In memoriam Dr Paul Hebinck

It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce that our beloved, recently retired colleague Dr Paul Hebinck has suddenly passed away, while on holidays in France. Paul was a colorful, committed and extremely collegial development sociologist who worked at Wageningen University from 1989 until his retirement in 2019. Specialized in rural development, land and agrarian reform, resource management and agricultural livelihoods, Paul was happiest doing long-term research in what he referred to as his ‘dorpies’ (local villages) in Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. His commitment to the people that he worked with, studied and supported was unwavering, akin to his commitment to his many students, colleagues and academic friends all over the world. Transformation, Paul consistently taught us, needs to be studied and supported ‘from below’, and must be inspired by and rooted in the people that work the land. This is a lesson we hold dear at the Sociology of Development and Change and Rural Sociology groups, and that we will continue to spread and teach. Paul did not want to retire and was indeed still very active with publications and projects. Those who knew Paul understand that the world truly is a lot quieter without him. We will miss Paul dearly and think of his wife, children, family and friends.

On behalf of the Sociology of Development and Change Group and the Rural Sociology Group, prof. Bram Büscher, prof. Han Wiskerke

The joy of fermentation

written by Noortje Giesbers based on her MSc thesis

Fermentation is a practice that has been around for ages, with the earliest archaeological finds dating back to 13.000 BC (Liu et al., 2018). It is a natural process provided by the microorganisms present on the food, they ferment the food through their metabolism (Katz, 2012). In the past, but also in the present does fermentation of food contribute to food security all over the world by enabling people to preserve food (Hesseltine & Wang, 1980; Quave & Pieroni, 2014). Many well-known and daily products incorporate a fermentation process, such as bread and beer. But also coffee, yoghurt, chocolate, wine, cheese and soy sauce, to name a few.

In the recent years, I got interested in fermentation, in the process and making my own foods. I shared this interest with a growing number of people. It got me my thesis topic: Motivations for home-fermentation in the Netherlands. From January till August 2021 and with the help of five experts and ten home-fermenters, I conducted this study. My fermentation knowledge and food technology background, as well as Satters’ hierarchy of food needs and the social practice theory helped me to understand the workings at play in the fermentation trend.

Fermentation might seem old-fashioned, but is more intertwined with modern day life than one would expect: it draws attention to craft food-making, taste, identity, and to traditional ecological knowledge put into practice to sustain microbiological ecologies (Flachs & Orkin, 2019). As Tamang et al. (2020) note: “The nutritional and cultural importance of these ancient foods continue in the present era.”. Lee & Kim (2013) state that fermented food is deeply rooted in the ways of life, the local environment, eating habits and deeply related to the produce, in different regions. So, when studying fermented foods, one is studying the close relationships between people, organisms, and food, since the practice of fermentation involves both biological and cultural phenomena, which simultaneously progress (Steinkraus, 1996). This can be showcased by kimchi, which is a part of culture and identity for Koreans, or fermenting fish is for the islanders of the Faroe Islands (Jang, Chung, Yang, Kim, & Kwon, 2015; Svanberg, 2015; Tamang et al., 2020). Yet, by some Dutch consumers, it has also become a part of their food identity, creating ways to lower their food waste, increasing flavour profiles, increasing their gut health.

Fermentation fits well with a more sustainable way of living, with a hedonistic approach to food and a healthy lifestyle, all often reasons to ferment for Dutch consumers. One of the experts noticed three groups of fermenters: those who ferment for the experimentation and flavour; for the health benefits; or to relieve health problems. A fourth group was mentioned by another expert: those who ferment to be self-sufficient. This motivation can stem from the distrust in the global food system and/or the lower ecological impact of growing your own foods. Each home-fermenter included in this study could be linked to one or more groups, following their personal reasons for home-fermenting.

The main motivations for home-fermentations are established, but how is this practice recreated in society? The social practice theory states that for a social practice to be reproduced, one needs three things (Hargreaves, 2011; Reckwitz, 2002; Shove, Pantzar, & Watson, 2012; Vermeer, 2018):

  1. The actual “Things” that compose social practices;
  2. Meanings, that provide the practice with direction; and
  3. Competence, to carry out the practices.

I propose the idea that by making ferments, sharing them, sharing knowledge (competence), starters (“things”) and ideas (meanings), one socially reproduces the practice of home-fermentation, spreading the home-fermentation practice and inspiring more people to home-ferment. By fermenting home-fermenters have enjoyable foods, but also encounter a lot of joy. Statements included enjoying working with foods and sharing the outcomes, as well as the practice. The feeling of accomplishment and being proud of making something yourself, like with other hobbies, is true for home-fermentation as well, as seen by this and other studies (Click & Ridberg, 2010; Murray & O’Neill, 2015; Sofo, Galluzzi, & Zito, 2021; Yarbrough, 2017). Home-fermenters are proud of their ferments and proudly share them too. Which also brings joy to those that they share it with, as acknowledged by an expert.

This liking of sharing ferments, how it can positively influence relationships was also noticed by one of the experts. It was found that fermentation can (re-)connect people, just like foods and other hobbies can do. By having a hobby to talk about and ferments and starter cultures to share, home-fermenters made new friends, reconnected to old ones, or strengthened their current friendships.

It is not uncommon, as sharing food with others has been observed not only to be enjoyed, but can also express creativity and care (Clair, Hocking, Bunrayong, Vittayakorn, & Rattakorn, 2005). Similarly, home-fermenters would prepare a certain ferment for guests later that week. Others share their starters, recipes, and tips & tricks; teach others and make it a fun activity. You could say that next to sharing the actual product of their practices, home-fermenters also share some of the “things” and competence.

To conclude, next to adding to health, sustainability and specific personal feelings, fermentation brings joy, above all else. So dear reader, if you would like to know more, find the full thesis via the link below. If you would like a starter or learn, I am happy to share and teach!

Cheers, Noortje

References

Clair, V. W.-S., Hocking, C., Bunrayong, W., Vittayakorn, S., & Rattakorn, P. (2005). Older New Zealand Women Doing the Work of Christmas: A Recipe for Identity Formation. The Sociological Review, 53(2), 332–350. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2005.00517.x

Click, M. A., & Ridberg, R. (2010). Saving food: Food preservation as alternative food activism. Environmental Communication, 4(3), 301–317. https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2010.500461

Flachs, A., & Orkin, J. D. (2019). Fermentation and the ethnobiology of microbial entanglement. Ethnobiology Letters, 10(1), 35–39. https://doi.org/10.14237/ebl.10.1.2019.1481

Hargreaves, T. (2011). Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. Journal of Consumer Culture, 11(1), 79–99. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540510390500

Hesseltine, C. W., & Wang, H. L. (1980). The Importance of Traditional Fermented Foods. BioScience, 30(6), 402–404. https://doi.org/10.2307/1308003

Jang, D. J., Chung, K. R., Yang, H. J., Kim, K. S., & Kwon, D. Y. (2015). Discussion on the origin of kimchi, representative of Korean unique fermented vegetables. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 2(3), 126–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jef.2015.08.005

Katz, S. E. (2012). The Art Of Fermentation (M. Goodman & L. Jorstad, Eds.). White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Lee, J. O., & Kim, J. Y. (2013). Development of cultural context indicator of fermented food. International Journal of Bio-Science and Bio-Technology, 5(4), 45–52.

Liu, L., Wang, J., Rosenberg, D., Zhao, H., Lengyel, G., & Nadel, D. (2018). Fermented beverage and food storage in 13,000 y-old stone mortars at Raqefet Cave, Israel: Investigating Natufian ritual feasting. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 21(May), 783–793. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.08.008

Murray, D. W., & O’Neill, M. A. (2015). Home brewing and serious leisure: Exploring the motivation to engage and the resultant satisfaction derived through participation. World Leisure Journal, 57(4), 284–296. https://doi.org/10.1080/16078055.2015.1075899

Quave, C. L., & Pieroni, A. (2014). Fermented foods for food security and food sovereignty in the Balkans: A case study of the gorani people of Northeastern Albania. Journal of Ethnobiology, 34(1), 28–43. https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-34.1.28

Reckwitz, A. (2002). Toward a Theory of Social Practices. European Journal of Social Theory, 5(2), 243–263. https://doi.org/10.1177/13684310222225432

Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Sofo, A., Galluzzi, A., & Zito, F. (2021). A Modest Suggestion: Baking Using Sourdough – a Sustainable, Slow-Paced, Traditional and Beneficial Remedy against Stress during the Covid-19 Lockdown. Human Ecology, 49(1), 99–105. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-021-00219-y

Svanberg, I. (2015). Ræstur fiskur: Air-dried fermented fish the Faroese way. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 11(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0064-9

Tamang, J. P., Cotter, P. D., Endo, A., Han, N. S., Kort, R., Liu, S. Q., … Hutkins, R. (2020). Fermented foods in a global age: East meets West. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 19(1), 184–217. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12520

Vermeer, A. (2018). Enacting social practices of food: performing food and nutrition security (Wageningen University). Retrieved from https://edepot.wur.nl/450868

Yarbrough, E. (2017). Kombucha Culture: An ethnographic approach to understanding the practice of home-brew kombucha in San Marcos, Texas (Texs State University). Retrieved from https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/6756/YarbroughElizabeth.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Start Teaching them Young: Connecting Children to the Local Food Chain (thesis/internship)

This thesis/internship assignment will investigate the opportunities of educational programs for school pupils on the topic of local food and farming. It will draw from a literature review and work on a local case of the Tiny Restaurant, located in the municipality of Laarbeek in the Dutch province of North Brabant.  

The Tiny Restaurant is a grassroots, non-profit initiative aiming to bring producers and consumers together. It takes a form of a pop-up (mobile) restaurant that provides a meeting place for (in)formal exchange of knowledge. One of the projects of the Tiny Restaurant is educating children about the food chain through an experiential culinary program. The Tiny Restaurant wants to ensure its educational approach fits the schools’ learning goals and contributes to the ultimate purpose of creating a long-term connection between farmers and consumers. The goal of this assignment is to evaluate the current approach and advise on how the educational program can be improved. The following questions form a starting point:  

  • How can educational programs enhance awareness about local food production? 
  • How does the theme of local food chains fit schools’ curricula and learning goals? 
  • What is the optimal balance of head (conveying information), heart (shaping attitudes) and hands (learning by doing) in these educational programs?       

Depending on the student’s preference, the assignment can be more academic (e.g. using a literature review to learn about education for sustainability) or more applied (e.g. working on the Tiny Restaurant educational program, together with local farmers and teachers). The vacancy is part of a broader Science Shop project which, together with local stakeholders, explores possibilities of connecting producers to local inhabitants in Laarbeek. Starting dates are flexible, with results delivered by the end of May the latest. For more information contact Lucie Sovová lucie.sovova@wur.nl

Internship opportunity: How to bring local food closer to consumers? Formulating the vision of the Tiny Restaurant

The Tiny Restaurant in Laarbeek

This internship opportunity is part of a Science Shop project in which Wageningen University works together with MIEP foundation, an NGO based in the Dutch province of Nord Brabant. The goal of MIEP foundation is to bring together rural inhabitants and local farmers. In 2019, MIEP launched the project of Tiny Restaurant: a pop-up restaurant deployed at various places (such as schools, sports clubs, village squares) which prepares food using sustainable, artisanal, seasonal, regional and Fairtrade products and which can be used as a space for meetings, educational or other events.

MIEP foundation approached the WU with a request to evaluate the functioning of the Tiny Restaurant, and its successfulness in creating lasting relations between producers and consumers. A first assessment, carried out within a framework of an ACT project in autumn 2021, indicated that the potential of the Tiny Restaurant is not yet fully used. One of the weaknesses was the lack of clarity in the restaurants’ vision and core message. MIEP foundation is currently working with farmer ambassadors to formulate a vision and concrete goals through which the Tiny Restaurant can support local producers.

We are looking for an intern with high communication and facilitation skills that will assist the MIEP foundation in this process of formulating their vision and goals as well as setting criteria to assess their progress. We welcome and encourage creative methods and outputs, e.g. a popularization flyer, a public event to promote the Tiny Restaurant, etc.

Starting dates are flexible, with results delivered by the end of May the latest. For more information contact Lucie Sovová lucie.sovova@wur.nl

Beyond farming women: queering gender, work, and the family farm

In our November blog, prof.dr.ir. Bettina Bock looks back at her 44 years of research around gender and rural development. While issues of gender and agriculture have been on the research agenda since the 1970s, only recently has rural sociology started shifting its attention from the production of traditional gender roles, or the recognition of the role of the women-farmer, to an exploration of the farming cultures of queer farmers.

News article about Prisca Pfammatter’s master thesis, published in the Swiss BauernZeitung on December 10, 2021

Master student Prisca Pfammatter traced back how on traditional family farms in Switzerland, gender is the main axis along which labour is divided and power relationship shaped. Then, drawing from the approaches of performativity theory and weak theory, she investigated how queer farmers understand their farming performances and how these interact and intermingle to create gender and sexual identities that, in turn, inform their farming practices. 

Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and seven interviews with queer farmer, Pfammatter evidences how through their performances queer farmers not only redefine male and female and masculinity and femininity, but also challenge the gendered division of labour on the farm. As a result, their subversive gender performances have the potential to redefine agriculture as gender-neutral and contribute to a filling of the scholarly gap on how to move agriculture away from the (re)production of the traditional gender binary and its inequalities.

Pfammatter’s research makes three main contributions to the literature. First, it evidences the glaring lack of research around and the invisibility and non-recognition of queer farmers in Switzerland. This lack that is exposed extends to the mechanisms through which farmers are turned away from farming as a livelihood on the basis of their gender, sex and/or sexuality – for example, through the celebration in Switzerland of heterosexual cisgender family farms. Second, the thesis highlights subversive performances and how these challenge the production of binary gender, sex, sexual, and farming identities as well as the attribution of skills on the basis of these socially constructed categories to imply alternative possibilities, roles and futures. Third and finally, it is suggested that farming can be an accommodating space where people can become who they feel they want to be.

Prisca Pfammatter. 2021. Beyond Farming Women: Queering gender, work and family farms, Master Thesis: https://edepot.wur.nl/557032

On 23 – 25 March 2022, the study will be presented at the International German-language conference “Frauen in der Landwirtschaft”.

Contact: Prisca Pfammatter, prisca.pfammatter@gmail.com

One village, two worlds: How do rural dwellers perceive local farmers? Thesis/internship opportunity

This thesis/research internship opportunity is a part of a broader Science Shop project which, together with local stakeholders, explores possibilities of connecting producers to local inhabitants in the municipality of Laarbeek of the Dutch province Nord Brabant.

Preliminary insights suggest a disconnect between the inhabitants of this rural area and the local farmers. We are thus looking to conduct a survey to explore local opinions. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see how media representations and national-wide debates on issues such as the nitrogen crisis or the protein transition shape local understandings and relations between citizens and farmers.

The research speaks to broader debates on rural development and the role of agriculture in society. The results should indicate possible avenues for bridging the gap between producers and citizen-consumers. 

The precise delineation of the research and the methods used are open to student’s creative suggestions. Considering the research population, a working knowledge of the Dutch language is an asset. Starting dates are flexible, with results delivered by the end of May the latest. For more information contact Lucie Sovová lucie.sovova@wur.nl

Een beminnelijke vrouw / An amiable woman – Ans van der Lande-Heij (1942-2021)

Ans van der Lande-Heij

See below for English

Vorige week bereikte ons het droevige bericht van het overlijden van Ans van der Lande-Heij. Ans was van 1983 tot 2007 werkzaam bij de Leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie als secretaresse. Naast het reguliere secretariaatswerk voerde Ans ook een groot deel van de werkzaamheden uit die tegenwoordig tot het domein van het adjunct-beheer horen. Voorts verzorgde ze de opmaak van de boekenreeksen “Studies van Landbouw en Platteland” en “European Perspectives on Rural Development” en de organisatie en administratieve afhandeling van de projectbijeenkomsten van de EU-projecten CAMAR en IMPACT. Het leverde haar veel internationale contacten en ook nieuwe vrienden op.

Bovenal was Ans het sociale hart van de leerstoelgroep. Ze stond altijd klaar om (gast) medewerkers en studenten te helpen met vragen en problemen – tot en met het regelen van onderdak voor tijdelijke gastmedewerkers. Ze zorgde ervoor dat we elke ochtend met z’n allen bij haar op het secretariaat koffie dronken (zo rond 10 uur galmde Ans door de gang “Koffie!!”). En jarenlang hebben we als groep, met onze partners en kinderen, een weekend gekampeerd op de camping in Arcen, waar Ans en haar man Cees een stacaravan hadden. Ook dat was, op Ans’ welbekende wijze, altijd uitstekend georganiseerd en voor ons allen een moment om naar uit te zien en nu nog steeds om met veel plezier aan terug te denken.

Ans was vrijwel altijd opgeruimd, vrolijk en beminnelijk. Handen uit de mouwen, dat was haar devies, en problemen waren er om op te lossen. Of ze deed alsof ze er niet waren (ook dat is, in een universitaire bureaucratie, een goede eigenschap). Ze was begiftigd met het vermogen steeds een gezellige sfeer te creëren en steunde de mensen die dat nodig hadden. Een bewonderenswaardige vrouw.

Ans is in 2007 met pensioen gegaan en veel van de (oud) medewerkers hebben na haar pensionering contact gehouden met Ans en Cees. Wij beiden tot op heden. Op de rouwkaart schrijven haar kinderen, hun partners en de (achter)kleinkinderen van Ans: “Denk aan Ans met een lach, een lied of een drankje”. Dat zullen wij zeker doen, maar ook met een traan omdat we haar zeer zullen missen.

Namens de (oud) medewerkers van de Leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie,

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg en Han Wiskerke


Last week we received the sad news of the death of Ans van der Lande-Heij. Ans worked as secretary at the Rural Sociology Group from 1983 to 2007. In addition to her regular secretarial duties, Ans performed many of the tasks that nowadays belong to the domain of assistant management. She also took care of the lay-out of the Dutch book series “Studies van Landbouw en Platteland” and the English book series ‘European Perspectives on Rural Development’ and the organization and administration of the project meetings of the EU-projects CAMAR and IMPACT. It brought her many international contacts and also new friends.

Above all, Ans was the social heart of the chair group. She was always ready to help (guest) staff and students with questions and problems – up to and including arranging accommodation for temporary visiting scientists. She made sure that every morning we all drank coffee at her office (around 10 o’clock Ans would echo “Coffee!” through the corridor). And for many years we spent a weekend as a group, with our partners and children, at the campsite in Arcen, where Ans and her husband Cees had a mobile home. That too, in Ans’ well-known way, was always excellently organised and for all of us a moment to look forward to and to remember and cherish until today.

Ans was almost always optimistic, cheerful and amiable. Get to work, that was her motto, and problems were there to be solved. Or she pretended they weren’t there (in a university bureaucracy, that too is a good quality). She was gifted with the ability to always create a friendly atmosphere and supported those who needed it. An admirable woman.

Ans retired in 2007 and many of the (former) employees have kept in touch with Ans and Cees after her retirement. Both of us to this day. On the bereavement card her children, their partners and Ans’s (great) grandchildren wrote: “Remember Ans with a smile, a song or a drink”. We certainly will, but also with a tear as we will dearly miss her.

On behalf of the (former) staff members of the Rural Sociology Group,

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg and Han Wiskerke

75th Anniversary: 48) Research at Rural Sociology: Urban gardens as alternative economic spaces  

Lucie Sovová

My doctoral research explored the role of urban gardens in people’s food provisioning practices, framing them as spaces of diverse food economies operating largely outside the market. In order to understand how gardens work as food sources, I observed the food provisioning practices of 27 households involved in gardening in Brno, Czechia, throughout a period of one year.

The research contributes to the broader discussion about more sustainable ways of food production and consumption, alternative food networks and urban agriculture. Research on sustainable food systems is often biased towards initiatives embedded in market relationships (Rosol 2020). Literature on urban gardening in global North mostly focuses on a specific kind of this practice (community gardens), and it discusses the multiple non-productive functions of these spaces, such as community building (Veen et al. 2016), place-making (Koopmans et al. 2017) or the improvement of urban environment (Timpe et al. 2016). Another stream of literature presents urban gardens as activist spaces questioning the status quo of neoliberal urbanism (Tornaghi 2017, McClintock 2013). This literature recognizes the potential of urban gardens to contribute to localized and sustainable food provisioning (Kosnik 2018). Nonetheless, actual data on food self-provisioning (FSP) in urban areas of the global North remains insufficient (Taylor and Lovell 2013).

Furthermore, some geographical areas seem to be excluded from the debate. FSP is wide spread in the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE): 50% inhabitants of the region grow some of their food, compared to 10% in Western European countries (Alber and Kohler 2008). Despite this potential, lessons from CEE are only recently appearing in the literature on urban gardening or alternative food networks. This discrepancy can be explained by an unequal geography of knowledge production, in which CEE rarely figures as a source of original knowledge (Jehlička 2021). In light of the failed experiment of state-socialism, CEE countries are often regarded as underdeveloped and in need of catching up with the West (Kuus 2004, Müller 2019). This transition discourse results in the framing of local informal economies (such as FSP or informal food sharing) as remnants of the past which will be eventually substituted by market economy (Alber and Kohler 2008, Acheson 2008). My research adds to more emancipatory works showing the relevance of these traditional practices for sustainable food provisioning (Jehlička et al 2020, Goszczyński et al., 2019, Mincyte 2012).

My theoretical approach is further inspired by the diverse economies framework (Gibson-Graham 2008) which points out that economic practices are not limited to capitalist markets and monetized transactions, and which calls for attention to alternative, nonmarket and informal economies. This approach is increasingly adapted in the study of more sustainable food provisioning, which recognizes the importance of economic arrangements fostering social justice and environmental wellbeing (Rosol 2020, Tornaghi 2017, Morrow 2019). It is also particularly pertinent for the post-socialist context, seemingly caught between the gloomy heritage of state socialism and the sweeping neoliberalization of the last three decades.

Recent representative surveys show that the share of Czechs involved in FSP remains steady at around 40% of the population, spread equally across income groups and educational levels (Smith and Jehlička 2013, Jehlička and Daněk 2017, Sovová et al 2021). Unpacking these statistics, my research assessed the role of FSP in terms of quantity of food produced as well as its position within broader food provisioning practices and the diverse economic arrangements they constitute. Inspired by the perspective of social metabolism (González de Molina and Toledo 2014, Burger Chakraborty et al. 2016), I used food logs to monitor the flows of fruits and vegetables entering and leaving respondent households. These flows were categorized based on the type of economic arrangements as non-market, alternative-market or market economies. Using conceptual borrowings from social practice theory (Reckwitz 2002, Shove et al. 2012), I further investigated the meanings and competences these material flows entailed.

The field work consisted of four rounds of data collection of one month, spread over the course of one year. During each round, respondents recorded fruits, and vegetables which they produced at their gardens or obtained from other sources. Next to the amount, type and source of food, they also kept track of the use of these foods, i.e. own consumption, preserving, sharing or other forms of distribution. The purpose of the multi-staged research design was to observe seasonal variations and to gradually build theory with the respondents’ participation, accompanying the quantitative accounts with a qualitative understanding of their food provisioning practices.

The results reveal complex interactions between gardens, other food sources, respondents’ eating habits and dietary preferences. FSP plays a central role in gardeners’ food provisioning practices. The gardens provide a significant amount of food, covering on average one third of fruits and vegetables consumed in gardeners’ households – results consistent with a national survey using self-reporting (Sovová et al 2021). In addition, respondents’ experience as producers shapes their food provisioning practices beyond FSP. Home-grown food is seen as the best in terms of taste, freshness and transparent origin. This creates a hierarchy of food sources, in which FSP and other nonmarket and semi-formal food provisioning practices (e.g. receiving home-grown foods from family and friends, foraging or buying directly from producers) are preferred over shopping for food in conventional venues. Alternative food networks typically associated with conscious consumerism (community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, organic food shops) were marginal in respondents’ shopping practices. Instead, they provisioned food from a number of diverse channels spanning market and nonmarket relations, in which social relations merged with environmental considerations and subjective notions of food quality. The centrality of FSP in these practices also resulted in strong seasonal patterns in both food sources and diets.  

None of the respondents aimed to be fully self-sufficient, nor did they grow their own food in order to save money. Instead, they saw gardening first and foremost as a hobby. The link of this way of food provisioning to leisure, fulfilment, and, broadly speaking, gardeners’ identities, strengthened the position of FSP in gardeners’ food provisioning practices. Similarly, other informal and semi-formal food practices were often grounded in social relations, such as visiting family and acquaintances in the countryside. Gardeners’ food practices also contributed to fostering social relations, for instance when they shared home-grown food with others, a practice which was common for most respondent households. Indeed, FSP is a generous practice in which the joy of sharing and appreciation of home-grown food prevails over expectations of reciprocity or economic considerations, as also documented by Daněk and Jehlička (2017) or Pottinger (2018).

While practiced as a hobby, FSP is mobilized as a food provisioning practice through a number of specific competences. Using the conceptualizations of social practice theory, I interpret FSP as intersection of two sets of practices, those relating to the garden (‘gardening’), and those relating to the kitchen (‘food provisioning’). Based on both quantitative and qualitative data, I identified four different types of relations between gardening and food provisioning. Put simply, some respondents were keen gardeners but did not necessarily integrate their harvest into their diets. Others strived to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables but were not always successful in their gardening efforts. Gardens are multifunctional spaces which hold different meanings for different users. Using the gardens as food sources requires not only gardening and cooking skills, but also coordination and integration of both on a daily as well as seasonal basis.

My research shows that when thinking about sustainable food provisioning, scholars and practitioners need to look beyond market venues and beyond people’s roles as consumers. The search for future-proof urban food systems cannot be restricted to environmentally-minded affluent Westerners, but it needs to consider everyday practices already existing in diverse contexts. I have shown that there is a plethora of under-researched informal food practices whose potential for sustainable provisioning, diverse economic arrangements and mutually beneficial human–nature relations merits further investigation.

Sovová, L. (2020). Grow, share or buy? Understanding the diverse economies of urban gardeners. Wageningen University. https://doi.org/10.18174/519934

75th Anniversary: 47) Research at Rural Sociology:  Gender and rural development in Europe – once upon a time and now

Bettina Bock

Once upon a time.

It is almost 44 years since my first research project; it considered the position of women in non-academic positions at the University of Nijmegen. More studies into gender and professions followed; in academia and public service, as well as technical and assumedly masculine occupations such as woodwork and firefighters, and eventually farming.

Women farmers stole my heart – first in Italy and later in the Netherlands when working on my PhD on the role of women in rural development practice and policy. They were so creative and courageous, developing new business activities and conquering a position in a sector in desperate need of transition but often so stubbornly holding on to conventions. In this case, the conventional image and success formula of the male farmer running his farm as a modern business striving to increase production and growth, with the farmwife offering assistance. In the early 90s, some women stood up against these beliefs – men being the head of the farms and farming as regular businesses interested in increasing production and profit. There were women pioneers innovating agriculture by initiating a new model and paradigm of farm diversification and multifunctionality. They introduced new income-generating activities and created new markets with direct communication between producers and consumers. In doing so, these women farmers and their partners developed new knowledge and skills and adapted their agricultural production methods, with less monocultural and more environmentally friendly production methods. Hence, women significantly contributed to the continuity of farming financially through such new business activities, others by gaining off-farm income. Initially, the turn towards diversification and multifunctionality met a lot of criticism and suspicion by mainstream farmers and the farm union – this was not real farming anymore, they said. Or this meant the end of agriculture as a real business and profession. As a result, many women farmers downplayed their activities as hobbies or downplayed the importance of their money. In time, however, the success of these new businesses became evident, and multifunctional agriculture became formally recognised even by the farm unions.

In academia, the role of women in multifunctional farming was cherished in two ways: first as a proof of long due empowerment and recognition of the vital role of women in agriculture; second as one of the elements of the transition of farming, with multifunctionality, high-quality production and direct marketing as the way forward, and thirdly as proof of the sustainability of family farming. Studies into gender relations in agriculture confirmed the presence of more equal gender relations on farms engaged in diversified productions and novel production methods. The situation is quite different in most production-oriented farms that remained conventional also in terms of gender relations. The political interest in women farmers diminished over time, at least at the national level. The EU continued to call attention to the position of rural women, stressing their vulnerability and the importance of strengthening their position in farming and rural areas. However, gender agriculture and rural development did not figure prominently in public, political or academic debates for a long time – in Europe. In international development debates, this was quite different, and gender remained a prominent issue and target of policymakers, donors and academics. Women were presented as important actors, able to enhance production and warrant food security, yet needing support to overcome traditions and realise their potential. Maybe, the global South was again ahead of the North when it came to gender debates – as they were when research into gender and agriculture took place in Europe in the seventies.

Most recently, the interest in gender and rural development seems to be reawakening also in Europe. Looking into a recently published HORIZON, the EU expresses high hopes for women’s engagement in innovations. They expect women to ensure the future of agriculture and rural areas and significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and, hence, our future. It is interesting to see that women who figured in agricultural and rural policies so far, mainly as a vulnerable group, become suddenly framed as our saviours. However, as the EU calls for ways to boost women’s innovations, women are still expected to need a hand to realise their potential, with many hurdles arising from what we may best identify as institutionalised sexism.

What does that mean for academics like me who have fallen for these amazing women who experiment with new ideas, innovate new products and methods, and institutions? Should we worry about their instrumentalisation, as some warn us (reference)? I always have difficulty with that argument – because are we instrumentalised if we choose to do what needs to be done? Do we not all carry the responsibility to be instruments in the realisation of a better world? And is women’s agency to innovate against all odds not in itself transforming structures, identities and relations, self-empowering? Is innovation, hence, not their instrument of empowerment? Yes, they deserve more respect, reward, and support. What they do is valuable and critical, and we need to ensure their engagement has an impact.

In my view, it is not up to me as a researcher to protect women from instrumentalisation. However, I can be of more assistance when understanding what drives, enables and hinders them and where change is essential to realise their potential. The transformation of gender relations is part and parcel of that process, be it explicitly or implicitly. We should also not forget that women do not necessarily view their actions as individual or independent; farm women often feel part of the family business, and many collaborate with others and men. The latter does not make gender equality less relevant yet nuances women’s interest in gender transformation. And what about the kind of innovations in which women engage? Many are novel, of course, but not all are about agroecology or climate change. Or that might not be the leading motive. Women’s primary reason is often to assure the business’s profitability, and not all they do is good for the environment. Does that mean we should then not support their initiatives and engagement in innovation? Do women only as saviours deserve support? The right of agenda-setting is another matter to consider. Which issues should politics and science address, and when are women ‘invited’ to join? Even formulating the question is awkward as, of course, women have the right to set the agenda. Reality is more complex. Generally, interest groups are involved in such negotiations, and as studies report time and again, women farmers are hardly represented in farm organisations.

Intriguing questions that are difficult to answer. As an academic, I might argue that my first task is to understand how innovations emerge when ‘female’ agency fights traditional structures, irrespective of their motive. On a more personal note, I believe it is our responsibility as scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to choose which innovations to support, whether promoted by men or women. In today’s world, it is irresponsible to support innovations that add to the problem of climate change and social injustice.

Some suggestions for overviews of rural gender literature

  • Asztalos Morell I. and BB. Bock (2008) (eds), Gender regimes, citizen participation and rural restructuring, Elsevier: Rural Sociology and Development Series, pp. 3-30
  • Bock B.B. and S. Shortall (2006) (eds), Rural Gender Relations: Issues and case- studies, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock, B.B. and S. Shortall (2017) (eds), Gender and rural globalisation: international perspectives on gender and rural development, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock, B.B. and M. van der Burg (2017), Gender and international development, in B.B. Bock and S. Shortall (eds) Gender and rural globalisation: international perspectives on gender and rural development, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock B.B. (2016), The Rural, in: I. van der Tuin (ed.), MacMillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender, volume 2: Nature, MacMillan, 199-216
  • Cornwall, A. , E. Harrison and A. Whitehead (2007) (eds),. Gender myths and feminist fables: the struggle for interpretive power. Gender and Development, 38(1998) (special issue)
  • Mohanty, C.T. (2003), Feminism without borders; decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity, Durham & London:  Duke University Press (reprint from 1984)
  • Pini B., B. Brandth and J. Little (2015) (eds). Feminisms and Ruralities. London: Lexington Book
  • Plas van der L. and M. Fonte (1994) (eds). Rural gender studies in Europe. Assen: van Gorcum
  • Sachs C. (2019) (ed.), Gender, agriculture and agrarian transformations, changing relations in Africa, Latin America and Asia: London: Routlegde, Taylor & Francis Group
  • Shortall S. and B.B. Bock (2015) (eds) Rural, gender and policy; Rural women in Europe: the impact of place and culture on gender mainstreaming the European Rural Development Programme; Gender, Place and Culture, 22(5), special issue

Thesis/research internship: Connecting producers and consumers through local grassroots initiatives: the case of the Tiny Restaurant

The Tiny Restaurant in Laarbeek

This thesis/research internship opportunity is a part of a broader Science Shop project evaluating the Tiny Restaurant initiative. The Tiny Restaurant is a pop-up restaurant deployed at various places (such as schools, sports clubs, village squares) with the goal to bring diverse groups of people together around locally produced, sustainable, artisanal and seasonal food. This initiative was started by Stichting MIEP, a non-governmental organization based in Laarbeek, Nord Brabant. After two years of working together with diverse groups of inhabitants (e.g. social welfare clients, school kids), Stichting MIEP is looking to evaluate how successful the Tiny Restaurant is in forging lasting producer-consumer relations.

This thesis will follow up on an ACT project during which a first assessment of the Tiny Restaurant is performed, and it will also look for similar examples (in the Netherlands or internationally) of grassroots initiatives working to connect producers and consumers. The broad questions the research should tackle are:

  • How can rural grass-roots initiatives contribute to connecting local producers and citizens?
  • What strategies have been used (successfully or not) to make local food and its producers more visible?
  • How does the Tiny Restaurant contribute to lasting bonds between local producers and citizens?

Project duration: September 2021 – May 2022

For more information contact Lucie Sovová lucie.sovova@wur.nl