Sowing seeds, eating cake and chatting in the rain are all everyday activities on social farms, and this was no different when government ministers Charlie McConalogue and Frank Feighan met with Ukrainian refugees on Tommy Earley’s social farm on the Roscommon-Leitrim border last week.

Social farming is all about using the wonderful asset that is the ordinary family farm as a space and place for improving people’s lives and increasing the health and well-being of people facing a range of challenges in life.

The latest group to benefit from access to everyday family farm activities are Ukrainian refugees living in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim.

Back in April, Agriland interviewed Tommy about his plans to open up part of his farm to Ukrainian refugees who might come to the area. There are now 260 refugees living in the local Lough Allen Hotel and true to his word, Tommy has made available a beautiful – and very fertile – 2ha field for their use.

“It is only a 15 minute walk from the hotel, so they can get away from there for a few hours, come here and grow vegetables, or just enjoy the peace and quiet and the nature around them,” Tommy said.

Social farming
Minister walks the land with Ukrainian visitors. L-R: Yuki Kopiltsir; Basyl Dmyteykio; Minster Charlie McConalogue and Sergii Myrzin

Tommy farms organically with an Aberdeen Angus suckler herd and is also a Farming for Nature ambassador and a member of Talamh Beo. The land is bordered by some native woodland and is a haven for wildlife.

A charming old stone house sits on the site and Tommy has ordered new windows and doors to make it more weather proof so that it can used as a place to sit in, out of the weather and have a hot drink.

Tommy sees potential for other farmers around the country to open up parts of their farm as a kind of sanctuary for people who have experienced trauma and who can benefit from being outside, experiencing the beauty and peace of the Irish countryside.

Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and local TD and Minister of State at the Department of Health, Frank Feighan, were delighted to meet and chat with five Ukrainian men who were there that morning.

They joined them in sowing sunflower seeds – the national flower of Ukraine – and potato seeds, symbolic of the growing friendship between the two cultures.

Social farming
L-R: Caoimhe McKeon and Helen Doherty, Social Farming Ireland; Minister Charlie McConalogue; Aisling Moroney, Social Farming Ireland; Minister Frank Feighan; cllr. Paddy O’Rourke, chair Leitrim County Council; Andrew Chilton and Brian Smyth, Social Farming Ireland

Earlier, Minister McConalogue visited the Social Farming Ireland staff at their base at Leitrim Development Company in Drumshanbo and thanked them for their hard work and dedication in bringing social farming to where it is now.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine funds the activities of Social Farming Ireland, including the development of the Social Farming Network and the research and policy arm of their work.

The minister expressed his support for the further growth and development of social farming.