Rural regional learning in the Westerkwartier (NL)

The Westerkwartier is a predominantly rural area in the province of Groningen (NL), situated between the cities of Leeuwarden and Groningen. The Westerkwartier is one of the case-study areas in the research project DERREG funded by the European Commission (see for more info). Capacity building and governance of regional learning and innovation is one the four research task (see also previous posts on DERREG).

Last Monday, October 18, Rural Sociology Group facilitated a group discussion in the Westerkwartier. The discussion focussed on: a) how the support rural regional learning and innovation is actually arranged in the area and b) how beneficiaries evaluate the quality of the support.

DERREG Group discussion at the Hayema Heerd

17 representatives from collective (grassroot) development initiatives in the area, from local and regional government and from knowledge institutes participated in the discussion.

Sleeping in straw beds at Hayema Heerd

The workshop was organised at an inspiring location: the barn of the former farm Hayema Heerd in Oldehove (see, now offering citizens the special countryside experiences to sleep on straw beds. In addition Hayema Heerd also offers to learn more about real-life farming at nearby farms. this has been set up jointly with local farmers and is called In-Boeren, what refers to learning about being a farmer.

Mapping the governance of rural regional learning and innovation (Source: Wellbrock and Roep, 2010)

Other collective initiatives represented in the workshop were Wichterwest, a group of women entrepreneurs setting up their own business, and the regional Agricultural Nature Association. The collaboration and joint learning-by-doing in these networks is supported by several arrangements. These arrangements can be mapped as operational interfaces between grassroot development activities in the region, supporting public policies and learning and innovation supporting facilities in the framework of what we call a learning region (see the figure), reflecting thus a map of how the support of joint rural regional learning is actually arranged (see picture).

Mapping the arrangements and personal roles of the participants

Examples of arrangements operational in the Westerkwartier are:

  • The Local Action Group (Leader);
  • The Countryside House (Plattelandshuis) serving amongst others as a window for entrepreneurs and citizens with new ideas and development initiatives;
  • An Atelier, which is under construction building on previous experiences with the aim to get public funded education and research engaged on a structural base in the support of development activities in the region;
  • Three Touristic catalysts, supporting indivudual and collective initiatives of recreational entrepreneurs in the area.

The discussion made clear that these arrangements are important to channel the various types of support to individual and collective development activities: information, financial suport, expertise, feedback, maneuvring within (public) regulations, etc. Especially the Countryside House serves well as an entry to support as it lowers the threshold for initiators, a place were people from the area can meet and find themselves someone who coaches them and get them known in the unknown, complex world of numerous subsidies, regulations and networks. Continue reading

Wichterwest: A network meeting with gains for everybody

Yesterday, I – together with 66 rural business women- attended a meeting of the rural women’s business network ‘Wichterwest’ at Restaurant Samiramis in Grootegast.

 The establishment of women business networks was initiated by Groningen Province in an attempt to stimulate networking amongst rural business women in the province. Today, each region within Groningen province has a rural women’s network. In the Western region of Groningen province (a.k.a. Westerkwartier) the network is called ‘Wichterwest’ and is organised by the project leader ‘Vereiniging Groningen Dorpen.

 ‘Wichterwest’ acts as a platform for business women to network, to exchange ideas and to receive information about business. The organisers also arrange offers for business courses and trainings. For example, the organisers are arranging a new training programme which will focus on three different business aspects: a) business start-ups, b) business management and c) market/ marketing strategies. To respond to the great interest of business women in the network and to accommodate its growing number of participants, the organisers are now considering options to set up a foundation with the aim to increase income and offers.

 Yesterday’s meeting started with a speed dating session in which everybody got to know the fellow participants and their businesses. I was impressed by the variety of activities carried out by the women of the Westerkwartier. For example, I met a photographer, a Bed & Breakfast owner, an administrator, a clothes designer, several advisors, an interior designer and the owner of an online farm shop for regional products. The evening proceeded with an exercise to practice efficient networking skills and a delicious three course menu made of organic products produced in the Westerkwartier. Filled with food, excitement rose as the winners of a lottery game were announced. Each business woman was asked to bring a gift made by her company. By winning vouchers for advice, massage and acupuncture sessions, bags of sheep wool and cushions for man and beast, everybody was able to get an impression of the variety of products offered by business women in the Westerkwartier. The evening was completed with three different workshops concerning a) optimal business plans, b) press releases and c) the importance of the entrepreneur for making business.

Even though I am not a business women myself, I returned home filled with positive impressions regarding the innovative spirit and versatility of business women in the Westerkwartier- and a business arrangement made during the networking game- let me recall, I said I was not a business women?

Discussiebijeenkomst multifunctionele landbouw: ervaringen uit het buitenland

Op donderdag 8 oktober 2009 organiseert de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen Universiteit een interessante discussiebijeenkomst over buitenlandse ervaringen van multifunctionele landbouw. Wat gebeurt er in het buitenland en wat kunnen we ervan leren?


Op de bijeenkomst geven een aantal toonaangevende internationale onderzoekers u een indruk van de ontwikkeling rond multifunctionele landbouw in Italië, het Verenigd Koninkrijk en Noorwegen. In de aansluitende forumdiscussie gaan we hierover met elkaar in debat. We verwachten ongeveer 80 tot 100 mensen uit o.a. praktijk, wetenschap, overheid en belangenbehartiging.

De bijeenkomst is interessant voor iedereen actief op het gebied van multifunctionele landbouw en meer wil weten over de betekenis van buitenlandse ervaringen voor Nederland. Als u graag over (uw) grenzen heen kijkt, dan mag u deze bijeenkomst niet missen!


Datum: Donderdag 8 oktober 2009
Tijd: 13.00 – 17.00 uur
Locatie: Landgoed Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt, De Hooge Schuur, ‘t Klooster 5 in Beesd


Aan deelname van deze bijeenkomst zijn geen kosten verbonden, de voertaal is Engels.



12.30 Ontvangst (koffie/thee)

13.00 Opening door dagvoorzitter

Krijn Poppe – Chief Science Officer Agroketens en Visserij, ministerie van LNV

13.05 Welkomstwoord

Frans van Verschuer – eigenaar Landgoed Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt, Beesd

13.15 Dynamiek en robuustheid multifunctionele landbouw – introductie onderzoeksproject en presentatie eerste resultaten

Han Wiskerke – projectcoördinator en hoogleraar Rurale Sociologie, Wageningen Universiteit

13.30 Multifunctionele landbouw in Italië – de ‘rural disctrict approach’ in Toscane

Gianluca Brunori – hoogleraar Agrarische Economie, Universiteit van Pisa, Italië

14.00 Multifunctionele landbouw in het Verenigd Koninkrijk – de rol van de staat en de publieke sector

Roberta Sonnino – universitair docent Milieubeleid, Universiteit van Cardiff, Verenigd Koninkrijk

14.30 Multifunctionele landbouw in Noorwegen – een presentatie door:

Katrina Rønningen – senior onderzoeker, Centrum voor Plattelandsonderzoek, Universiteit van Trondheim, Noorwegen (uitgenodigd)

15.00 Pauze

15.30 Dynamiek van plattelandsontwikkeling en landbouw wereldwijd – een vergelijking tussen Europa, China en Brazilië

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – hoogleraar Transitiestudies, Wageningen Universiteit

16.00 Forumdiscussie – inspirerende lessen voor multifunctionele landbouw in Nederland

16.55 Afsluiting door dagvoorzitter

17.00 Borrel



Meld u aan met het aanmeldformulier. Wij willen u er op wijzen dat er een beperkt aantal deelnameplaatsen beschikbaar zijn. Voor aanvullende informatie neem contact op met Corine Diepeveen via of 0317 – 484507.

De discussiemiddag wordt georganiseerd in het kader van het onlangs gestarte onderzoeksproject ‘Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw’. Het onderzoek is ondersteunend aan de Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw en wordt gefinancierd door het ministerie van LNV.

Inspiring encounters in the Westerkwartier

On Wednesday evening, I participated in a Plattelandscafé (countryside-café) at the Natuurboerderij Lammerburen (nature development farm) in Oldehove, Westerkwartier, Groningen. The aim of the gathering was to present results of past projects, ongoing projects and project ideas aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the predominantly rural Westerkwartier. Jan Oomkes, chairmen of the LAG Westerkwartier (LEADER) and alderman of Zuidhorn municipality, opened the evening with a summary of activities in the Westerkwartier, including activities of the citizen action group (WSI), the Westerkwartier as LEADER-region, the community house in Grootegast and numerous projects which have been realised using money from the EU (LEADER), the Rural Area Programme of the province of Groningen as well as the different municipalities. Thereafter, the word was given to different project leaders and the present 60 visitors were informed about ongoing projects and activities.

With regard to my upcoming DERREG  (see previous post) research activities on rural business networks and the support of rural initiatives and regional learning in the Westerkwartier, the presented projects were highly interesting. For instance, one suggested project idea described the construction of hiking routes through the Westerkwartier, improving the touristic infrastructure and stimulating tourism as a new economic source for the region. Potentially, the project would thus provide possibilities for farmers to engage in side activities such as farm cafés and touristic accommodation and would help to establish networks between different stakeholders of similar interest. A further interesting project that was introduced is a new network for local business women (Wichterwest). Since the DERREG project aims to put special emphasis on the role of women in rural development, the newly formed network would be an interesting idea to study and could act as a best practise example for other rural areas throughout Europe.

Conversations at the plattlandscafé

Conversations at the plattlandscafé

The evening was accompanied by guitar music- including a self-composed song about the Westerkwartier-, drinks and snacks. The inspiring atmosphere provided a good opportunity for everyone to exchange thoughts and ideas about the development of the Westerkwartier. Considering the enthusiasm of the people present at the gathering and their commitment to the development of their region, the event was also for me a motivating experience, highlighting once again the significance of research towards ensuring the sustainability of rural regions in the era of globalization.

DERREG-website is online

The website of the EU-funded research project DERREG (see blog of January 22) is now online: Basic information about the project is now available and further information will be published as the project proceeds.

Terugblik Dag van de Zorglandbouw

Dinsdag 21 april bezocht ik, in het kader van ons onlangs opgestarte onderzoek ‘dynamiek en robuustheid multifunctionele landbouw’, de Dag van de Zorglandbouw. Onderweg naar Apeldoorn kwam er via Radio 1 al een opwarmertje langs. Een Brabantse zorgboerin sprak in het interview haar zorgen uit over de gevolgen van de wijzigingen in de AWBZ (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten). Ook één van de Tweede Kamerleden gaf een voorproefje op de dag. Ik zat er al helemaal in en dat terwijl het programma nog moest gaan beginnen! Continue reading

Kick-off new EU-research project – DERREG

derreg_logo2Last week we had a kick-off meeting of the DERREG research project in Brussels. DERREG is the acronym for  ‘Developing Europe’s Rural Regions in the Era of Globalization’.  The project will last for three years and involves 9 partners from 8 EU-countries and 10 case-study-areas.  Aim is to study how, especially disadvantaged regions respond to key-challenges arising from globalization. Focus is on rural business, migration, sustainable development and capacity building.

The Rural Sociology Group, in my person, will coordinate a workpackage called ‘Capacity building, governance and knowlegde systems’. We will study how public policies and knowledge-infrastructure are connected to bottum up initiaves and thus facilitate regional learning. And, in the end, recommend stakeholders how this regional learning can be further improved.

Coming months we will start up research activities and soon a website will be launched with detailed information. And we will keep you posted at our blog.