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Crop Science, who has a long-term relationship with Humboldt University in Berlin. Patterson has traveled to Berlin with students and visited the memorial to those who suffered and died because of the wall.

Part of N.C. State’s Lake Wheeler Road Field Lab, the Fike Crops Garden is believed to be the only site in the United States participating in the Peace Bread project, though some students participated by planting the rye on their home farms, according to Patterson.

The Berlin Wall memorial includes a field of rye, and for the 25th anniversary, rye seeds from the memorial there were distributed to countries all over the world to be planted last fall. Seed harvested from the Berlin memorial rye will be returned from all the participating countries and milled into flour for a Peace Bread that delegates to the anniversary event will share.

students with rye seeds
Students dig into the fruits of their labors – the seeds gleaned from the rye they planted last fall and now have harvested to send to Berlin.

Patterson’s connection with the FriedensBrot project goes back to 1995-96, when he was a Fulbright scholar studying at Humboldt University. His research focused on German agriculturist Albrecht Daniel Thaer, who developed the seven-crop rotational sequence that helped improve Germany’s agricultural soils. Through his studies, Patterson became good friends with Prof. Dr. Frank Ellmer, a soil scientist who is now dean of Agriculture and Horticulture at Humboldt University.

Ellmer himself was a prisoner of the wall, and though it has been gone for nearly 25 years, Ellmer told Patterson that those who lived under its shadow can still feel its presence.
“Prof. Dr. Ellmer was completing the writing of his doctoral dissertation late into the night of Nov. 9, 1989, trying hard to focus on his writing,” Patterson said. Ellmer’s office was several blocks from Unter den Linden, the main street leading to the Berlin Wall’s Brandenburg Gate, the night the wall fell.

“He said that the outside noise became so strong that he had to go outside to see what was happening. And the rest is history,” Patterson said.

Elmer told Patterson two years ago about plans for the FriedensBrot project as part of the Berlin Wall commemoration, and Patterson was anxious to participate. Last fall, a package of carefully packaged rye seed arrived from Germany, and students planted the seed at the crops garden.

Patterson wields a scythe to kick off the harvesting.
Patterson wields a scythe to kick off the harvesting.

As part of a summer study program that Patterson teaches in Prague, he has taken students to visit the Berlin Wall memorial, as they did again in June. Rye was an important choice for the Peace Bread because it is Germany’s preferred bread, but also because it grows well in poor soils.

This year’s FriedensBrot project will begin with a three-day international conference, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, in Berlin. The organizers say they intend to focus on reaching out to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe. The United States will be the only Western country represented, possibly by Jourdain De Fontes, one of the crop science students who planted rye here in the fall.

“Jourdain would be representing not only our department, but also our entire university, as well as our country,” Patterson said. “Frank Ellmer has indicated that N.C. State represents the only U.S.-based rye planting.”

Patterson met this summer with Dr. Gibfried Schenk of Germany, one of the organizers of the FriedensBrot project to learn more about the conference and N.C. State’s role. “Gibfried proposes that our student representative bring small bags of rye grain collected from the various locations where we are growing plots and hand them to each representative of every country present,”
Patterson said. Delegates would be encouraged to take the grain home and to plant a crop of rye.

– Natalie Hampton

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