Social farming hosts: ‘We share our farm with as many as possible’

“We want to share our farm with as many people as possible. We’re proud of what we do and love the social aspect and if it’s of benefit to those that visit, it’s even better.”

That’s the view of dairy farmers, the Paynes, who farm in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon and in Ballymoe, Co. Galway. They are among the latest batch of families to sign up as social farming hosts.

“There are 520 cows milking between the two farms. The social farming takes place in Tulsk where we milk 320,” said Jennifer Payne. “The farm is run by my husband Ed and his dad Jimmy. We work with Aidan our farm manager and Paul, with lots more help from contractors and for spring we take in as much help as we can.

“I am a little less involved with the farm since purchasing my new business ‘Sensory Me’ in Roscommon town. Social farming gives me an excuse to spend a whole day at the farm and enjoy it,” said Jennifer.

Diversification

She came across Social Farming Ireland when trawling the internet in search of farm diversification ideas. Being involved in an initiative where they could share their farm with others really appealed.

“I thought it was a great idea so contacted them. Social farming has a lot to offer people of all abilities. There is a lot of support available and the training helps you to prepare very well.”

Having embarked on the social farming programme facilitated by South West Mayo Development Company last December, the family is hosting one participant.

“He is non-verbal but loves farming and comes from Longford once a week and is on a 12-week placement,” said Jennifer.

Being a social farming host makes you appreciate all that you have much more, slow down and take in what you have as well as looking at the farm for health and safety from a new perspective.

“We really enjoy our days. Our participant likes to have some repetitive activities every week to help with his independence so we feed, water and check the chickens for eggs. Then we sweep the yard and muck out the stables.

“Sometimes we groom a pony, then we go for a walk up to the shed to see what activities we can do with the cows, depending on the time of year. We have been feeding calves, cleaning cubicles and bedding pens. Then we make sure everything is clean and tidy and walk the cows out to the field.

“Our participant’s carer has told us that on the way to the farm he gets very excited which is great to hear. He enjoys doing the activities with us and most of all tea time with biscuits. That is a very important time; after all it is ‘social’ farming.”

So would Jennifer recommend the experience to fellow farmers?

“Absolutely. It’s not for everyone but if you have any inclination, then look into it, definitely.

It doesn’t matter what kind of farmer you are. If you love what you do and want to share that with people, this is a great way to do so.

“Social Farming Ireland is so helpful and placements are only made if both sides agree and it will work for everyone. You can’t go at the same pace you may always go at. You will have to work around your participants, but that could mean you need to do more as well,” said Jennifer.

“We will continue to take in participants. One of my hopes for the future would be to find someone who loves farming and would like to continue into employment in the future, whether with us or with someone else. There are jobs to be filled and social farming could be a way to help people find a passion for farming.”

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