A smart harvesting robot that separates chicory heads from their roots. Fragile bell pepper plants growing up a rope. Or pheromone traps among apple trees that keep harmful insects at bay. BelOrta wants to show off fruit and vegetable cultivation craftsmanship with its pop-up exhibition 'RIJP, the art of growing'.
On Sunday, September 17, the exhibit officially opened to the public in Mechelen, Belgium. "We're delighted with the result. The images look fantastic, and it's a wonderful way to highlight a side of cultivation that's completely unknown to many consumers," begins Glenn Sebregts of BelOrta.
In this pop-up exhibition, photographer Jimmy Kets outlines 12 local BelOrta growers' professional passion. Belgian actor Stefaan Degand lends voice to the images with spoken stories. "People greatly prefer local fruits and vegetables, but in stores, that doesn't always translate into effective buying behavior. That's partly because there's little to no knowledge of exactly what local (think craftsmanship, generational expertise, etc.) means. 'RIJP' aims to highlight that craftsmanship."
Fly on the wall
To accomplish that, Jimmy spent days moving freely throughout the 12 different growers' companies, capturing the going-ons in photos. "He was like a fly on the wall," Glenn says. "I was asked to do this expo to highlight fruit and vegetable growers, and I was immediately interested. I'm passionate about cooking and the products I use in that. Especially local vegetables; I try to use them frequently in my dishes. Then it's nice when you can contribute to the awareness of this," says Jimmy.
Photo: Jimmy Kets
"A farmer's life is often romanticized; some consider it outdated. However, these days, everything is a well-oiled, fully optimized machine. I wanted to combine that romance and innovation to create images. It was vital I be free to do it my way, which I did. I spend many unplanned days at the growers. You can fixate endlessly on details, but I wanted to look around and see what kind of stories I found."
"A group of seasonal workers working in the asparagus fields with music from home blasting, or a cucumber grower with a big tiger on his shirt. I followed my instinct to the things that stood out for me—always keeping in mind, of course, the goal of telling the story of craftsmanship. I think we definitely pulled that off," Jimmy explains.
Glenn agrees: "This exhibition highlights multiple facets, from traditional generational knowledge-sharing to high-tech-driven innovations. Given the open day's turnout, the public recognizes that, too, and over 500 visitors came to our small-scale test event. That's a very nice number for this brand new concept, given the exhibition's modest set-up, combined with car-free Sunday in Belgium and the Day of Agriculture."
One of the growers that is a subject in the exhibition is bell pepper grower Didier Algoet. He, too, is well pleased with the result. "People know what we grow but don't know the story behind that. Only 20% of Belgians know bell peppers are grown locally; for eggplants, it's only ten percent," he says.
Prelude to more
Jimmy notices that, too. "Many consumers don't know where their food comes from. I've learned an extraordinary amount from my time on BelOrta growers' farms. I gained much admiration for them and the work that goes into getting a product on store shelves. I loved catching a glimpse of that life, and it was much tougher to portray it beautifully," he says.
Photo: Jimmy Kets
The pop-up exhibit in Mechelen is over now but will soon begin its tour of Belgium. "More information on that will follow, but in the meantime, you can admire 'RIJP' online. This exhibition is also intended to be the starting point of more such initiatives to give the craftsmanship of, for, and by our growers the attention it deserves," Glenn concludes.
See the expo here: www.vakmanschapvanhier.be