Social Farming – It’s SoFAB!

There was an interesting feature on Social Farming in a recent episode of RTE’s Ear to the Ground programme. Alice Mckeon has done some research in this sector and she gives us an overview of what it’s all about…

Social Farming

Social farming is a relatively new concept in the world of agriculture and social service provision, and involves the use of traditional farm services as a form of therapy for those availing of social services. Social farming often takes the form of being provided by farm families, where the inclusion of the client in the family setting provides a sense of comfort and belonging. The range of people availing of the service includes people suffering with physical, mental or learning disabilities, mental health problems, those undergoing treatment for drug/alcohol addictions, people involved in community development or social inclusion projects, and adults and young people on probation. The activities offered are often broken down by season, such as foddering animals and cleaning sheds in the winter, while planting in the garden and helping out with hay and silage making takes place in the summer.

SoFAB Project

SoFabIn Ireland, the Social Farming Across Borders (SoFAB) project has just been completed, having run from 2011-2014. Spanning across 6 border counties in partnership with UCD, Queens University Belfast and Leitrim Development Company, it received a grant of €689, 826 from the European Commission and involved 20 pilot farmers. As well as creating the arena for social farming to take place, the project aimed to raise awareness of the concept in Ireland and inform policy in health and social care provision. Participants felt that the best model to follow would be that practiced in the UK, where social service users are allocated an individual budget, of which they decide how to use themselves. In this sense, those who wish to partake in social farming (when it is not part of their regular day service in social care) would be free to do so. The SoFAB scheme has been featured many times in the media on programmes like Nationwide and most recently Ear To The Ground, and has appeared in the Farmers Journal.

Social Farming and the community

With rural communities suffering depopulation through the closure of post offices, pubs, garda stations and health centres, rural isolation and exclusion are becoming commonplace in modern Ireland. Social farming works to alleviate this, as it has the ability to bring farmers back to their community and allows those availing of social services to stay near to home and family. Social farming can also benefit existing care services by creating an alternative to traditional methods of care such as counselling.

As with any innovative concept, funding is always an issue and social farming is no stranger to this. In order for the scheme to continue, the costs involved need to be covered from both the client and farmers perspective. Upon its conclusion the SoFAB project was hailed as a success, with both clients and farmers calling for the continuation of the scheme. Clients felt a sense of belonging, worth and had a purpose to get up in the morning, farmers felt connected with their community and with the participants, while the pressure on health and social care services are reduced. The benefits of social farming are far reaching and long-lasting, a testament to the success of the concept.

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