New training round hosted by Social Farming Ireland

Social Farming Ireland (SoFI) is running a round of training for those interested in becoming social farmers, in Cork, Laois and Leitrim.

The new training round will take place on March 4 and 5 from 9:30am to 4:30pm in Teagasc, Moorepark, Food Research Centre, Fermoy, Co. Cork.

In Laois, it will run on March 9 and 10 from 9:30am to 4:30pm at Mountmellick Development Association, Mountmellick, Co. Laois.

In Leitrim, it will take place on March 19 and 20 from 9:30am to 4:30pm at the Landmark Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim.

Safe and supportive environment

Social farming is the practice of offering activity on family farms as a form of social care support.

Responding to the growing demand for the social model of care, social farms and the farmers who run them can offer people a safe and supportive environment to improve their lives, according to Helen Doherty, national social farming co-ordinator.

Host farmers provide a support opportunity for people to benefit from relationship building through farm activities in a non-clinical environment, building confidence and self-esteem and fitness, breaking down barriers and enhancing people’s lives, she said.

The farms are not specialised treatment farms. They are ordinary working farms offering ordinary things in ordinary places, using the existing assets of the farm and the farmer. The focus is on people’s abilities rather than their limitations.

“Our team in SoFI work with farmers across all areas of Ireland who are trained, experienced and have met the SoFI standards for practice. We support and co-ordinate all aspects of the placements on farms to meet the needs of the supported person,” said Helen.

“Participants who benefit from social farming include: those with disabilities and mental ill health; youth at risk; the long-term unemployed; refugees and asylum seekers; and participants in school support programmes.

“The participants usually attend the farm one day per week for anything from 10 weeks upwards, depending on their individual needs in order to achieve benefits in their life,” Helen said.

“Social farming benefits the health and well-being of participants in the following ways: physical health: general physical fitness; improved farming and other skills; being in a safe and peaceful environment which reduces anxiety; and physical work that can lead to improved diet and better sleep patterns,” said the co-ordinator.

“There is evidence of improved self-esteem and well-being; restored feelings of worth; and increased self-confidence – an opportunity to see valued social roles,” Helen said.

There are also social benefits.

“We have seen increased social skills as participants come into contact with others, the farm family and those who visit the farm; acceptance by others; greater self-confidence and willingness to try new things; meeting new people and making friends; greater independence and personal responsibility; and tackling social exclusion by integrating people,” Helen said.

Feedback from participants has included such comments as: “It’s helped me get my confidence back, just from working with other people; doing different things; cutting timber; working the cattle and fencing,” said one participant with mental health issues.

A Leaving Cert. Applied programme co-ordinator said: “I’m so positive about social farming; it’s a fantastic initiative.

“I can’t think of any negatives from a student point of view. Anecdotally, I’ve spoken to some of the parents and they say it’s just the best thing; it’s the highlight of the week for the kids.”

A difference to participants’ lives

Farmers also benefit from their involvement in the programme.

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

“Our farms range in size from a 1ac grower to a 700ac farm with everything in between including some large tillage and dairy enterprises offering social farming placements. There is no specific type of farm required – just your time.”

SoFI is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to develop a national social farming network and as part of this provide training for potential social farmers. This is the fourth consecutive year that it is being made available across the country.

This training programme was initially developed by the Social Farming Across Borders Project which piloted social farming in the north and south. To date, SoFI has made its training available in 10 counties across the country and is bringing it to the three further locations in this latest training round.

“This training is considered essential for anyone who wants to engage with participants on their farms,” said Helen.

“At our training we aim to answer all the questions and put in place a firm knowledge base with each farmer to enable them to open the social farming opportunity to people on their farm.”

Booking for this training round is essential. Further information is available from Maryanne at: [email protected]; or by phoning: 071-9641772.