What is Social Farming?
Social Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services in rural areas. The farm is not a specialised treatment farm; rather the farm remains a typical working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in the farm’s activities in a non-clinical environment. It also creates the opportunity to reconnect farmers with their local communities through the opening up of their farms as part of the social support system of the community.
Who is involved in Social Farming?
A number of people can be involved in Social Farming at different levels. These include the farmer; the person engaging in the Social Farming service (known as a participant); staff and organisations that support the participant; the participant’s family; the farm family; and the local community.
Of these groups of people, the participant and the farmer are central to the concept:
- The participant – participates in the farm activities under the supervision of the farmer.
- The farmer – provides the service, supervising and guiding the participant in the farm environment and engaging in the farm activities.
It is important that it is the participant’s choice to engage in Social Farming and that the farmer and the participants are supported within the Social Farming service. For providing the Social Farming service, the farmer is paid to cover their personal input and the resources required.
What happens on a typical Social Farming day?
A Social Farming day will be slightly different on each individual farm but generally starts with a welcome to the farm and a chat about what the day’s activities will involve. The morning activity/activities are completed with a tea break a good opportunity to catch up on what has happened since the last day both on and off the farm. After lunch, the afternoon activity/activities are completed and the end of the day is marked with a tidy up and talk about the next day’s activities.
What are the benefits of Social Farming?
Social Farming has wide-ranging and far-reaching benefits that are primarily experienced by the participant and the farmer.
- The participant – benefits from being in a natural, outside environment; learns new skills; has the opportunity to care for animals and plants; develops new relationships with people; grows in confidence as they achieve and learn on the farm; have a role on the farm and a feeling of doing something worthwhile; is integrated into the local community.
- The farmer – experiences satisfaction from supporting participants to learn new skills and grow in confidence; has company when working; achieves projects/tasks that are much easier to complete with the help of enthusiastic participants; witnesses their family and community play a part in helping others to have a rewarding experience in a farm environment.
What has happened to date in Social Farming in Northern Ireland?
The Social Farming Across Borders (SoFAB) project (2011-2014) piloted Social Farming in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland. The project resulted in practising Social Farmers and provided an evidence base that the concept works in a Northern Ireland context. In October 2015, the Social Farming Support Service was launched within the charity Rural Support and exists to support existing and new Social Farmers to provide an effective service that referral organisations are aware of. The number of practising Social Farmers and farmers interested in the concept is growing as awareness is increased and the benefits are understood. In 2016, Social Farming taster sessions were facilitated through Rural Support with funding received from the Public Health Agency. A Social Farming Capital Grant Scheme was made available by DAERA in 2016 to enable farmers engaged in the concept to adapt their facilities and improve accessibility with the aim of benefitting Social Farming service users and the farm enterprise.
What are the barriers to the development of Social Farming in Northern Ireland?
A number of barriers have the potential to affect the development of Social Farming in Northern Ireland. These include:
- Funding – long-term, sustainable funding is required to enable farmers to develop a Social Farming service that best meets the needs of participants. A range of funding arrangements could be used for this purpose.
- Transport – cost-effective transport arrangements need to be in place for participants to become engaged.
- Lack of awareness/understanding – Social Farming must be recognised as a service that can positively impact on an individual’s life and its value understood.
A cross departmental approach must be taken to secure the future of Social Farming.
What do I do if I’m interested in Social Farming?
First thing to do is get in touch. Whether you are a farmer, service user, staff member, family member/supporter of a service user, you can contact the Social Farming Service Coordinator who is responsible for the Social Farming Support Service in Rural Support on the details below.
Mobile: 0773 615 8983
Office: (028) 8676 0040