Launch of ‘Social Farming and Mental Health Services’ Report

Press Release from the Carlow Nationalist on the launch of the Social Farming Mental Health Report on the farm of Liam & Simone Webb in Rathoe, Co Carlow on Tuesday 5th March 2019.

-         Social Farming In Ireland is proven to deliver a wide range of benefits and positive outcomes for people in recovery from mental ill health and it does this in a way that is is convivial, community-based, non-clinical and rooted in every-day life. This was the clear message from the launch of a new piece of Irish based research published by Social Farming Ireland and launched on the farm of Liam and Simone Webb in Rathoe, Co. Carlow on Tuesday the 5th March 2019.  Social farmers and social farming participants from the region, staff from a range of Mental Health and other services, a number of local Councillors and those interested in finding out more gathered on the farm to hear all about how Social Farming continues to grow and evolve and how beneficial it is for people in recovery from a range of mental health difficulties.

Liam & Simone Webb Social Farm Open Day

-          Liam and Simone Webb welcomed everyone to the farm and spoke of the really positive impact that social farming has had on their family and the sense of satisfaction they get from seeing participants progress and grow in confidence and happiness as they spend time on the farm. Social Farming Ireland’s Policy Officer, Dr. Aisling Moroney shared her findings on the wide range of benefits from Social Farming which have been observed in both international studies and in the Irish based research. These benefits range from improved well-being and reduced stress and anxiety from spending time in nature, to the value of caring for animals and plants, to the renewed experience of and connection with the basic elements and cycles of life, to an increased sense of purpose and belonging, to improved life skills and occupational skills, even to notable improvements in physical fitness and vitality from engaging in natural outdoor activities. Central to the Social Farming experience is the improved sense of social connection; to the farmer, to other participants and to the wider community associated with the farm. The connections made tend to be warm, natural and without pressure, with participants seen as people and not as cases and where they say they can be themselves in the everyday and ordinary environment of the family farm.

-          As noted by Brian Smyth, Social Farming Ireland National Project Manager, this person-centred and community-based approach is wholly in tune with Irish Government policy and with best practice in Mental Health Services as envisaged in ‘A Vision for Change’. This was confirmed by Ger O’Sullivan, a retired social worker with lengthy experience in the Mental Health Services and who is now involved with the Waterford Mental Health Association. She reflected on how Social Farming is ideally placed to contribute to people’s recovery, providing opportunities to reengage with life, with nature and with other people, to rediscover their capacity to smell, to taste, to be physically active and to have a laugh with others. Occupational therapists Linda Martin and Noirin Forrestal who work in South Tipperary Mental Health Services shared the story of one of the Social Farming participants they have worked with. Within a few weeks of going social farming, this man went from needing to be picked up from his house and being very nervous about going, to driving himself to the farm; from being very reserved to laughing freely in a way that had never heard him do before. Feedback from both participants and mental health services suggests that Social Farming supports people to work towards their recovery in a different way, based on a social rather than a medical model.

-          Social Farming Ireland National Coordinator Helen Doherty reflected on the significant growth of Social Farming in the last number of years, with activity doubling between 2017 and 2018. In 2018 there were over 2600 placement days for almost 300 participants across 22 counties. There are currently 60 active, trained social farmers and a further 60 who have received training and are at various stages on their journey to becoming active social farmers. In Carlow, there are currently two active social farms, with another about to start and some of the services they are working with include; BEAM, Cairdeas, DELTA, Supported Training Services at St. Dymphnas and the SICAP Programme via Carlow County Development Partnership. Key to the growth and development of Social Farming Nationwide has been the funding provided by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) through the CEDRA Innovation Fund. Speaking at the event on Webbs farm, Annamarie McNally from DAFM confirmed the value which the Department attaches to the practice of Social Farming and the great collaborative work being done to grow and develop Social Farming across Ireland by Social Farming Ireland.

-          The launch of this important research by Dr Moroney coincided with Mental Health Ireland’s Smiley Pancake Day Annual Fundraiser at Webb’s farm and on social farms around the country. Social farmers from all over the country cooked pancakes in support of Mental Health Ireland and its work in promoting and raising awareness of positive mental health.

The report launched at this event is available and accessible at the following link: https://www.socialfarmingireland.ie/resources/research-and-case-studies/

Social Farming provides a planned, outcome focused, support placement for people on a farm using the natural assets of the people, the place, the activities and the community to support a person to achieve some of their own chosen goals. It is fundamentally based on spending time with farmers and their families in the natural environment of the farm, but also encompasses two other key elements; valuable, meaningful activities and social and community connection which combine to deepen its impact further and to support recovery.

A National Social Farming Office, funded by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) through the CEDRA Fund, is based in Leitrim Development Company and supports the national development of social farming in collaboration with three partner organisations (West Limerick Resources, Waterford Leader Partnership and South West Mayo Development Company) where regional development officers are based. For anyone who wants to find out more about social farming, please contact National Project Co-ordinator Helen Doherty at the National Social Farming Office at 071-9641772 or coordinator@socialfarmingireland.ie.

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