What is it?
Social farming is the practice of offering activity on family farms as a form of social support service. In social farming the farm remains a working farm at its core but invites people to participate in the day to day activities of the farm.
Therefore the farm is not a specialised treatment farm; rather, it remains a typical working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in farm 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.
What is the aim of the Social Farming Across Borders Project?
The Social Farming Across Borders (SoFAB) project promotes Social Farming as a viable option for achieving improved quality of life for people who use health and social services as well as farm families, through enhancing social inclusion and connecting farmers with their communities.
Who can benefit from Social Farming services?
Farmers have the opportunity to augment their income through the development of social service provision, further utilising their farming skills and farm. The person that uses services has the additional choice of selecting a working farm as their day service support and having the opportunity to engage with farming activities whether working with animals or plants. Farming also provides the concurrent opportunity to engage in physical outdoor activity and to be involved in meaningful activities in a family environment. Social Care providers have the opportunity to partner with farmers to provide further choice for the people that use their services in the development of their person centred plans.
What problems might there be with it?
The organisers of social farms across Europe have yet to figure out a method of implementing the service while also offering payment to those benefitting from it, leaving it open to accusations of “slave labour”. They counter this by offering up the several benefits service users can gain from it, and they also say that once the farms can be regulated the risk would be very low.
Another issue with social farming in Ireland, in the pilot schemes at least, is the scope of the programme. Chairman of Kilkenny Leader Partnership, Dennis Drennan believes the service should be widened to include people suffering from mental illness, such as depression.
He believes this would not only have a benefit on the service users, but also on the farmers themselves. Mr Drennan says this would be a way to help combat the loneliness and isolation often suffered by farmers.
A final issue with the scheme is that only certain farms are equipped to become a social farm. While the Ulster pilot schemes did take place on large farms, the farmers themselves admit that they have to change their working routine to accommodate the service users.
William McLaughlin, of Donegal, says this need for a slower, more careful pace would not work on farms where there is a heavy focus on commercial output. However, he points to his own own large farm (almost 100 acres) as one that is “obviously commercial” yet did not suffer from becoming a social farm. Of course, social farming does offer the farmer a chance to augment his income too.
Who are the lead partners in the SoFAB project?
The organisations with responsibility to deliver the SoFAB Project are University College Dublin (Lead Partner), Queen’s University Belfast and Leitrim Development Company while the representatives from Department of
Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland and the Colleges of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise in Northern Ireland are involved as members of the Project Steering Committee.