Are you interested in being a social farm host?

Social Farming Ireland (SOFI) is organising a new round of training opportunities for farmers interested in becoming social farmers.

Training will take place in a number of venues across the country during this month and throughout May.

Social farming offers activity on working farms as a form of social support. The aim is to use the farm and its associated tasks as vehicles for building relationships in a relaxed and non-clinical environment.

Participants from a range of services – such as intellectual disability, mental health services, long-term unemployed, and youth support – can typically engage in farming activities on a farm one day per week for a period of eight to 12 weeks.

Research on social farming has shown that it can bring enormous benefits to both the participants and the host farmers.

Relish the opportunity

The farmers relish the opportunity to make a difference to participants’ lives and to engage with their local communities.

Those from the various services who take part in the initiative speak of having an “improved sense of purpose” and new confidence in their abilities. They also enjoy the chance to work with the soil and alongside animals.

“Most farms that have participated in social farming to date have been small to medium non-intensive holdings; with mixed farming systems that provide plenty of choice of activities for participants,” said Aisling Moroney, policy worker at SOFI.

Some larger tillage and dairy enterprises have also offered social farming placements; there is no specific type of farm required.

SOFI is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the provision of training for potential social farmers. This is the second year that it is being made available across the country.

In 2017, three rounds of training were run in counties Mayo, Limerick and Waterford – resulting in more than 30 social farms becoming active across Ireland.

This new training offering will initially cover: an introduction and background to social farming; farm health and safety; support framework and planning for practice; and mental health awareness. Further sessions will be completed in the coming months and later in the year.

Training is vital

The new farmers coming on board will have the opportunity to avail of sampling placements – where available – later in the year.

“This training is considered essential for anyone who wants to engage with participants on their farms,” said Helen Doherty, national coordinator with Social Farming Ireland.

The training is free; but, booking is essential. It will be held in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, on April 17 and 18; Athy, Co. Kildare, on April 20 and 21; Mallow, Co. Cork, on April 23 and 24; and Sligo town on May 2 and 3.

Further information is available from: Maryanne at [email protected] or 071-9641772; Stefanie Jaeger, southwest regional development officer on 087-3663842 or [email protected]; Paul Kidd, southeast regional development officer on 087-2311061 or [email protected]; Margaret Leahy, west regional development officer on 087- 6233862 or [email protected]; and Andrew Chilton, border midlands regional development officer on 086-1448796 or [email protected]