Kevser Guler with Wapke Feenstra
projects & works
Potato Growers

shows & archive
Istanbul Biennale TR

Kevser Guler with Wapke Feenstra (ENG (and Turkisch on request) )
Potato Growers Booklet made for Istanbul Biennale 2019

Potato Growers
I joined the local team of The Rural project in February 2019, upon Istanbul Biennial’s invitation and our meeting with Wapke Feenstra. In March, we went to Cappadocia with Wapke and there we visited farmers who grow crops including potatoes. This was Wapke’s second visit. She had already started her research and conversations in Cappadocia in June 2018 when she visited with the Whitecapel Gallerly’s advisory group to prepare “the Rural Assembly: Contemporary Art and Spaces of Connection” to attend the Cappadox Festival, which had the title “Silence”.

For the second edition of Cappadox Festival, “Let us Cultivate Our Garden”, we had also focused on the changing culture of agriculture in Cappadocia, which has been under massive pressure from tourism. With this acquired knowledge of the region and the guidance of Vice President of Nevsehir Chamber of Tourist Guides, Gaye Gönülal, our research for “Potato Growers” started by visiting farmers and villagers we had known since 2016. Wapke’s interests and questions shaped the research process in a way that the potato became its focus, as this topic would bring in histories of local knowledge, industrialization, land-use and globalization. That in turn led to the decision to share the stories of three potato-grower families from Cappadocia who grow potatoes at different scales, and in different markets; and also tell different stories of dislocation which have affected their ways of growing potatoes: Kara Family, Süt Family and Güven Family.

I think that the recent interest in the rural in urban contexts not only reflects a new trend but also the necessity of expanding the cultural field with it, starting with reclaiming the rural’s presence in contemporary culture. This expansion could take place not only through the institutionalized presence of art and culture in exhibition spaces, but also through a transformation of what is imagined as rural, and how proposals about it can be developed for the future. There are possibilities that art and culture could explore for disrupting the ways we are taught to think about the rural in and through visual culture, history and mass media. The word ‘rural’ can also be considered as a navigational tool, embodying suggestions not only for the ways we relate to the urban and non-urban, but also to labour, to agriculture and to soil as they are related to land. When people living in the cities do not have a real connection with the rural and its daily culture and production, they just make up their own images, which generally do not reflect the daily practices of rural life. Frozen images describing the rural as isolated and remote, or defining it as a romanticized place of retreat, idleness, beauty or fear neglect the rural’s never interrupted, always interconnected relations with the urban. Tackling these interconnections and exploring ways of sharing them with public has been one of the main interests of the project ‘Potato Growers’, stemming from Wapke Feenstra’s individual practice and the projects of Myvillages, which has produced many publications, two of which informed my studies regarding our “Potato Growers” project. The first is Images of Farming that Wapke co-edited with Antje Schiffers in 2011; the second is The Rural, published very recently by MIT Press as part of the Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art Series and edited by Kathrin Böhm and Wapke.

For the first research visit together, we planned a programme of visits to farmers and fields to learn about contemporary and traditional practices of agriculture in Cappadocia.

We started by learning a lot about grapes, vineyards and the viticultural history of the region, which underwent an irreparable break with the forced displacement of the Christian people of the region during the first years of Turkish Republic. But, today there are still families who continue to produce wine. We met with Mehmet Düzgün, Levent Düzgün and Mükremin Tokmak, who generously shared their knowledge about grapes and winemaking. We visited Osman Yüksel, who is also a local journalist and learned about his research into the aggressive agricultural practices of last thirty years, and his studies and efforts to introduce organic farming in the region.

We visited many villagers and their farms, including Dursal Keşan’s, who showed us traditional tools and explained the methods she applies to grow crops including potatoes. We have learned that the region was also famous for its fruit trees, like apricot, apple and plums. However, in Cappadocia fields and gardens have experienced a functional transition, particularly after the 2000s. While in many cases they were sold to their new owners to be used for tourism-related activities, others were left empty due to the changing circumstances the of families owning them. Dursal Keşan had a very similar story of her own, and she has not been able to continue farming for the last seven years. Through all our conversations with farmers, the potato proved to be the special plant through which to follow the transformation of Cappadocia’s culture and agriculture over the last decades.
According to recent research, the potato arrived in Anatolia in 1850 from Russia, via Caucasia, and was initially grown in Black Sea region and in fields along the Eastern borders of the country. From then on it was introduced in different parts of the country, from east to west and from north to south. In Cappadocia, it was not until the 1950s that it was grown extensively. Due to its volcanic and mineral rich soil, Cappadocia has actually proved to be one of the most fertile lands for growing potato, not only for Anatolia but worldwide. Since the 50s, potatoes have been grown in Cappadocia in increasing quantities. By the end of the 60s, the ‘Green Revolution’s high-yield seeds were being introduced in Cappadocia and across Turkey. During the 70s synthetic fertilizers and pesticides like DDT entered the fields of Cappadocia and traditional methods like dry growing, which we are going to describe in detail in the following pages, started to witness a decline. This was also the time when the potentials of farm mechanization and irrigation was promoted in Anatolia. And with the 80s’ globalization process and Turkey’s integration into world markets, farmers’ conditions grew more precarious as they became subject to its pressures. As Erol Güven, one of the potato growers from Güven Family says, these events left farmers ever more insecure and ‘undermined the last remnants of the policies that had been introduced following the “national economy” and “development” programs of the Turkish Republic since the 30s, which in some ways protected farmers and agricultural production in Turkey”.
The crop yield has increased since the 70s. However, because these new methods of production focused only about efficiency and not their ecological and social effects, they brought potato farmers to a dead-end. In 2004 planting potatoes and other tuberous plants was forbidden in an area of 20.000 hectares, with these fields put under quarantine for at least thirty years. The main reason for this ban was said to be potato wart, Synchytrium endobioticum; however our conversations revealed that there may have been additional reasons to forbid growing tubers, including the overuse of underground water sources and small springs, the contamination of these sources with agro-chemicals of various types, and also other reasons which are not that transparent but are directly linked with the national and local politics that govern the region.

Potatoes have been one of the most consumed products not only in Cappadocia but in Anatolian cuisine overall. They have been popular, with many delicious recipes; its nutritional qualities, health benefits and immediate availability for all the people have made it known as a food for poor. However, during the time we were working on ‘Potato Growers’ in2019, the potato had an unexpected moment of fame in debates regarding the high-inflation crisis of the Turkish economy. According to April 2019 statistics on, Turkey ranks first among major potato producing countries in terms of price rises with a 168 percent increase compared to 2018. Global prices were dropping while Turkey’s potato prices increased during this period. In media coverage, potatoes – together with onions – became a symbol of recent inflation in Turkey. Consumer prices in Turkey rose 1.06 % in January 2019, bringing the annual inflation rate to 20.35 %, according to the national statistical authority’s statement on 4 February and increases in food prices were presented as the biggest driver of inflation. Before the municipal elections of 31 March, the government opened specially set up greengrocer stalls (Tanzim Satış Marketleri) in many cities to fight increasing vegetable prices. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed vegetable and potato sellers for the increases, accusing them of manipulating actual prices . In March, he signed a decree abolishing the import duty on potatoes and setting a customs duty-free import quota for 200,000 tonnes of potatoes . The controversial discussions and regulations were still continuing as of May 2019. Thus the potato has also other connotations for contemporary politics in Turkey.

In line with Wapke’s artistic practice, we have been interested in collecting the stories of potato growers and redefining the image of their practices with our project “Potato Growers”. “Potato Growers” portrays three potato grower families the Güven, Kara and Süt families from Cappadocia with their stories and photographs. From our conversations with them and being for that time part of their lived experience and ordinary lives, we tried to learn mutually about the potato farmers’ daily routines and economic structures. During visits to the families’ houses, fields and farms, their daily work was photographed while conversations took place about the traditional and current ways of potato production and the changing conditions that surround it. We also talked about former and future generations of the three families. In the following pages, some of these shared moments will unfold in texts and photographs.
Discussing what are we representing in the rural, what is really happening there and on the land, and of how we can together disrupt the fantasized image of the rural, we came upon the idea of the next and final phase of “Potato Growers”. The Kara, Süt and Güven families are going to come to Istanbul in September 2019 and together we are going to organize a gathering for sharing the potatoes they grow, cooked according to each family’s favourite potato recipe. We look forward to an event that will bring together growers and consumers of potatoes and we hope it will serve as an opportunity where dialogue and conversation about potatoes can take place. This potato-eating gathering will be organized in one of the Istanbul Biennial’s exhibition spaces, during the opening days of the 16th Istanbul Biennial.

You are all invited!


Kara family in Çavuşin
The Kara Family has been living in Çavuşin for generations. They used to grow dry potatoes for the market, but in recent years they have produced only for their own consumption. This year, the family decided not to grow potatoes at all due to the prices of diesel, seed potatoes and fertilizer. Instead, one of their sons planted tomatoes to the field, again just for the family. Maybe next year the family will plant potatoes again.
Ali Kara is not interested in agriculture or work in the fields. He could hardly find where their garden is. His restaurant, which he has run it since 1987, takes all his time and energy. He buys the products for the restaurant from local markets, saying that ‘growing your own vegetables and fruit for your restaurant would require too much time, labour and energy and moreover it is not lucrative at all.’
Between the ages of 16 and 20, Ali lived in Germany. He went to West Germany to work alongside all the male members of his family. This displacement meant for decades a lot in terms of agricultural knowledge and labour for the Kara family. After the men left, it was up to the women to do the work of farming, raising children and everything needed for the household. We saw photos from that time with people posing in their villages; all the families were without young and adult men in the pictures. Whole generations grew up without their fathers being part of their daily lives. For the Kara family, as for many families in the region during this period, some of their fields and gardens could not be planted.
In Çavuşin, the soil is sandy. There are no water sources around. Here, potato growing used to be done very traditionally. They were grown dry, without any irrigation and using pigeon manure as fertilizer. It used to be done as follows: First dig the soil and open a hole as large as a football. Then put the pigeon manure at the bottom of the hole, a handful of manure for each hole. Then break up the soil around the hole and get enough of it to cover the pigeon manure with a thick layer of soil. Then put in the potato and cover it with a thinner layer of soil. The potato will start growing under the soil on its own, without any need of water until the harvest. For this dry method, pigeon manure is collected once in a year, in March before the pigeons lay their eggs, from the natural pigeon houses which are carved into the soft tuff rocks and cliffs of Cappadocia. The person who is to collect the pigeon manure, first burns some brushwood in the pigeon house to make sure the pigeons will not smell them afterwards. If the pigeons smell that a human has been in their pigeon house, they will not come back to it again. The manure is collected by two or three people with a ladder and they lift large bags up and down – one is filled with tools for cleaning out the pigeon house.
Ali says that dry growing is not possible nowadays for many reasons, one of which is the increased humidity of the air. He assumes that the dams which have been built around Cappadocia have affected this and created problems with fungus for the farmers. This problem may also be due to a combination of various changes in the climate.
Ali adds that not many people still harvest pigeon manure nowadays; and pigeons are not eaten here anymore. Although Christians of the region used to eat pigeons, for the Muslims of Anatolia, they are respected because they are believed to have helped the final prophet of Islam, Muhammed to survive. It is believed that, while he was hiding from his enemies in a cave, a pair of pigeons built a nest and laid eggs. Seeing the nest in the entrance of the cave made the enemies believe that Muhammad could not be in the cave, so his life was saved.

Süt family in Nevşehir
The Süt family, who are the founders of Gözde Zirai, are originally from Adıyaman. They moved to Nevşehir in 1985. During their first years there, the father Hacı Süt and his brother provided workers for a company which had potato fields in Nevşehir. By the 90’s, the company they worked for went bankrupt and they bought their first field to grow potatoes. In 1995 the company Gözde Zirai was founded officially. Today, the Süt family has fields in Adana and Kayseri and natural storage in Nevşehir. Since 2017 they have been the official representatives in Turkey of HZPC, a seed potato company that was founded in 1999 by the merger of Hettema BV and BV De ZPC, which are both from Friesland. De ZPC is from Franeker, which is just 4 km away from the farm Wapke has grown up.
Since 2017, the Süt family have grown only seed potatoes in their Tomarza fields. They have been working on that and for about 20 years. They store the seed potatoes in their natural storage house in Kavak, Nevşehir. In their fields in Adana, the family company grows only potatoes for consumption, which go directly to the market; here, harvest has already happened in May. Resul Süt, one of the three brothers who own Gözde Zirai now, showed us photos and videos from the harvest in Adana.
For each field, as for all potato growers, if they grow potatoes one year, then for the next three years they do not grow potatoes but other plants like wheat and pumpkins. But just like Ali Kara who said, smiling proudly while smoking a cigarette in his field house, ‘Once a potato grower, always a potato grower’, the Süt family describe themselves first and foremost. In May, we visited the Süt family’s potato fields in Tomarza, Kayseri and planted Colombo potato seeds. Colombo is the name of a variety of potato that is much preferred in Turkey. Each Colombo potato seed gives 15 to 25 potatoes. The seeding machine is set today in such a way that it can plant seed potatoes a distance of 22.5 to 23 cm apart.
For irrigation in the Tomarza fields, the Süt family get their water from two sources, one a small river, the other a larger spring. They use irrigation pipes. Irrigation is needed after June. They need to water the potato plants approximately 10 times until harvest, depending on weather conditions. They use mainly electricity for this. Resul Bey is a believer and thinks that God will help and that the water sources will never be drained. He says ‘the sun, the fertile soil of this land and the water sources were always here, and will always be, with the help of God!’ It is interesting that, like him, farmers worldwide are often devout believers in God. This cannot be read only as ‘conservative’, but also as an aspect of being dependent on nature, weather and things that are bigger than human life.
We also visited the natural storage houses of the Süt family. They own only one of the natural storage houses in the region: there are more than 1400 of these. For thousands of years the people of Cappadocia have been using these caves for storage to keep their fruit and vegetables fresh. The natural storage is at about 13 degrees all year round. Today they are mostly used for seed potatoes and for citrus fruits coming from Turkey’s Mediterranean coastal cities. They are perfect for potatoes since they are dark, dry and at the average temperature that potatoes like. Ertuğrul Bey, an agricultural engineer working for the Süt family says that when the whole capacity is used it can store 15,000 tonnes of seed potatoes, which may mean approximately 300,000,000 individual seed potatoes, according to his calculation.
On 21 May, the day we visited the storage, there were 200 tonnes, meaning 4,000,000 potatoes. Ertuğrul Bey who enjoys doing calculations, said that if we put all these 4,000,000 in a line it would be 19.5 km long!
Ertuğrul Bey, one of the engineers working for Gözde Zirai took us to the testing fields of the Potato Research Institute. The Institute is a public institution in Niğde that tests the new potato seeds on Cappadocian soil. The Institute conducts tests and shares the results with agricultural companies, among them Gözde Zirai. If a company wants to introduce a new seed potato to the seed market in Anatolia, it needs to know if it is really suitable in all respects for the market. We met also with Levent Ünlenen, an engineer working for the Institute, together with his team. However if a seed company wants to do all this on its own, it needs to set up a laboratory and hire staff, which will cost much more. Thus many companies prefer getting the seed potato test by the institute.
Ali Süt, the youngest brother of Gözde Zirai, introduced us to Mashar Taşkın, General Director of the Doğa Seed Company. The company was founded in 1996. In 2000 they opened their own research and development department to investigate and experiment on genetic modification for the seeds best suited to the soil and climate of Anatolia. They had started to think about this during the 90s when they recognized that companies from the Netherlands sold younger, 2 to 3-year-old seeds in the Netherlands itself; 4 to 5-year-old ones went to the farmers in the EU; and the older ones were sold to farmers in the ‘developing-world’– Turkey being regarded as one such country.
Doğa Seed wants to develop the best seed potatoes for Anatolia and now sell three types of certified seed varieties: DORUK (PEAK), ZİRVE (SUMMIT), KUTUP (POLE). The company, and potato growers in Turkey, exchange knowledge with farmers and agriculture companies from the UK and Russia. Doğa Seed gets its machinery from companies based in the Netherlands and the seeds that they work on also come from the Netherlands. They produce 155,000 tonnes of seed each year in their fields which have a total area of 35,000 dekares. Each year they grow potatoes at least on 23,000 dekares and produce 100,000 tonnes of seed, 80,000 tons of potatoes and 60,000 tonnes of frozen potato products.
Fast-food potato consumption in Turkey is not that high relatively speaking. Doğa Seed produces for the Middle Eastern market. There are only a couple of outlets where their products are sold in Turkey, where annual consumption is around 2 kg per person, which makes 160,000 kg per year. For frozen products, complete processing of a single potato is completed in one hour and the factory can process 9 tonnes of potatoes in each hour. Each day 14–15 trucks come.
In Turkey, potatoes with light bright-yellow colour are the most preferred. This changes from culture to culture. As one of the researchers says, in Arabic countries people like their fries to be browner. The colour of fried potatoes changes according to how much sugar they contain, the type of oil used and the duration of frying. In Doğa Seed Factory they are doing tests regarding the colour of fried potato, and for the Turkish market are trying at the moment to develop a seed potato with less sugar so that when it is fried it will get less brown. Meanwhile the general taste of both older and younger people is changing in Turkey, just as in the Netherlands, from softer to firmer potatoes.

Güven family in Derinkuyu
Güven family live in Derinkuyu. They have been growing potatoes there for more than 40 years. The family used to learn about plants and growing methods when they were kids, helping and working on the farm and fields together with the whole family. This togetherness has been the way that knowledge of traditional methods of growing is passed from generation to generation. Today one of the sons of the family is studying Agriculture in Nevşehir University.
The soil in Derinkuyu is fertile volcanic soil. Nowadays, farmers have to be registered and show their ID when they buy chemicals. Erol Güven says that it was not like this before, and because of the lack of control and regulation of the soil in some areas, large fields in some places have become unusable and prohibited for farming. We learned that, some of their fields are among those closed off. ‘once a potato farmer, always a potato farmer’ says Erol, explaining why he did not switch to other plants after the ban. He says that actually they did plant other crops and they are still doing so. However, if a farmer grows potatoes once, she/he gets really attached to it. It creates a bond that is almost a part of the farmers’ identity.
Since most of their fields are prohibited for potato growing now, they are renting fields to continue production. Some of the fields they rent are in Nevşehir, some are in Sivas. When Wapke asked if they had thought about moving from Derinkuyu to Sivas where they rent fields to grow potatoes, the family did not hesitate for a moment, saying that they never think about moving. As Erol says ‘It is my land here. You stay in your land. And me, I want to die here.’
They can grow potatoes 1 year in 4. In the three years between, they grow pumpkins and beans. In 2004 they started to plant types of potatoes which are resistant to illness. Erol told us that they used to do the planting by hand until 1986. That year one of the farmers bought a Miedema machine for planting. They gave the machine to the genius mechanic and repairman of their village, who dismantled the Miedema machine, analyzed the system and reproduced each and every separate part in oder to build one for each farmer! From then on the planting has been done by machines.
Erol says that nowadays the companies that are the most active in the seed potato market in Cappadocia – and across Turkey as a whole – are AGRIGO and HZPC, both of which are big Dutch export companies a. DANESPO is also a player.
Together with Erol we made some calculations about the fields we have visited. The Güven family’s fields that we visited in Cappadocia are 54 dekares in total.
1 dekare = 1.000 m2. In 1 m2, 7 potato seeds are planted 1 potato plant gives 20 potatoes. Thus in 1 m2, there will be 140 potatoes to harvest.
With these approximations, we calculated that Güven Family expects to produce a total of 7,560,000 potatoes from their fields in Cappadocia. If each potato weighs approximately 350 g, from fields totalling 54 dekares the family is going to get 2,646 tonnes of potatoes.
Erol says ‘İnşallah!’ (meaning ‘if God wills’).


Ancient Cappadocia has no exact boundaries. It is surrounded roughly by Eastern Black Sea Mountains to the north, upper Eupraphes to the east, the Taurus Mountains to the south and the high elevation of Central Anatolia to the west. The provinces of Nevşehir, Niğde, Malatya and Kaysero are within the region of Cappadocia as well as parts of the provinces of Yozgat, Sivas, Kahramanmaraş, Adıyaman and Adana. The plateau’s climate is continental with the relative natural vegetation cover. After her visit to the Cappadox Festival in 2018, Wapke Feenstra decides to focus on Cappadocia for her project within the frame of THE RURAL. Cappadox Festival is a festival of music, contemporary art and gastronomy, that took place between 2015 and 2018. The contemporary art programme of the festival was curated by Fulya Erdemci and Kevser Güler was part of the team for the first three editions as associate curator. For four editions held in Nevşehir providence, Cappadox has invited artists to think and produce in relation to Cappadocia and triggering various types of collaboration with the public of the region. The Cappadox Contemporary Art Programme has been unique for Turkey in the ways it has been explored producing and exhibiting art works in non-urban spaces including valleys, fairy chimneys, caves, and agricultural field.

Wapke Feenstra

Wapke Feenstra is part of Myvillages, founded in 2003 with Kathrin Böhm (DE/UK) and Antje Schiffers (DE). Myvillages passionately questions the cultural hegemony of the urban by addressing the relationship between the rural and the urban, looking at different forms of production, preconceptions and power relationships. Wapke Feenstra has been part of many co-operative projects in various constellations. In 1996 she was part of Manifesta 1 with the NEsTWORK froup and her writings from that time reveal a specific interest in the local. Having been raised on a farm, landscape, land-use and rural communities around the world are a focus. Collaborative works of the last decade include Grizedale Arts (UK), Ars Electronica in Linz (AT) and M12studio in Colorado (US). Recent commissions are by Arts Maesbashi in Maebashi (JP), Times Museum in Guangzhou (CN) and OK_Video with Ruangrupa in Jakarta (ID). Current projects include ‘Boerenzij’ (‘The Rural Side’) with TENT-Rotterdam (2018-2020), ‘Setting the Table: Village Politics’ with the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2019), and a new work for the Festival der Regionen 2019 (AT). Feenstra is also an initiator and editor of several (art)books published with Jap Sam Books. In 2016 the Myvillages monograph International Village Show (2016) was compiled with the Museum of Contemporary Art (GfZK) in Leipzig (DE). And with Kathrin Böhm, she edited The Rural, in the Documents of Contemporary Art Series published by MIT Press and Whitechapel Gallery London (2019).


“Potato Growers” Project is initiated upon the invitation of Wapke Feenstra and Kevser Güler by the Istanbul Biennial within the frame of the THE RURAL programme. THE RURAL programme is generated by Bige Örer and organized by the Istanbul Biennial.

Project team
Bige Örer, Elif Kamışlı, Bengisu Çağlayan

Potato Grower Families
Güven Family
Kara Family
Süt Family

Cappadocia Guidance
Gaye Gönülal

Wapke Feenstra

Texts on the Erol, Kaya and Süt families are written on the conversations with the families by Kevser Güler and Wapke Feenstra.

English Turkish Translation
Çiçek Öztek

English Proofreading
Guy Tindale

Turkish Proofreading
Çiğdem Öztürk

Graphic Design
Ulaş Uğur

A4 Ofset

Middle Earth Travel, Göreme


Ali Kara, Ali Süt, Alparslan Baloğlu, Asena Devyaran, Aslıhan Demirtaş, Atıl Ulaş Cüce, Azime Kabak, Bekir Kara, birbuçuk, Chelsea Pettitt, Dursal Keşal, Dürtük collective, Elif Güler, Ercan Cinkaya, Erol Güven, Ertuğrul Tekin, Fernando Garcia Dory, Fulya Erdemci, Gülce Maşrabacı, Halime Güven, Handan Güven, İz Öztat ve Belkıs Işık, Jane Scarth, Juul Lotte Petersen, Kathrin Röhm, Kazım Kabak, Levent Düzgün, Mehmet Düzgün, Mükremin Tokmak, Mustafa Aydın, Mustafa Canıtez, Osman Yüksel, Penpe Kara, Resul Süt, Rosemary Day, Sezai Ozan Zeybek, Süha Ersöz, Uçhisar Kadın Kültür ve Eğitim Merkezi

“THE RURAL programme organised by the Istanbul Biennial, is supported by the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Istanbul.”