Social farming has the potential to offer solutions to public service provision in rural areas and to re-connect farmers with their community.

This is according to the Social Farming Across Borders Project (SoFAB) in association with University College Dublin,  Queens University Dublin and Letrim Development that are holding a conference this week in Carrick-in-Shannon to raise its awareness. Also in attendance will be Dr Tony Bates of Headstrong among other healthcare professionals.

Social farming is the practice of offering family farms as a form of social service.  In social farming, the farm remains a working farm at its core but invites people to participate in the activities of the farm.  In return, the farmer is rewarded for the provision of the service.  

“Social farming services provide disadvantaged groups of people the opportunity for inclusion, to increase their self-esteem and to improve health and well-being,” explained Helen Doherty of SFABP. 

“The Irish health and social care sector has provided agriculture/horticulture activities on an ‘in-house’ basis in institutional settings for many years.  Change in thinking about how services are delivered, largely led by asking people about their future wishes, has been a significant player in reshaping support services.  People want ‘an ordinary life’ one with roles and contribution within community. 

“Across the island, there are farm families that can provide such a service in a healthy outdoor environment, without having to artificially create a service setting to provide this choice of life,” she said.

“A Social Farming in Roscommon describes the kitchen table and the Stanley range or ‘hearth’ as often being as important as the outdoor work.  Without doubt the particular history of a family farm, its rootedness in its community, its future vision with the additions and changes each year brings are features which are tangible and cannot be replicated by a service setting.”

The SoFAB is a 3-year project to establish Social Farming in Ireland. It is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Interreg Programme. The SoFAB project has established piloting of social farms on 10 farms in the border counties of the Republic of Ireland and 10 farms in Northern Ireland.

 Image courtesy Social Farming Across Borders