Trendy food and food regime change?

Picture1During the nineties, we, urbanites, discovered the countryside anew. Farmers opened their stables and greenhouses for excursions, recreational activities such as ‘farm golf’ and camping at the farm became popular. That these farmers also produced food and where that food went to, was not so much considered. Often also not by the farmers themselves. The onion in bulk to the wholesale markets, the milk to the factory, the consumer at the farm gate for recreational activities; multifunctional farming. However, more and more the connection to the consumer happened through food too. Veggie boxes, fresh dairy directly from the farm. In small, it was always there already, but it has grown in public awareness ever since. Local food is now celebrated in magazines, in the supermarket, at the market, at fairs, in the newspaper, in policies. Continue reading

How art and rural life meet

Drying fish in Sarah's work

At best sceptical were most of the islanders of Mandø about the Any Questions? art project on their island. Not many were fond of modern art. Their highlight of the year is the Mandøfest which brings back many related to Mandø in july for a celebration of tradition and island culture in big family gatherings. The Vadehavsfestival is different and the ‘elite’ art is distant this culture. However, the aim of the festival was to instill inhabitants of the wadden region with new wonder about their own environment.

How to prevent that the project on Mandø would completely bypass the community because of separated mental worlds? Inspired by theories on action research – in particular appreciative inquiry – and on social interaction (see Collins 2004. still the best explanation) we formulated a social process to embed ourselves in the place. In three steps (oct/june/sept) we worked at building a positive chain of interaction with the islanders which accumulated – also to my surprise – in openness to and interaction with the artists and the art works.

Tea and cookies

The shopkeeper commented how moved she was by the threedimensional house drawing on top of the dune and that it was this moment rather than big audiences which was – maybe-  important too. An unannounced barn concert attracted islanders who normally do not go anywhere we were told. People passed by our café with a bottle of wine or wiskey or came to have ‘tea and cookies’ in and near the house of Sarah and holding up her window. Our bonfire in the withdrawing sea at the landart site of Liesbeth attracted ‘a record of people’ according to the man who fanatically helped building it with lots of diesel (however many stayed at the dunes because the way through the grass was too dark unfortunately).

Peter With's Café

We became part of this community for a week, using the closed café, sleeping in people’s summerhouses, struggling with internet as they do, enjoying the wadden nature and the endless horizon. The embedding of the project and the dialogue in which it resulted inspired us too, as can be read on the waddenart weblog. Thanks, people of Mandø for opening up to us.

concert with barn materials

The comeback of Action Research?

This year’s European Rural Sociology meeting in Vaasa, Finland  aired a remarkable optimism. With the crisis in the real world, the identity crisis of rural sociologists seems over. In times of crisis, there  seems more space for social change.

One of the conference themes was “the rural bites back”.  Well, “the rural never went away” Michael Bell said, “we only need to consider the political conditions of our work”. Time for the activist/scientist to stand up. This resonates very well with how I experienced the spirit of the local and sustainable food community in the US. No wonder, Michael Bell is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

In his opening keynote speech, Philip Lowe, from Newcastle University, UK, explained the history and differences between the American and European rural sociology societies. Despite the historically more distant and observant EU tradition, he too urged for us to engage and deal with the “mess” of reality. And in yet another plenary session, the comeback of action research was observed.

Although some of us never did anything different, there was a general vibe of action readiness for social change in the conference. Have the years of ‘Critique’ only passed? Certainly, new engagement and involvement urge us to take position and to be the “political scientists of the rural” as Michael Bell put it.