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50 years of Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences: The faces and stories

HSWT inside | Katrin Kell

"From shovelling soil to virtual teaching modules, it has everything"

Katrin Kell is bursting with energy, even over the telephone. She lives for her work with plants and people: "I just find it fascinating. I would study horticulture again a heartbeat," she enthuses. The Munich native has been at HSWT since 1989: She started off as a student at the university, then after graduating in 1994 she joined the State Horticultural College and Research Institute, which was later integrated into the university through the Federal Research Station of Horticulture Weihenstephan. It would be wrong to say that Katrin Kell has never ventured out of Upper Bavaria, though. "After training as a gardener, focusing on vegetable cultivation, I spent three years working as an assistant – including six months in California and six months in Australia. I returned to the Bavarian November – that was tough," she recalls, laughing. "In Australia, my daily routine was defined by monotonous harvesting jobs. That is what really motivated me to pursue further studies – simply so that I would have more options when it came to work," she explains.

In the middle of the action

In her role as engineer at the HSWT Institute of Horticulture, she is responsible for the operational management of vegetable cultivation and for the technical management of the small vegetable garden in Weihenstephan Gardens. As well as plant cultivation and the organisation of operational procedures, her responsibilities include further training in horticultural practices and recreational horticulture.

The 56-year-old also gives lectures, supports university teaching and is involved in research projects. On top of all that, she is in demand in the media as an expert on issues relating to vegetable cultivation – you will be hard pressed to find a German-speaking horticultural magazine or Bavarian TV programme on gardening that Katrin Kell has not graced at one time or another.

"I joined HSWT not only because of the fantastic team here, but because the work undertaken at the former research institute really interested me: very practical and close cooperation with the companies and nurseries whom we advise, for example. I was and still am right in the middle of the action," she says. She likes to get stuck in, think practically and work with people – this also applies when Katrin Kell is supervising students on the 'experimental research' internship and helping with the statistical analysis of their dissertations. "I really value the sharing of experience and ideas between generations," she says. "This makes you question set ways of thinking – it challenges you and keeps your mind active."

The activities involved in her job have changed a lot over the decades, but that is one of the things that makes it exciting for Katrin Kell. "I have a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of autonomy," she explains. She likes the variety: "From shovelling soil to virtual teaching modules, my job really has everything." Being able to combine all of this in one job provides even more motivation for Katrin Kell, who attributes her excellent ability to improve and to change the way she thinks in no small part to her interaction with nature. "When you work with plants, you are always dependent on the weather as well. You have no control over it and it often doesn’t follow the forecast. That is humbling and grounds you, as you come to understand that everything does not always go as planned."

Of humans and plants

The best thing about her job? The horticulturist does not have to think about this for long: "The people and the plants, being outside a lot and learning." Her projects abroad are particularly memorable experiences. "Not long after the Yugoslav Wars, we went to Bosnia to find out how the small farmers there were doing and what help they needed. That made a lasting impression on me and really made me realise that a lot of us here are living in a bubble," Katrin Kell recalls. Another time, during a scientific symposium in Canada towards the end of the nineties, she received an invitation via some contacts to train employees at a horticultural institute in China.

Contacts and networks are also a big focus for Katrin in her role as chair of the Verband Weihenstephaner Ingenieure e.V. association. This position allows her to keep in touch with lots of alumni of HSWT, as well as former colleagues.

Plants, people and the sharing of knowledge also form a big part of her life outside of work. The Freisinger likes going into the mountains and is a guide with the German Alpine Club, specialising in alpine flora. She also finds the most beautiful subjects for her other hobby, photography, while out there. And if she is not examining arnica, gentian or doronicum, then it is wheel rims, sprockets and chain rings: "Bikes are my passion," Katrin Kell says, "not just riding them, but also repairing them: taking them apart and putting them back together again, that’s my thing."