Social Farming really works, for participants and their families, for support services and for social farmers. This theme of mutual benefit was one of the key messages to come out of a major national conference held by Social Farming Ireland in Killashee Hotel, Co Kildare on June 1st.
For participants, the sheer variety of activities naturally available as well as the welcoming family environment and the ‘realness’ of what happens on the farm are all of tremendous value and impossible to replicate in an institutional or clinical context. This was made very clear in multiple contributions from front-line staff from service and range of national and international speakers and most importantly, from people who have had the opportunity to experience Social Farming themselves.
Over 150 people attended the Conference either in person or online, testament to the tremendous support for and goodwill towards Social Farming as an ordinary activity with extraordinary outcomes. However, there was also strong agreement that the support to date from the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, the huge demand for it from individuals and services and the increasing availability of social farmers opening up their farms needs to be matched by mainstream funding from within core health and social care budgets. Currently, funding for Social Farming placements is fragmented both geographically and across support services/agencies which means both that latent demand cannot be met adequately and that significant resources have to be continually deployed by multiple stakeholders to access funding from a very wide array of sources. Marjolein Elings and Maarten Fischer from the Netherlands, where Social or Care Farming is “fully embedded within the Health and Social Care system,” spoke of how at least 30,000 people choose to avail of Social Farming as a support every year out of a population of 17.1 million. Translated to the Irish context, this would indicate that at least eight to ten thousand people would avail of this support if it were more easily available. Indeed, in a country with such strong agricultural and rural roots and traditions – and a vastly higher number of family farms – the potential might be greater still. There was strong support from speakers and from the Conference floor for two potential game-changers in bringing Social Farming to the next level; the availability of a multi-annual cross departmental fund for Social Farming and significant progress on Individualised/Personalised budgets for people with disabilities allowing those individuals to choose the support they receive.
Rita Brosnan, whose son Brian uses his Personalised budget to avail of Social Farming on an organic farm in Co. Wexford, says “Social Farming has had an incredibly positive effect on Brian. He enjoys working alongside farmer Shay and over the last 2 years his confidence and his abilities have come on so much. We feel that in a few more years he will be able to progress on to some form of employment. This is something we would not have contemplated prior to Brian starting his Social Farming placement.”
A point raised in a number of workshops held on the day was the role Social Farming could play in addressing some of the acute staffing issues in Intellectual Disability and Mental Health services at the moment. For example, a potential crisis situation is arising for young people with disabilities who are due to leave secondary school soon. Many services to whom they might traditionally transition to receive supports are saying that they may not have any places due to staffing issues. Might social farms provide a space and a place of support, growth and development for at least some of these young people in their own communities? The potential return on investment for these young people and the thousands of other people who could experience amazing – sometimes life-changing – outcomes on social farms is substantial and ultimately cost effective. The magic of Social Farming is that it is opening up existing local rural resources of the farm and the farmer, making innovative use of these wonderful resources and their local community setting.
For further information on Social Farming or the conference, contact Helen Doherty, Social Farming Ireland National Coordinator at email@example.com or 071 964 1772 or go to the Social Farming Ireland website www.socialfarmingireland.ie.