Social Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services in rural areas. It has been shown to benefit those living with a learning disability or recovering from a mental health issue through participation in the day-to-day activities of a working farm.
Social Farming is about people. The farmers delivering a Social Farming service are committed to using their farm and their skills to improve lives. The participants making the choice to engage are being supported in rural communities to learn, to connect, and to achieve their potential. The progress made to date provides a strong foundation for further growth.
The Health and Social Care Board alongside the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Public Health Agency (PHA) have taken a cross departmental partnership approach to supporting the development of Social Farming. This has led to a Social Farming Referral Fund being created which is currently increasing the provision of Social Farming on a regional basis.
Attending the event, Iolo Eilian, Commissioner for Learning Disability and Mental Health for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said, “The Board has been committed to Social Farming for over five years and can see the huge benefits for service users and their carers.
“The Board believes that Social Farming can go from strength to strength. I have personally met farmers who say that opening their rural farms to people with disabilities has enriched their lives and would never go back to their traditional way of working.
“Social Farming adds to the current range of day services available to individuals receiving support from a learning disability or mental health service and promotes greater involvement in community life, allowing them to expand their social contacts and improve their health and wellbeing. “
Catherine McCallum, Director of DAERA’s Rural Affairs Division added: “Social Farming can have a hugely positive impact on farmers and their families, as well as making a real difference in the lives of those who spend time on the farms. A lot has been achieved since the early research and social farming now has a solid foundation in Northern Ireland.”
The benefits of Social Farming were best described by two individuals who have participated on Butterlope Farm in Plumbridge. Engaging in meaningful activities and learning new skills has improved their lives and opened up new opportunities for future. The farmers from Butterlope Farm and Gortilea Social Farm in Claudy also spoke about how they and their farms have been positively impacted by providing a Social Farming service.
Certificates of achievement were presented to five Social Farming participants by Iolo Eilian from the Health and Social Care Board, the highlight of the event.
The event was organised by the Social Farming Support Service for Northern Ireland, which is operated by the charity Rural Support on behalf of DAERA.
If you would like further information on Social Farming, whether you are a farmer, staff member, service user or family member/supporter of a service user, you can contact the Social Farming Support Service for further information on 028 86760040 or visit their website www.ruralsupport.org.uk