ReROOT Output

Haspengouw and Westland

Platform Building Project Updates

Haspengouw and Westland

text by site researcher Carolien Lubberhuizen (UU)
Edited by Cornelia Tippel (ILS)
The platform-building process in Westland and Haspengouw co-created an exhibition showcasing both new and traditional agricultural rituals and practices from farmers in Romania and Moldova, as well as from Central and Eastern European (CEE) migrant workers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The exhibition was displayed at the yearly blossom blessing in Haspengouw and later in the period leading up to "thanksgiving" day in Westland. Its purpose was to facilitate conversations and dialogues about heritage, agriculture, and migration through performative and tangible means. Through these interactions, the exhibition brought migrant workers, local residents but also other actors together around the question of how to acknowledge and provide for the structural presence, role and needs of (temporary/returning) migrant workers as co-inhabitants beyond labour and exploitation. Dialogues revolved around what is shared – in working and living in agricultural regions such as Westland and Haspengouw.
This platform took place with agricultural migrant workers in Westland in the Netherlands, a region with a lot of greenhouse agriculture of vegetables such as tomatoes, plants and flowers, and Haspengouw, a region in Flanders, Belgium, with a lot of fruit horticulture, such as apples, pears and strawberries. Research was conducted by spending time working in the fields, greenhouses, housing facilities and getting to know local (urban and rural) contexts of arrival, and slowly building relationships with migrant workers, but also with farmers.

From this research, disconnection, invisibility and the unsustainability of agricultural migrant work were identified as common issues leading to a lack of structural provision and access to resources, care, solidarity, and services beyond work. In the Dutch context, national debates and policy changes mainly focus on exploitation by employers, and research mainly looks at working- and housing conditions, or to political-legal positions of migrant workers in the Netherlands. To a lesser extent, this has also been the main way seasonal labour in horticulture has been discussed in Belgium and Haspengouw. Local policies and arrangements in both the municipality of Westland and the municipalities of Haspengouw facilitate labour and registration, but do not regard migrant/seasonal workers as a (temporary/more permanent) newcomers that should be accommodated in any other way. This creates a local ecosystem of arrival in which migrant/seasonal workers are not really regarded as co-inhabitants, and are occasionally even met with resistance, particularly towards their arrival and housing arrangements.

Within this polarized, politicized and mediatized context, the platform needed to move away from the trodden paths of conflict, namely these farmers/employers that exploit on the one hand, and the workers that are exploited (usually represented by labour unions or certain NGO’s) on the other hand. This does not do justice to peoples more nuanced subjectivities and agency. As will be further explained in the next sections, the intention of the platform was to focus on something that is shared instead of different. The main goal of the platform was to change recurrent (local) narratives, to get local residents but also other actors to pay more attention to these issues, and essentially revolved around the question of how to acknowledge and provide for the structural presence, role and needs of (temporary/returning) migrant workers as co-inhabitants, beyond labour and exploitation.
Target groups/stakeholders
- Local residents
- (Retired) farmers
- Farming representatives/organizations
- Migrant organizations, NGO’s and welfare organizations
- Migrant workers in Haspengouw and Westland
- Local policy makers
- Religious/ceremonial leaders or organizations
- Heritage organizations/regional museums (CAG, Museum Westland)
- Migrant workers (also those who haven’t participated)
Lessons Learned and Open Questions
Positionality and Transformation:

  • The researcher emphasizes the importance of positionality in their research. After over a year of fieldwork, they grappled with transitioning from being an observer (positioned in the fields) to adopting an activist position within the field of agricultural labor migration.
  • Working directly with migrant workers allowed the author to build meaningful relationships and gain an embodied understanding of the spaces they studied.
  • The researcher acknowledges that her favorable position with farmers and employers facilitated access to these spaces.

Activism and Safety:

  • To shift towards a more activist or normative stance, the researcher needed a strategic entry point where she could bring stakeholders together. Importantly, this entry point had to be safe for all involved parties.

Creative Practices and Politics:

  • Creative practices related to migrant heritage and agriculture serve as a powerful tool.
  • These practices highlight both big ‘P’ politics (such as political economy contexts) and small ‘p’ politics (participant involvement in creative research).

Creative Participation:

  • Despite resource constraints, the author emphasizes the importance of creative means for ensuring participation.
  • Using techniques like photographs allowed them to include participants who might otherwise be difficult to reach.

Local Collaboration Matters:

  • The author’s experience moving an exhibition from Haspengouw to Westland highlighted the significance of local collaboration.
  • In Haspengouw, working with migrant workers, farmers, and the tourist office helped overcome resource limitations.
  • However, lacking a local partner who shared the same sense of importance and had broader networks limited inclusivity.
  • In Westland, collaborating with someone who understood the urgency and had connections led to a more inclusive platform-building process.

Mediating Power Dynamics:

  • Collaborating locally facilitated mediation of power dynamics.
  • Bringing contributors and different audiences together allowed everyone to become active participants in the platform
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