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Abandoned Farmstead: How is a farm like a church? (Sample case)

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Re-imagining an abandoned farm in Overijssel, The Netherlands: How is a farm like a church?

Introduction to Case Studies

At 'Case-Studies' you will find one of the outlines of the workshops we conducted throughout the fall and winter of 2017, including details about the case used and the specific design challenge proposed. The cases were built around archetypes of regeneration challenges. You will find an example of storytelling that might serve as a source of inspiration. Based on our experience, the sample workshop structure include a list of methods used (excluding the opening and closing in plenary). We hope they can be helpful for both novice and experienced facilitators when designing an event.

Workshop Outlines

The cases include workshop outlines developed for a 1.5-2 hours workshop. In all workshops, participants were divided into small subgroups of 5-8 people per table, which allows participants to move through the exercises quickly and can help foster a trusting atmosphere.


In the various workshops, we experimented with different ways of facilitating. For example, at the Transformations 2017 Conference, with a total of roughly 40 participants, we assigned one master facilitator and one table facilitator for each small group. The master facilitator welcomed all participants, led a short warm-up, gave an overview of objectives and theoretical inputs, and then led the final closing of the event. The table facilitators guided their group throughout the workshop, working with different case studies and different methods. During such a high-paced workshop, it was useful to have the master facilitator keeping time and keeping each table on track. In Aveiro we used an in-between structure, wherein each group had a table host that supported participants by handing out materials, answering questions, and generally setting the tone. The master facilitator took the main role of guiding the process, supported by a timekeeper and assistant.

The Cases

The stories we crafted for each case were based on the principles of storytelling. For each case, certain imaginative aspects were deliberately highlighted. For example, in the case of the abandoned farmstead, natural elements and beings were given a central role in the story, in line with a shift to a more-than-human perspective. In the other variation of the abandoned farmstead case, the story highlighted the spiritual and religious history of the region to evoke a more enchanted perspective on the future of the farm. In the case of the new city centre and the dismissed military area, the idea of expanded time was combined with a more-than-human perspective.

Case 3: an abandoned farmstead

Workshops conducted with this case

Transformations 2017 Conference, Dunde, UK

MSc course Global Sense of Place, Wageningen, WL

Case summary

In a tiny rural community in the east of the Netherlands, a farm has recently been abandoned by the family who ran it for over a hundred years. Abandoned farms are a common issue in the Netherlands and people are searching for ways to put them to new and innovative uses. The local government of the province of Overijssel is looking for creative ideas that can give this farm a new life and a new role in the surrounding community. The team with the best idea will be rewarded with the keys to the farm for two years, in order to implement their idea. 

Design dilemma 

How can we start thinking beyond a farm as a productive unit? More specifically, how can the idea of a farm play a potential role in regenerating a sense of enchantment, spirituality, and belonging back into people’s lives? Consider that, for many people, the church does not suit these roles anymore, while the rational, modern worldview does not accommodate people’s mystic, spiritual and social/psychological needs either. 

Story script (as read to participants) 

Since 1910, the Warmelink family has been living on this traditional, conventional farm in Stegeren. Stegeren is a tiny village in the east of the Netherlands in the province of Overijssel. After more than 100 years, the family is going to leave the farm. More and more farmers in the Netherlands are leaving their farms. Others are trying to reconstruct the function and role of their farm in the community. If nothing changes, around 3000 farms will be left abandoned over the next 10 years in the province of Overijssel alone. The local government wonders how to keep these farms attractive and meaningful places in the future. 

The tiny village of Stegeren originally grew out of a monastery that had a farm. When people started renting land from this monastery, the community of Stegeren was born. Stegeren, which includes the surrounding countryside, has a population of around 170, most of whom were traditionally farmers. Over the last couple of years, people without an agrarian background have also entered the community: a doctor, a surgeon, a pharmacist and a couple of entrepreneurs. Still, it is known as a close community. Neighbours know each other and have a chat at the end of the day. Whenever someone needs help, the community is there. For example, when a cow is labouring or when a marriage needs to be organized everyone pitches in to help. 

Stegeren is part of the municipality of Ommen, a larger, lively town that has, historically, played an important role in the Dutch trading businesses. The municipality of Ommen lies not too far from the most densely populated urban area in the Netherlands. About 1,5 hours by public transport from Amsterdam. In and around Ommen, there are many active associations for playing sports and music (a typical, traditional Dutch music association in Ommen is the ‘harmonie’, founded in 1908). Joining the scouts is also common for children and young adults. The place is known for its beautiful nature, attracting many people to the area. There is a natural campsite in the neighbourhood, and several places where bikers and walkers can rest or have a cup of coffee. ‘Nature’ in the Netherlands is typically linked to agricultural landscapes, as ‘wilderness’ is a rather uncommon phenomenon. 

In the past, nature also used to have a central role in spiritual or religious traditions in the Netherlands. Certain trees, for example, served as a holy place for worshipping. The centrality of nature in religion and spirituality became less and less, however, with the introduction of Christianity in Western Europe. Apart from the integration of some pagan rituals, like the Christmas tree and Easter fires, nature slowly disappeared from daily religious life as Christianity became more prevalent. The Christian church did, however, play a central role in people’s spiritual and social lives. The church supported practices of reflection and contemplation, and gave people a clear path to find meaning in life, to have spiritual experiences, and to foster the simple pleasures of joy and silence. In addition to these spiritual dimensions, churches have traditionally served a vital social role in communities like Stegeren. Physically, they provided meeting places and places of refuge. Socially, they provided guidance and advice on all matters of daily life, playing a role in children’s education and in taking care of the less fortunate, and elderly, people. The church supported people in important or difficult moments in their life, providing rituals from the birth of a child and the marriage of a young couple to the death of a loved one and everything in between. Nowadays, however, the church is losing its central role in communities and its influence on people’s daily lifestyles. Noticing this gap in community life, we can wonder what type of institutions, structures, or social norms could fill the human need for spirituality, social connection, and rituals in life. Thinking specifically about Stegeren, how might the abandoned farm of the Warmelink family contribute? 

Taken from our toolkit on art-based methods (p.74). Download your copy here!

Links to methods referred at the outline above


Circle of Objects

Many uses



Evoking the Senses


Guided meditation



Silent Conversation

Prototyping on a Map


Learning & Commitment

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