Event report: Amsterdam Rural Forum

Collage of photos from the conference
Norette Ferns, Scottish Rural Network Support Unit

The Amsterdam Rural Forum and National Rural Networks meeting brought delegates from across Europe to Amsterdam on 11 and 12 May for presentations, workshops, performances and even milk tasting!

This inspiring event was a chance to hear about innovative rural development projects making use of the arts and to reflect on how we, at National Rural Network Support Units, can be more creative in our work.

They key message I took away from the event came from Jan Hartholt from the Dutch Rural Network who said in his presentation that for innovation you need imagination, and artists can help in the innovative process.

The highlight of the conference for me was the theatre performance of 'Pigland', a one-man play about pig farming in West Flanders that was both laugh-out-loud funny and very moving.

The play was written and performed by Lucas De Man in close collaboration with Johan Dehollander. It tells the story of Stijn, a 30-year old man who returns to his native country after travelling around the world for 12 years and his brother who stayed at home and took over the family farm.

As research for the play, Lucas De Man spent time with pig farmers and interviewed grain traders, bankers, members of farmers associations, veterinarians and agricultural workers. Over the past five years the play has been performed for thousands of farmers. You can find out more on the Company New Heroes website.

Other highlights included hearing about the Welcome to the Village Festival in the Netherlands. The event is run by dozens of self-employed people in the area where it takes place, and they make everything themselves - including beer! It impressed me how much true local involvement there was - they only use local caterers for example and organisers even bought a cow to provide meat for festival-goers. 

At the same workshop, we heard from 14 and 15-year-old Dutch students who gave presentations on different food topics - from healthy eating to renewable energy in farming. Their interest in the topics, confidence, and excellent English were very impressive. They all agreed that food should be taught more in school.

The pop-up Melk Salon was a chance for delegates to try different types of milks and to compare the taste based on type of feed, breed of cow, raw versus pasteurised.

Jana Svobodova, a theatre director from the Czech Republic, gave an inspiring presentation about her work with refugees and rural communities. Since 2003, Jana has been involved in theatre projects with refugees - both in refugee camps and in towns close to camps.

Former Liberian television personality Bright O. Richards talked about the Dutch New Connections project and also performed in the evening sharing the story of how he came to the Netherlands and why he started wearing clogs everywhere. You can find out more in a video from his talk at a TEDx event.

You can see photos from the event on Flickr, including some of the fantastic The Beach community space where dinner was cooked for us by people from the local neighbourhood.

You can find presentations, reports from the workshops and more from the event on the Dutch Rural Network website

Visit the European Network for Rural Development website to see the conference programme, download some of the presentation and see more photos.