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From primeval forest to hay field

Foto: Jan de Wolde, ca. 1970

Martin van der Linden and Albert Bartelds, historian and photographer at the IJsselacademie/HCO, record the oral history of the IJssel Delta. The hay stories of (former) farmers have been chronicled and visualised.

The Hay Delta Working Group, which wants to establish a haystack museum near Hasselt, held an information market at the Field Barn in Rouveen on 11 October 2018.

Historians researched the hay history of the IJssel delta. The information they gathered calls for its presentation. The working group also calls on residents and (former) farmers to share their knowledge and stories about ‘hay, haymaking and haymakers’.

Oldambster agricultural female labourer

In de schuur bijgetimmerde bedsteden, gevuld met stro en een deken. Zaten dikwijls vol met ongedierte als vlooien en muizen (De Lethe, plm. 1900)

We hadden geen keus – interviews met landarbeidsters uit het Oldambt, 1920-1940

Amarens Hibma, Wiebe Hoekstra, Tilly Uil
Publisher: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1987
ISBN: 9789062430703


Nieuwsblad van het Noorden – 1987

In the (Northern) Dutch countryside, agricultural labourers worked from the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in the Oldambt, that East Groningen clay area that had been emerging from the Dollard bit by bit since the late Middle Ages.


The Oldambtster farmers were prosperous. First, because they constantly acquired new reclaimed marshes through the right of uplift. In the middle of the last century, the Oldambtster arable farmers became gentlemen farmers. However, their servants remained deprived of wealth. The distance between farmer and servant was reinforced by the fact that the staff was tucked away in the back house or lived outside the farmyard. An arable proletariat emerged that managed to overcome its plight situation with the help of major strikes in 1901, 1906, 1919 and 1929.


The social history of Oldambt is widely known but the specific almost feudal-dependent role of women in it long remained underexposed. The booklet “We had no choice” brings that Oldambt woman worker into the limelight. The compilers interviewed 56 very elderly female workers.

Historical management of small landscape elements



Authors: Adriaan Haartsen and Paul Burm
– Final report of the Oral History project

– Manuscript for the book ‘Farmland as nature’

Also included: tips for interviews


The modernisation of agriculture has led to a reduction in the diversity of the Dutch landscape. This ‘flattening’ of our landscape has still not come to an end, as the Nature Explorations of recent years make clear. In recent decades, however, more attention has been paid to the characteristic parts of the landscape. The planning of the landscape of the future explicitly involves history. What have been the most important developments in a region and in what way were they reflected in the landscape?

Small landscape elements are very important here, because they contribute to the uniqueness of a region. This book is about these small landscape elements. About wooded banks, duck decoys, hedge belts. About farmyards. It describes what they were used for, what products were obtained from them. And how they were maintained. Because that also varied: a wooded bank in Twente was maintained differently from one in the Frisian Woods.

An important part of the project is interviews with experts. And by this we do not mean scholars, but people who used to be active in chopping grienden or cutting reeds. People who can just remember the pre-war agricultural business, before the big changes. Their stories are important for the people working on landscape management now. Firstly, because it gives us more insight into the maintenance of different parts of the landscape in the past. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because so little of this work has been written down. We may now look a little strange at this, but it is simply the case that the most mundane work is not described in detail. We don’t know a detailed manual on how to do the dishes or sweep the pavement. In the same way, there never used to be much written about the maintenance of an alder hedge: the farmers in the areas concerned knew this very well, it had been done in the same way for generations, and nobody bothered to go and describe this everyday work in detail. As a result, we now actually know very little about the management and maintenance of such landscape features: when was work done in the duck decoy, how were the prickly hawthorn hedges cut, what tools were used in the osiers?

The stories in this book, from people who actually experienced the work, answer these questions.


Duck decoys – Interview Herman ten Klooster
Elzeningelsingels – Interview Jan Boerema
Heathlands and peat pits – Interview Klaas Kiers
Wooded banks – Interview Johan Klaassen
Oak coppice – Interview Bart Elshof
Wood paths – Interview Maarten van der Wind
Farmyards – Interview Piet Kelder
Reed beds – Interview Sophie Kea
Grienden – Interview Aart Horden
Hawthorn hedges – Interview Adriaan Harthoorn
Poplar bushes – Interview Rien van de Laar
Standard orchards – Interview Toine Jacobs

Historical ecology of the Limburg Kempen

Bijdrage tot de historische ecologie van de Limburgse Kempen (1910-1950) : tweehonderd gesprekken samengevat

Uitgever: Stichting Natuurpublicaties Limburg
ISBN: 9789074508087

In the Belgian-Limburg Kempen region, Joël Burny asked older residents about how they interacted with their landscape in the first half of the 20th century. His research shows that traditional insights often do not hold true for this specific area. The new insights should provide more guidance in determining the current form of management, which should be based much more on historically accurate references.


The book is a summary of a large series of interviews conducted with 96 elderly residents in the Belgian-Limburg Kempen region. These interviews covered the traditional use of heathland and stream valley grasslands, providing a picture of how the landscape functioned in the early 20th century. This is the period before the mechanisation of agriculture and before the large-scale use of nitrogen-rich manure.

The interviews revealed details of the historical use of the landscape that would otherwise have been lost. These include work done by farmers in the first half of the 20th century related to watercourses, stream valley grasslands, liquid meadows, dry and wet heaths and fish ponds.

It Heidenskip

De Oerpolder, het boerenleven achter de dijken

Hylke Speerstra

Olympus, 2006

ISBN: 9789025429775

Speerstra’s major project, which he began in 2002, was to describe nineteenth-century life in It Heidenskip, a small village community southeast of the Frisian town of Workum. To this end, he held interviews with more than two hundred residents, former residents and others involved and studied (family) archives and old diaries, among other things. He supplemented the missing facts with fiction. The result was De oerpolder, which was presented to great interest on 8 June 2006 in It Heidenskip’s Hervormde Kerk.

In this book, Speerstra sketches the harsh rural life of the time, in which the often poverty-stricken farm workers and their children were almost entirely dependent on their farmers, who themselves had to endure the whims of the landowners from whom they leased their farms – while all could be affected by, for example, water disasters, cholera and livestock diseases. De oerpolder was marketed in a Dutch translation with the same title in 2007.

About his motives for writing De oerpolder and his working methods, Speerstra explained in the book’s epilogue: “It is a way of shaping a reality that is as close as possible to the real thing. At the same time, it is a search for the farmer’s child that I myself was and remain. It is the peculiar longing for the place where my ancestors grew up, tried to survive and hoped to find an existence; it is the yearning for a sphere of life that I loved, sometimes feared, that sometimes oppressed me, that I would eventually leave. Because the tough ground apparently asked too much and gave back too little. And because another world and future attracted me.”

Fat cattle market

Oral testimonies recorded about Zomergem’s Vette Veemarkt.

Interviews Gaby De Zutter


Fat Cattle Market


The book is the eighth issue within the Erfgoed Leeft series, which from now on will be called Erfgoed Meetjesland. This book is the first in a new layout with more color, more photos and more pages. In terms of content, we continue the familiar momentum of offering quality in a simple and clear style. We also keep the focus on oral testimonies. In this way, each edition takes on a personal character.

Welcome to the world of cattle fairs, with beautiful prize animals, proud farmers, large allotments and strict veterinarians. The Vette Veemarkt of Zomergem occupies a special place in the Meetjesland. Once a year this community is turned upside down. By means of personal stories we tell the story of this alive tradition.

Oral history of manual hop picking

De hopoogst in Hekelgem in 1913

Kort, rap & zonder blad – Hoppepluk tussen 1880-1960

Author: Mathias Cheyns

Publisher: De Klaproos, 2009
ISBN: 9789055081059

This project, which ran from October 2008 to June 2009, was an initiative of the Poperinge Hop Museum. Fifty former hop pickers and hop farmers from the two big Flemish hop-growing regions, the Aalst-Asse region and the wide area around Poperinge, were interviewed in a scientific way. More than 40 hours of testimonies about a special piece of agricultural history were recorded and preserved for posterity. After all, until the early 1960s, hops were picked entirely by hand. Thousands of Flemings were at work in the hop fields during the first weeks of September, making picking a social event par excellence.


The testimonies were compiled, cross-checked with other sources and processed into the book ‘Kort, rap en zonder blad. Hop-picking between 1880 and 1960’.

Swine fever in Boekel

Heemkundekring Boekel


Interviewers: Martha van Eerdt and Rick van der Horst

Number of interviews: 3


On February 4, 1997, exactly one month after the last Elfstedentocht and 5 days before Carnival, swine fever was detected on a farm in Boekel, Venhorst. Just as corona is referred to as “patient-zero,” this farm was “company-zero,” so to speak. As it turned out later, there were many more infections by then. And as with corona, the crisis was greater and the swine fever lasted much longer than everyone initially thought.
Together with three people involved at the time: the town clerk, a veterinarian and a pig farmer, we look back on the events that suddenly landed Boekel on the front pages of the national newspapers. Everyone who was there at the time will have their own story. We hope that the three personal stories in this article will prompt others not yet told to tell their stories as well.


Fruit stories in Haspengouw

Kersen eten op zondag te Moelingen (Theo Broers)



Number of interviews: 67

Availability/accessibility: unknown

Sappig Verteld



Haspengouw is known as the fruit region of Belgium. The history of this region has already been extensively studied. But the personal stories of those working in the Haspengouw fruit sector have not yet been extensively covered.


The ‘Fruit Stories’ project, which ran in 2008 and 2009, wanted to change this with interviews. The main focus was on the personal histories of the fruit growers. How was daily life as a fruit grower? How did they experience the major changes the fruit sector underwent? What were their personal lows and highs as growers? Secondly, the stories of other actors (fruit pickers, people working at the auction…) were also covered. The interviews were unlocked for the public in the book Sappig Verteld.


Snoeien van hoogstam (fotoarchief Boerenbond, KADOC)

Heuvelland, farmers at rest

Landbouwers op rust


Number of interviews: 20

Accessibility: unknown


Manual for mondelinge ‘geschiedenis van alledag’

Leren luisteren

Not much research has been done on the evolution of agriculture and rural life in the 20th century. The municipality of Heuvelland, CAG, heritage cell CO7 and the province of West Flanders therefore joined forces in 2010 to fill this gap.


As part of the project, some 20 testimonies and stories of retired farmers were recorded and processed. The most interesting testimonies were recorded on video. The results were cross-checked with and supplemented by various other sources, including agricultural censuses.

Based on the collected material, an extensive article was written, “Den boer op. A manual for conducting interviews and recording oral history was also developed as a result of the project.


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