Helping the Farmers


The autumn of 1974 (September, October and November) was one of the wettest in living memory in Belgium, and to my knowledge still stands as a record in my lifetime for the amount of rainfall (at 411.6 litres per square metre).

This meant that especially in the clay grounds between Ghent and Antwerp, farmers could not use their harvesting equipment for fear of getting them stuck in the mud. I see from records of that period that the army was called in to help with the harvest, but what appears to be less reported was that students also helped their bit.

I had just started the repeat of my first year, this time better organised and prepared and staying in student accommodation in no.4 Van Hulthemstraat. All I know is that I heard of the intention to bus in volunteers from the student population in Ghent to do our bit for the farmers.

To be honest, I can’t remember too much about it, apart from the fact that a group of my friends were coming along (maybe that’s why I decided to tag along), that the fields we were doing contained maize, and that at the end of the day we were all sitting together in the farmer’s large room having a hot drink before being bussed back to Ghent.

It was just a single day we were asked to take part, some time towards the end of November or the start of December (hence not yet in danger of interfering with the first semester exams), and as far as I’m aware nothing of the sort ever happened again in my days as a student or any time I was at university.

Did it make me feel all virtuous? Hardly. It was more like a fun day out with friends, a bit like doing an outdoor activity, except that you didn’t have to pay for it. I just hope we really made a difference and it wasn’t just a grand but largely meaningless gesture.

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