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

75th Anniversary: 49) Hofstee has left his mark on Wageningen studies on extension communication

Cees Leeuwis*

Prof. Anne van den Ban is generally regarded as the founding father of the Wageningen communication sciences. He was appointed as Professor of extension communication (‘Voorlichtingskunde’) in 1964,  which became the cradle for a rich and influential array of academic endavours at the intersection between communication, innovation and change in the sphere of health, environment and agriculture. These activities have continued until today and now take place across several chairgroups and sections at Wageningen University.

Hofstee and Van der Ban

While Prof. Van den Ban certainly deserves a lot of credit for developing the new discipline and building an internationally recognized group, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of Prof. E.W. Hofstee in getting Van den Ban started. Hofstee was promotor of Van den Ban’s 1963 PhD dissertation on the communication of new farm practices in the Netherlands, and he no doubt inspired Van den Ban in choosing his topic. In fact, already in 1953 Hofstee wrote about the importance of studying ‘sociological aspects of agricultural extension’ in the first (!)  ‘Bulletin’ that was published by his group (Hofstee, 1953).  He was also in touch with the public extension services that had been established by the Ministry of Agriculture a few decades earlier, and gave lectures to Ministry staff on the significance of group-based agricultural extension approaches (e.g. Hofstee, 1960). Reading these early works by Hofstee made me -as one of the successors of Van den Ban- realize how much we still owe to Hofstee today.

In essence, Hofstee criticizes the then prevailing extension services and practices for assuming that farmers take decisions according to an individualistic economic rationale. He points to the importance of social, collective and cultural dynamics in shaping what farmers do or do not, and also to the importance of social differentiation and regional ‘farming styles’ in explaining farmers’ economic activity. In order to be effective, extension organisations and professionals should -according to Hofstee- understand the importance of such ‘sociological aspects’ and anticipate these in their work (Hofstee, 1953). This implies that extension workers should look at extension and knowledge transfer as an inherently social process rather than as a series of communicative ‘tricks’  and also be reflective about their own social positions (Hofstee, 1960) The concern with the ‘effectivess of extension’ (or better: the lack of it) demonstrates Hofstee’s commitment to the post second world war modernisation project and his own normativity in this regard. Despite his sensitivity for social and normative issues, he continued to talk in terms of ‘good, progressive’ and ‘bad, backward’ farmers (Hofstee, 1953), thereby (re)producing the paternalistic connotations of the Dutch word for extension communication: ‘Voorlichting’. This term literally means something like ‘holding a light in front of someone to lead the way’ assuming apparently that people are ‘in the dark’ and need to be ‘enlightened’ by those with scientific training.

While today’s studies on communication, innovation and change have arguably left this ‘enlightenment’  and ‘deficit’ thinking behind, we also see traces of Hofstee coming back in our current work. We still criticize simplistic individualist conceptualizations of change, as is reflected in today’ attention for ‘social-technical configurations’, ‘system transformation’ and ‘responsible innovation and scaling’. Similarly, Wageningen trained communication scientists are known for their interactional and socio-political conceptualization of both professional and everyday communication and meaning making, and for their interest in the social challenges to facilitating dialogue among different interpretative communities. These sociological perspectives on communication and change have now spread to other Universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere. The continued prevalence of sociological connotations is not surprising if one considers that most of Van den Ban’s successors indeed had a sociological training as well. Clearly, that is not accidental but part and parcel of Hofstee’s legacy.

*Cees Leeuwis is Personal Professor at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group, Section Communication, Philosophy and Technology

References

Hofstee .E.W.  (1953) , Sociologische aspecten van de landbouwvoorlichting. Bulletin 1, Afdeling Sociale en Economische Geografie, Landbouwhogeschool, Wageningen.

Hofstee .E.W.  (1960) Inleidende opmerkingen over de voorlichting: Groepsbenadering in de voorlichting. Voordracht gehouden op de Tuinbouwdagen 1960. Mededelingen van de Directeur van de Tuinbouw, 23, 10,  pp 621-624

Van den Ban, A.W. (1963) Boer en landbouwvoorlichting: De communicatie van nieuwe landbouwmethoden. Pudoc, Wageningen.

Rural Sociology: past, present and future

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University  – known and renowned for its comparative approaches, empirically grounded theory development, and scientific, policy and practical relevance of its research output – will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on the 13th of May 2022.

The event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future” will reflect upon the past and present of rural sociology and discuss future challenges around three thematic clusters: 1) agriculture; 2) food; and 3) place.

“Rural Sociology: past, present and future” will take place in a lively, interactive setting with debates, workshops, and presentations. Therefore, the event will not be organized in the form of parallel sessions with paper presentations as still common to most conferences, but in challenging and creative settings that invites active engagement and exchange.

Program

  • Opening of the event by the Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University;
  • Inaugural conference lecture;
  • The Rural Talk Show: interactive discussion about rural sociology around three sets of questions: 1) societal commitment and critical distance in agri-food and rural studies, 2) the relations and tensions between critical analysis and developing alternatives, and 3) the making of the future: regulation and self-regulation, uniformity and pluriformity;  
  • Workshops related to agriculture, food and place;
  • Keynote Lecture;
  • Back to the Future: interactive discussion on Rural Sociology’s research agendas.

Register here if you want participate in our conference and join our celebration.

Regular updates will be published here!

“Rural Sociology: Past, Present and Future” will be held at the Akoesticum, Nieuwe Kazernelaan 2D42, 6711 JC Ede, the Netherlands.

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

Stage mogelijkheid voor studenten met agrarische affiniteit

Dirksen Management Support

Bij agrarisch adviesbureau Dirksen Management Support brengen we melkveehouders uit heel Nederland bij elkaar in agrarische studiegroepen. Het doel? Leren van elkaars ervaringen, vergelijken van bedrijfsresultaten en discussiëren over bedrijfsstijlen en keuzes. Om de meest leerzame en interessante gesprekken te creëren, maken wij onze groepsindelingen op basis van regio’s. Met als resultaat dat onze boeren kunnen sparren over problemen die voor hun van toepassing zijn. Daarnaast geeft deze indeling op een juiste manier weer hoe boeren presteren in relatie tot vergelijkbare andere bedrijven. Dit houdt je als melkveehouder scherp en geeft relevante inzichten. Zowel in onderdelen waar het bedrijf goed presteert of waar nog kansen liggen die benut kunnen worden. Ons motto luidt dan ook: “Alleen ben je sneller, samen kom je verder!”

Dirksen Management Support werkt al vanaf 1996 met gegevens vanaf het melkveebedrijf. Dit heeft geleid tot een enorme dosis ervaring en kennis op het gebied van verwerking van deze data. Naast studiegroep begeleiding werkt DMS voornamelijk veel samen in projecten voor de kringloopwijzer. De kringloopwijzer loopt als een rode draad door het melkveebedrijf heen. Op basis van kringloopwijzercijfers komt er veel informatie naar voren over oogst-, rantsoen-, en efficiëntie resultaten. Meer recentelijk zijn er ook samenwerkingen omtrent CO2, biodiversiteit, mestbeleid (BEP-pilot). Enkele hoofdonderwerpen die besproken worden zijn: Kringloopwijzer, Bodembeheer, Voermanagement en nog veel meer… Voor kringloopwijzers heeft DMS een geavanceerd systeem ontwikkeld waarmee de cijfers gecontroleerd en verwerkt worden tot analyses in compacte overzichten. Niet alleen het analyseren van data, maar ook het begeleiden van project groepen en het managen van projecten in het algemeen is een onderdeel binnen Dirksen Management Support.

Wanneer je stage loopt bij Dirksen Management Support krijg je de kans om een kijkje te nemen bij de brede taken van het bedrijf. Bij het deelnemen aan studiegroepen leer je veel van de sociale kanten en het overbrengen van kennis richting de boer. Onderzoek kan worden gedaan naar het innovatietraject richting kringlooplandbouw, het gebruik van nieuwe technologieën in de landbouw, acceptatie richting kringlooplandbouw voor zowel boer als consument, bewustwording van “the need to develop” voor de boer, communicatie strategieën voor boeren en consument, etc. Mocht je liever met het data bestand en cijfers werken voor een wat meer Bèta onderzoek kan dat natuurlijk ook! Ideeën voor onderwerpen zijn welkom!

Profiel kandidaat

We zijn op zoek naar een student met affiniteit voor de agrarische sector. Een student die gemakkelijk contact legt met zowel de boer als andere actoren in de sector. Om die rede zoeken we dan ook een student die goed Nederlands spreekt.

Nog steeds geïnteresseerd? Mail ons, inclusief je CV en interesse voor een stageonderwerp. Wat zijn jou skills die je graag zou willen toepassen bij DMS, of willen verbeteren? Wanneer zou je willen beginnen en hoe lang wil je stage lopen? We zijn benieuwd!

Contact

  • Kim Hahn, kimhahn@dmsadvies.nl
  • Hans Dirksen hansdirksen@dmsadvies.nl

Voor de aanvang van deze stage neem je contact op met Thesis.RSO@wur.nl ter goedkeuring van de stage

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