Social farming open day: ‘A really powerful and positive initiative’

The couple behind a social farming open day that will take place in Wicklow have described the initiative as “really powerful and positive” for all involved.

The social farm open day will take place on the land of Lesley and Stephen Jones, Ballycreen Farm, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, on Wednesday, October 23, from 11:00am to 1:00pm. Farmers and support services are invited to see a social farm in operation.

Nestled at the foothills of the ‘Brown Mountain’ in Aughrim, the farm comprises mature woodland and meadow pastureland set in an area of natural beauty with access to commonage on the hill behind the farm.

“A river borders the woodland and we have two natural springs on the land which is our own natural water source. The farm offers a tranquil green space for animal lovers to partner with nature,” said Lesley.

The picturesque natural environment of secluded oak woodland, contrasting with wild mountain, creates an ambience of peace. The meandering river walk and woodland trail provides a haven to wildlife.

“The farm offers equine activities; sheep; a polytunnel; a garden; small animals; and fowl. That provides an everyday routine along with hens, pigs and goats. There are also healthy outdoor options of walking and enjoying all the nature on offer,” she said.

Lesley is district commissioner of Thomond Pony Club which works with members from Moyross in Limerick, offering children from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to be included.

“Other organisations that we have been delighted to work with include Barnardos and Offaly Traveller Movement,” Lesley said.

Equine projects

She started the placements in 2019 with the support of Social Farming Ireland’s regional development officer, Andrew Chilton.

“I came into social farming through involvement in community equine projects and am from a Montessori background. I’ve always been involved in experiential learning,” she said.

Now on their second placement, the Jones are happy to share their scenic setting with others.

“We have people from Sunbeam House and Tiglin addiction day services, Wicklow. Social farming brings about incredible connections. The network connects us with other farmers so we can see what is happening around the country and connections are also facilitated for those on placements.

“Social farming is a really healthy approach to living. It’s uncontrived. All the work is practical and needs to be done. The animals can lead us in different directions. You’ve got to be really welcoming, flexible and open. The experience brings people together and grounds them. It’s inclusive.

“Social isolation is huge in this country and we need initiatives that are practical and bring people back to themselves, allowing them to interact with one another.

Social farming offers a different perspective. It allows them to get back to what’s real and what’s happening right now. It’s a powerful way to be in the moment and it’s sensory.

“Social farming involves a lot of learning and problem-solving on a daily basis. It gives people on placements a chance to make plans and see if they work out. It’s also wonderful for discussion. Everyone gets the chance to sit around the table and chat at a time when so many of us are rushing about, trying to meet deadlines. It’s not just about working the land.

“People from different backgrounds are brought together with different things happening in their lives. Social farming helps us to nurture one another and broadens our horizons. Our liaison officer, Andrew, has been great in letting us bounce ideas off him, and it’s also wonderful to see the Department of Agriculture funding such a powerful initiative.”

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