History Arvense

After the war there just wasn’t enough money for excursions and guest speakers. That is because the university had problems of a different scale. For instance, in the first years after the war were unable to stay dry during lectures when it rained, because the educational buildings were still riddled with bullet holes. The lack of spending was noticed by one of the university its students. While studying Agriculture Jan Smeding noticed that basically all he learned was theoretical knowledge, while he wanted to see how things were put into practice. This made him contact professor Dewez to see if teachers would support a study association where students would be able to learn practical knowledge with excursions and theme evenings. He thought that this was a great idea and helped setting it up. After Smeding and his friends gave fellow students partially handwritten invitations for a theme evening of Ir. P. Bakker Arkema for the 15th of april 1947. It was the first activity and followed by the first General Meeting that same night. The association was called Arvense, which is latin for ‘in the field’. The goal of the association was to stimulate learning practical knowledge and to stimulate cohesion between the students. Smeding received an honourary membership for his initiative to form this association. In 2019 we managed to track down a 96 year old mr. Smeding after losing contact with him for over a decade. Two members interviewed him to hear about his amazing story.

There weren’t any committees in the early years. All the excursions were organised by the board and got to their location with the ‘bellebus’, which was a little bus from the university fitted with wooden benches with which they travelled through the entire country!

The focus of the association was agriculture, but the studies ‘Veeteelt’ (cattle breeding), ‘Zuivelbereiding en Melkkunde’ (Dairy) and even Economie (Economy) fell under this association. That is, because all those studies were more linked to agriculture in those days. However, over the years there were several heated discussions whether or not they should remain a part of Arvense. Tropical Agriculture students did not want to join the association as they were unsure about the future of their study due to war in the colonies. Meanwhile horticulture and Forestry already had their own association.
In the ‘50s the association started taking off. They managed to get the minister of Agriculture to do a theme evening in 1951. In 1954 the association already collaborated with VWTS to do an activity in Junushoff and that same year they had their first foreign excursion to the French potassium mines.
Then, in 1955, the university decided to make the different studies more distinct. This sparked even more discussion whether or not the other studies should remain a part of Arvense. Then in the ‘60s the university was obligated by the government to enforce student-teacher interaction and they used study associations to achieve that. That mix of circumstances was the reason that many studies left our agricultural association. Veeteelt left first after they had sent an official letter to the board on the 6th of January 1960 that announced that they would form their own association. That same year Dairy split off, which would later turn into food technology with their study association ‘Nicolas Appert’. Economy split off as ‘Economenclub’ on the 5th of November 1962, which later became ‘Mercurius’. Phytopathology split off in 1964 and Plant Breeding in 1969. Those last two will be the topic of later paragraphs. As this paragraph might spark unbelief and annoyance in other associations I want to present the following quote from Arvense lustrumbook ‘Wie zaait zal oogsten’: “Hoewel van de huidige studenten (bijna) niemand nog weet dat de studievereniging ‘De Veetelers’ is ontstaan uit Arvense, is dit toch zeer zeker het geval.” In the same paragraph the other studies are mentioned as part of Arvense.
The forced contact between association and the education department had little effect on Arvense and its related department. Contact between students and professors was already very well established through the first decades of the association.
In 1966 Arvense gained a new honorary member. That being professor F. Hellinga who was rector magnificus of the university at the time.
Then came the seventies and the government had new plans for higher education again. The studies were normally five years long in Wageningen, but the new regulations mandated that they would have to be four years universally. This gave students and teachers an entire year less to gain the essential knowledge and skills to go into the working field. This led to continuous restructuring of the study, which is thought to have cost decades of employee working hours. There was a lot of resistance against this decision and therefore the association started bringing out the magazine ‘Arvense’ to voice their opinion, but also to update members on the association.
In 1979 professor Dewez was named ‘Adviseur van de Verening’ (Advisor of the Association) for his help with setting up the association and his continued support. Professor Dewez was also an interesting figure as he has been rector magnificus and fought in the battle of the Grebbeberg. However, his nomination for advisor is still puzzling, because Professor Dewez passed away in 1960. Therefore, ‘1979’ might be an inaccurate year for his nomination.

Painting of professor Dewez.

Then the ‘80s started, which was a tumultuous decade for the students. Instead of continuously merging associations the university departments were often merged. This was due to the fact that employees were very hard to come by in those years. The fear was even that Arvense might only represent the students of part of a department in the future, because the amount of employees had dropped so drastically. This decade was also marked by a lot of critique on agricultural practice in the Netherlands. It was said that people took food for granted in those days and therefore the sector was easy to criticize by many. As Louise Fresco put it: “De mensen praten vegetarisch, terwijl ze ondertussen een heerlijk koteletje verorberen”.

The years shortly after 1989 were seen as the golden years of the association. They reached 150 members that year for the first time. It had gotten so large that members needed a ‘smoelenboek’ (Book with pictures and names) to learn who all the members were. Therefore, they released the first one that year.
However, those golden years ended after the association was hit with governmental policy again. This time it was a fatal blow. Arvense consisted of only 44 members in 1996 with just 3 first year students becoming member the situation seemed hopeless. Regardless of the impending merge the association still celebrated hitting 50 years in 1997 with a lustrum week and released their lustrumboek ‘Wie zaait zal oogsten’. That same year they merged with VWTS. This was a monumental change as the two oldest official study associations of Wageningen merged to form the newest, WSV Navantus.

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