Boerderijen en platteland in verandering. Een onderzoek naar herbestemming van boerderijen in Friesland

J.H.P. van der Vaart

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD thesis


Jacob H.P. van der Vaart (1999), Boerderijen en platteland in verandering; een onderzoek naar herbestemming van boerderijen in Friesland (Farm buildings and countryside in transformation; a study of the re-use of farm buildings in Friesland) Dissertation University Nijmegen, book published by Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden, 1999, 222pp., ISBN 90-6171-874-0 Summary This thesis is devoted to a socio-spatial investigation into the re-use and conversion of farmbuildings that have lost their agrarian function. The intention is to make a contribution to knowledge about the processes of change that are occurring in the countryside. In the introductory chapter, a sketch is made of the framework in which the re-use of farmbuildings occurs. The change of use of redundant farms for functions other than agrarian is a phenomenon that is part of a development generally characterised as a transition from an agricultural to an urbanised countryside. This transformation is the result, on the one hand, of the restructuring in agriculture under the influence of all kinds of economic and technological developments and, on the other, the fanning out of people and activities from urban centres to rural areas. As a consequence of the former, many farmbuildings have become redundant. As a consequence of the latter, activities are developed in these buildings which had never, or hardly ever, occurred in the countryside. However, this chapter also raises the question of whether all these changes have to be attributed exclusively to the mechanism of urban pressure. In examining the re-use of farmbuildings in a region such as Friesland, which in the Netherlands' context has to be characterised as relatively rural, an attempt is also made to shed more light on the aspect of endogenous development in rural areas. The investigation into the change of use of farmbuildings, conducted in the Netherlands and several other countries, has been restricted in large part to describing the volume and nature of the phenomenon in different regions, and exploring the attitude of the public authorities with regard to this subject. But many questions still remain unanswered. For instance too little is known about the consequences of the new uses for the countryside. In this study, in addition to describing the re-use situation in Friesland, it was also decided to arrive at a picture of the motives for re-use via the owners/occupants of these farmbuildings. Such an approach provides an opportunity of obtaining a clearer view of the consequences of the activities of all these individual actors for the content and shape of the countryside. This study should therefore be seen as an actor-oriented study. The owner/occupant of a farm operates within communal structures which act as a constraint on the realisation of individual wishes. The municipal government regulates the re-use of the buildings through instruments such as land-use plans and building permits, thereby functioning as the most direct executor of general ideas about what is desirable. Therefore, to explain the patterns found in the change of use of farmbuildings, we also analize the concrete executory practice at municipal level and the considerations on which this policy is based. The change of use of farmbuildings is viewed in this study as a question related to the interaction between man and environment. The second chapter begins with positioning our investigation within human geography. There are two main approaches to human activities in geography, a structural approach and an actor-oriented approach. To form as clear a picture as possible of the subject of our study, it was decided to use an approach in which the object is viewed from different perspectives. The starting point of our study is an actor-oriented approach, a quest for the motives of individual and collective actors for their doings and the way in which they ascribe significance to the farmbuildings and its surroundings. In addition an important place goes to the structural approach in the description and explanation of re-use patterns. This implies that multiple methods are used to describe and explain the phenomenon. This approach is best designated as triangulation. By combining the insights supplied by the different approaches, this study attempts to delineate the phenomenon of the change of use of farmbuildings in the process of change in rural areas. The concepts ‘countryside’ and ‘farm as building’ occupy an important place in our study. These concepts are discussed in sections 2.2 and 2.3, which also indicate the way in which the concept ‘rurality’ is used in geographic research. In this study we use the concept of rurality as a social construct. The concept of social construct is also applied to the buildings. Aspects important for a building are experiences of it as well as functionality. Generally speaking, it can be said that different values can be assigned to buildings. In ordering the considerations of owners/users, this study uses the framework of concepts developed by Marchand (1982) regarding the different values of buildings. In section 2.4 we elaborate on the choice of the seven municipalities in Friesland where the empirical research was carried out. Then, in separate sections, we discuss the different methods and sources used in the empirical research. Here, possible statistical sources such as farm counts and residence counts, the field inventory, the questionnaire and document analysis are dealt with in succession. The third chapter describes the extent and nature of the re-use of farms in Friesland in the mid-1990s and the development of this phenomenon over time, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century. The chapter also goes into the regional differences that can be distinguished. Described along with the analysis of the functional changes are the related outwardly-visible consequences for the farms and grounds. There are limitations to each of the different sources used in the description of the development of the phenomenon. In comparing the results of field inventory and calculations based on the farm and residence counts, it becomes clear that these statistical sources only lead to indicative results. The answers that the current occupants could provide about the history of use of their farms made it clear that change of use had also occurred in the first half of the twentieth century. This only involved small numbers, however. The real decline in the number of farms began in the second half of the twentieth century, first noticeable mainly in eastern Friesland, which had a large share in number of small farm businesses. After 1970, many larger farms also became superfluous and the number of redundant farmbuildings rose in the northern and western parts of the province as well. This is a process that is still going on. On the basis of the results in the seven municipalities investigated, we established that 45 percent of all farms in Friesland were being used for purposes other than agricultural in the mid-1990s. Clear differences were observed in the ratios of agrarian and non-agrarian use. In the east of the province, the ratio is 40:60. In the north and west it is 60:40. Currently, 85 percent of the re-used farmbuildings are mainly used for residence, 15 percent for non-agricultural business/industry. In the latter category, utilitarian use is combined with residence in 93 percent of cases. The figures show that the residential function has been retained at 98 percent of the farms. Over the years, we noticed, there is increased use of the farmbuildings to accommodate business/industry in one form or another. The consequences of the change of use are generally easy to deduce from the exteriors of the farmbuildings. It became clear to us that, to determine the visual consequences of re-use, the grounds have to be taken into consideration as well as the building. For about 60 percent of the re-used farms, the complex of building(s) and grounds still evoke a traditional agricultural impression. In fact, re-use goes more or less hand in hand with the fossilisation of the ‘look’ of a pre-1970 farm. At almost 25 percent of the farms, conversion has so extensively hidden the agrarian past that these farmbuildings would be better characterised as country house or villa. At almost half of the buildings accommodating a non-agrarian business the appearance of the traditional farmstead has sharply changed. From these results we conclude that, with the change of use of the farmbuildings that are so typical of the image of the countryside, the physical-morphological and visual consequences are less drastic than the extent of the phenomenon of re-use would make one surmise. Therefore, a change in function need not automatically mean that the countryside is physically urbanised to the same extend. The change of use of farmbuildings is seen in two main categories, viz. use as residence and use to accommodate an economic activity. Aspects of these two categories are described in Chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 brings up the question of who the occupants of residential farms are. The chapter first looks at the pace at which farmers= households are replaced by settlers from elsewhere. These new occupants are then further examined as to their origins and a number of social-economic and social-cultural characteristics. Insight into motives for taking up residence at a former farm are needed to obtain a better understanding of the conversion phenomenon. These results are then further refined with regard to the image the occupants have of their farms. On this basis, further findings can be stated about the changes that come with the residential use of the buildings. The replacement of the farmers’ households at the redundant farms is a gradual process. In the first five years after agricultural activity has ended, more than half of these farmhouses are still occupied by the households of the farmer. Thereafter their share declines. Even so, their share at farms where agricultural activity has ended 10 to 15 years earlier is still 20 percent. The farmbuildings occupants have a predominately rural background. For 72 percent of them, the previous residential address was in a village. Because other research shows that childhood living experience plays an important role in choice of residence, the chapter also looks into this living experience. About 70 percent of occupants spent all or most of their youth in a village. Furthermore, examination shows that 75 percent of the occupants come from Friesland. These results are an indication that, in Friesland, social change as a result of change of use into residential farms is less drastic than the theoretical supposition of a flight from the city would lead one to expect. Although a very large share of occupants have their origins in the immediate vicinity, this does not quite automatically mean that the social change is marginal. For a more in-depth view of the consequences of re-use, we queried the farm occupants on the social-economic characteristics ‘occupational group’ and ‘source of income’. It appeared that, in the social-economic sense, the settlers from cities differ from settlers from rural areas (60-65% higher occupational group vs. 40%). Social-cultural differences and possible influences on the local communities were measured on the basis of language (language spoken at home) and participation in local community. To the extent that the settlers have origins in the Frisian countryside, the home language is Frisian in 70 percent of cases. Among the new occupants from cities in Friesland, the figure is somewhat less than 50 percent. For occupants from outside Friesland, of course, the figure is even lower. Participation of the occupants in the local community turns out to produce a significant difference as to the origin characteristics ‘urban’ and ‘rural’, and ‘in’ and ‘outside’ Friesland. Particularly the farm occupants who came from beyond Friesland show much less participation in the local community, whether actively or passively. As to urban origin, it is striking that the settlers from cities in Friesland, although evidencing less participation than settlers from the countryside, still participate more than settlers who came from outside the province. On the basis of these findings, it appears that the settlers from outside the province - and particularly those who come from cities outside the province - can be accounted more than the others as outsiders in the local community. Although their share in the totality of re-used farm occupants is not very large, their occupancy of these buildings will still produce a small change in the local community. The most important motive for living at a former farm is the space it offers for ‘personal interests’ or hobbys. Also highly rated are the characteristic features of the building and the large living surface. This indicates that, in addition to aspects which point to the utility value of such buildings, experience plays an important role. The symbolic value is reflected in the importance of the character and model of a farmbuilding. As far as location is concerned, the most important role is played by the free situation and the related privacy. Also important are the extent of the grounds and the quality of the prospect or view. A large property and a free location provide opportunities for freedom of action with regard to the surroundings. These motives led us to conclude that people settle at a redundant farmbuilding for reasons that mainly have to do with the physical characteristics of the building and its surroundings. A former farmbuilding is attractive because one may realise there a lifestyle characterised by freedom of action and of leading an active life. These motives are further refined in this chapter by further examining the conceptualisation of the farmbuilding. This was done by means of open questions as to the significance the farmbuilding has for the occupants and by means of a structured question as to the values one assigns to one's farm. From a consideration of the results in the light of the value scheme developed by Marchand, it appears that the use value of the farmbuilding is most important, followed by the symbol value of the building. The exchange value and the sign value, on the contrary, are of very subordinate importance. Therefore the Marchand classification has only limited applicability. Living on a redundant farmbuilding mainly involves the use aspect, the fact that one can satisfy his or her domestic desires there, broadly speaking. Section 4.5 goes into the changes that have been made in the farmbuildings, internally and externally, as reported by the occupants. On the basis of their future expectations, we also look into whether these changes express the concepts about use and symbol value. Generally speaking, the occupants underestimate the consequences of their rebuilding for the character of the farmbuilding. Even so, there is great appreciation for the characteristic features of the farm. This appeared from the preferences for any necessary replacement of the building. Here it is striking that the ex-farmers who still live on the residential farm are considerably less attached to their old farmhouse. That result suggests that farm preservation is more a concern of the new occupants than the former farmers. In Chapter 5 we look further into the use of farmbuildings for non-agrarian economic activities. An essential distinction that has to be made here is the one evident between activity in which an entrepreneur tries to acquire income to be fully self-supporting and activity which can be considered as producing only supplementary income. The latter category is very diverse, varying from entrepreneurs who are trying to develop their own businesses alongside a job elsewhere to hobbyists and occasional entrepreneurs who earn a little supplementary income on a modest scale, e.g. by storage of goods or by offering bed-and-breakfast lodgings. In 93 percent of cases, use of farms for non-agrarian economic activity is combined with residence. The farmbuildings thus provide the possibility of combining living and working at one site. Main income commercial activities are found at 12 percent of all re-used farms. A supplementary income activity is established at 6 percent of all re-used farms. The majority of the economic activities belong to the service sector. The figure for the main income activities is 75 percent. For the supplementary income activities it is 90 percent. Accommodating a company at a former farmstead is certainly not intended as a temporary affair. Once established there, the entrepreneurs’ intention is to stay. We are led to this conclusion by both the duration of settlement of the commercial activity found as well as by future expectations and attitude with regard to possible relocation to a different building elsewhere. The data obtained here constitute a clear confirmation of the assumption by authorities that, to an important degree, farmbuildings can fill a role as incubator for new economic activities in the rural areas. The most important motives for starting up or establishing a business at a redundant farmbuilding are the space and the purchase price. Entrepreneurs give a high second place to motives having to do with living in the countryside. So the above-mentioned possibility of combining living and working is also pronounced here. As far as experience of the farmbuildings is concerned, we find that occupants/entrepreneurs display a somewhat more business-like attitude than the occupants of residential farms. For the entrepreneurs the symbol value of the building is somewhat less important. It appears that economic activities in re-used farmbuildings have mainly been started by people from the immediate vicinity. Two results support this finding. 75 percent of starting entrepreneurs are from Friesland and, regarding companies that moved to the farmbuildings, 70 percent came from the same or an adjacent municipality. The initiatives, therefore, have mainly been generated by the local, rural population and only to a small degree by settlers from urban centres. This means that the new developments in rural areas must be considered endogenous developments to a great extent. The establishment of these new businesses at redundant farmbuildings is important to the local economy. It contributes, on the one hand, to a diversification of the local economy over the countryside in tandem with a constantly deminishing number of farming enterprises. On the other, it provides new job opportunities in rural areas. The main income activities provide an average of 2.4 full-time jobs and 0.9 part-time jobs. For supplementary income activities the figures are, respectively, an average of 0.6 and 0.9 jobs. To determine how the re-use of farmbuildings described in the preceding chapters relates to government policy and in what way the farm-owners have been able to realise the change in function and the alterations and rebuilding that goes with it, Chapter 6 describes the views on re-use of farmbuildings by the authorities, particularly municipal government. In this we have restricted ourselves to the field of land use or physical planning. Over the years authorities made attempts to direct the re-use of farmbuildings. A suitable policy became an urgent need particularly in the 1970s, when the number of redundant farmbuildings increased sharply and interest in living in the countryside took flight. Through a comparison of the policy used in municipal land use plans for the rural areas in the seven municipalities, insight was gained in which policy is conducted. For a long time, the basic premise was resistance to residential use and economic activities not tied to the rural areas. That turned out to be difficult to control and maintain and municipal authorities generally adopted a flexible stance. It also appeared that municipalities showed great variation in their official attitudes. In the most recent land use plans the possibilities for a change of use of farmbuildings for residential purposes is no longer a debatable point in any way. At present it is even applauded, because it means that the buildings will be preserved. In addition, non-agrarian economic activities in redundant farmbuildings have become considerably more widespread in the last few years, in accordance with the stance formulated by the province in its regional plans. With regard to re-use of redundant farmbuildings for non-agrarian economic activities, municipalities are currently employing four principles. As long as the new use has a positive effect on the preservation of characteristic farmbuildings considering the aspects of landscape and cultural-historic value, it enhances the quality of life of the village and it is strengthening its economic base, this evokes a positive response. With such an attitude, further steps are taken towards creating a countryside that leans less and less on its agrarian basis, and more and more on a broader variety of living and working. In the conclusion, Chapter 7, the results of our study are summarised in broad lines, and considered in the light of the general processes of change which occur in rural areas. In the first two sections, a sketch is made of the main lines of the development of the Frisian countryside as a consequence of modernisation and progressive urbanisation of society and the extent of the phenomenon of ‘farms without farmers’ in this province. Sections 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5 describe in succession the social-economic, social-cultural and physical-spatial consequences of re-use on the basis of the most important outcomes of our study. Based on that, a number of policy recommendations are formulated in section 7.6. Regarding the possibilities of non-agrarian economic activity in farmbuildings, it is proposed that the combination of living and working on the premises be encouraged selectively, and thereby deploying small-scale, high-quality forms of economic activities that contribute to the diversity of the local economy. For purposes of countering undesired growth of enterprises in the rural area, it is proposed that binding contracts of establishment be concluded in advance with entrepreneurs, with the parameters of possibilities for the enterprise in the farmbuilding clearly determined in the contracts. This would avoid false hope and misconceived expectations. A third recommendation regards better support of the process of change of the farmbuildings by constituting a farm foundation in Friesland. The fourth policy recommendation is to creatively increase the possibilities for establishing multiple residential units in large farmbuildings. The content of section 7.7 is a brief theoretical reflection on the phenomenon of re-use of farmbuildings and how it has been examined in this thesis. In our study we determined that the way in which the re-use of farmbuildings has developed is the result, to an important degree, of the realisation of ideas of the occupants. It has also become clear that the constraining hand of the municipal authorities has been fairly clement. This result provides an interesting look at power relations, a theme to which attention has been called in years past in the context of developments in the rural areas. In this study, our choice to look mainly to the actor-occupant for explanations for the patterns in re-use has been a good way to increase insight into the broader question of re-use. The study has also made clearer the importance of the symbolic significance of buildings in the discussion about change of use, both among the occupants and the municipal government. From this, it appears that a behavioural approach, using the concept of the environment as social construct, can result in illuminating insights. In section 7.7 space is also devoted to a critical consideration of the concept ‘urban pressure’ and the related concepts of ‘overpressure’ and ‘underpressure’. Our study shows that there is regional pressure on the market of redundant farmbuildings in Friesland and that there is no underpressure situation whatever. The twin concepts just mentioned provide too restricted a perspective. We have shown that characterising a region by underpressure does not necessarily mean that this region is suffering from development deficiency. It may even be the case that a ‘shortage of pressure from the city’ in a rural region provides opportunities for people from the district and thus room for endogenous developments. Chapter 7 concludes with a reflection on the direction of development of the countryside. The new countryside has announced itself clearly in the re-use of farmbuildings for other purposes than agriculture: living in this specific habitat has also acquired a place for itself in rural areas and the variety of economic activities is manifest to the same extent. In this sense, the re-use of farmbuildings is a pre-eminent indicator of the changes that are occurring in rural areas. In the most characteristic rural building, the farm, a new countryside is beginning to emerge. The new countryside is a more versatile countryside, where endogenous strengths are present to counter decline.
Original languageUndefined
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Buursink, J., Promotor, External person
Award date01 Mar 1999
Place of PublicationLeeuwarden
Print ISBNs90-6171-874-0
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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