(L-R) Tom Bermingham, WLD, Maura Canning, IFA Farm Family Committee, Minister Michael Creed, Marie Redmond and Liam O Byrne, Wexford IFA at the launch

Social Farming is the practice of offering activity on farms as a form of a social support service, providing social, educational, therapeutic and rehabilitative opportunities for a wide range of people  who  need  support  to  contribute  to  the  positive  social  fabric  required  for  society  to  be  truly  inclusive.  Participants include people with intellectual, physical, mental disabilities, older people, those with addictions and in need of rehabilitation and those with sensory and financial difficulties.  They benefit from the value of physical work, learning new skills and reconnecting with food, nature and rural life.

Social (or care farming) is widely practiced by farmers in many parts of Europe and is a mainstream social / community inclusion activity in some countries.

Michael Creed, TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine at the launch
Michael Creed, TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine at the launch

National Network Launch

Recently, Minister Michael Creed T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched Ireland’s Social Farming Network project on the farm of Michael & Siobhan Heslin at Gortlettragh near Mohill, Co Leitrim.  The Heslin family farm hosts nine participants, many with mental health issues, on their 55-acre farm each week. As a farm diversification tool, social farming offers the opportunity to enhance the rural economy through the development of a multifunctional service role on farms such as Heslin’s, helping to combat the effects of rural isolation as well as offering a solution to some of Ireland’s health and social care needs.

Arising from CEDRA report in 2016, the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine awarded a contract to Leitrim Local Development Company to establish a national support network for the promotion and delivery of social farming in Ireland. In partnership with Wexford Local Development, Waterford LEADER Partnership, West Limerick Resources and South West Mayo Development Company, they have since established a national Social Farming Support Office to provide coordination, support and training services to four regional hubs as follows:

    • Border-Midlands region – led by Leitrim Local Development
    • South West region (Limerick, North & West Cork, Clare, Kerry & North Tipperary)- led by West Limerick Resources
    • West region (Mayo, Roscommon, Galway) – led by South West Mayo Development Company
    • South East region (Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, East Cork & South Tipperary)- led by Waterford Leader Partnership in close cooperation with Wexford Local Development

Each regional hub has now engaged the services of a Development Officer to facilitate the roll-out of the service across the country.  John Evoy has responsibility for Wexford and the South East region. John can be contacted at 087 2311061 or email: john.evoy@wlp.ie

Speaking at the launch, Minister Creed outlined his support for the work achieved to date in developing the network from Donegal to Wexford and went on to announce that support will continue for the Social Farming Network in 2017, with funding of €350,000 “that will ensure progression for the project as it beds down and becomes self-sustaining.”

The Real Impact

If proof was needed that the concept works, it was given to Minister Creed and the large attendance from all corners of Ireland by the mother of an autistic teenager from Donegal who last year was “banging his head off the fireplace” prior to being introduced to the social farming programme which has “turned his life around and given him a reason to live”.

Social farming participant, John Murphy (45) told the attendance that he remembers a time when he wanted to end his own life. He had a “full mental breakdown”, cut his arms and was committed to a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was referred to a social farm in Monaghan and now works there three days a week.  “It has changed my life, if it wasn’t for social farming I would either be locked up in a psychiatric hospital or I would be six feet under,” he said.  His weight has dropped from 19½ stone to 14½ stone; he has halved his medication, and hopes to get off it completely. He says for the first time in his life he is doing something meaningful that he is good at.  “Now I have something to look forward to, and I want to spread the message”, he said adding that getting out in the fresh air, working with animals and having meaningful work has “changed my life”.

(L-R) Tom Bermingham, WLD, Maura Canning, IFA Farm Family Committee, Minister Michael Creed, Marie Redmond and Liam O Byrne, Wexford IFA at the launch
(L-R) Tom Bermingham, WLD, Maura Canning, IFA Farm Family Committee, Minister Michael Creed, Marie Redmond and Liam O Byrne, Wexford IFA at the launch

Social Farming in Wexford

The concept of Social Farming dovetails well with the objectives of both the LEADER & SICAP Programmes currently being delivered by Wexford Local Development.  Thanks to the work of the Social Farming Network to date, there is now an awareness and knowledge of the concept and potential of social farming among farmers, social service providers and statutory services in the South East.  The template for promoting and establishing the service has now been developed.  Wexford Local Development are delighted that funding is maintained for continuing to build the structures and networks required to ensure sustainability of the service in to the future.

Any farmers in Co Wexford who would like to discuss the potential for becoming “social farmers” are encouraged to contact John Evoy by email: john.evoy@wlp.ie or Tom Bermingham at Wexford Local Development: email tbermingham@wld.ie

Further information is available at www.socialfarmingacrossborders.org