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Social Farming Handbook: Guidelines for considering, planning, delivering and using social farming services in Ireland and Northern Ireland



Social farming on family farms across Ireland and Northern Ireland has embarked on a journey to realise its’ potential as a new and cost effective opportunity that provides a range of benefits to all involved. It connects people and ultimately improves lives through the activities of day to day farming. This Handbook is a product of the SoFAB Project which was implemented in the cross border region of Ireland and Northern Ireland between October 2011 and September 2014. It aims to assist providers and users of social farming services to understand what is involved in establishing, managing and using social farming services and shares lessons gained through the experience of 1,600 person days of piloted social farming on 20 farms over a fifteen months period.
Social farming on family farms across Ireland and
Northern Ireland has embarked on a journey to
realise its’ potential as a new and cost effective
opportunity that provides a range of benets to all
involved. It connects people and ultimately improves
lives through the activities of day to day farming.
This Handbook is a product of the SoFAB Project
which was implemented in the cross border region of
Ireland and Northern Ireland between October 2011
and September 2014. It aims to assist providers and
users of social farming services to understand what
is involved in establishing, managing and using social
farming services and shares lessons gained through
the experience of 1,600 person days of piloted social
farming on 20 farms over a fteen months period.
The views and opinions expressed in this handbook
do not necessarily reect those of
the European Commission
or the Special EU Programmes Body
II Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming III
Social Farming Handbook
First published in 2014 by the School of Agriculture and Food Science,
University College Dublin.
Funded by: EU INTERREG IVA Programme
Date of publication: 25th November 2014
Editors: Jim Kinsella, Deirdre O’Connor, Brian Smyth, Roy Nelson, Paul Henry,
Aoibeann Walsh and Helen Doherty
Design and Layout: PB Print Solutions
Copyright ©: School of Agriculture & Food Science, University College Dublin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise without prior permission in writing from one or more of the editors.
Copies of the Handbook can be obtained from:
School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin
(contact: Dr Jim Kinsella)
Leitrim Development Company, Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim
(contact: Brian Smyth)
• CAFRE Loughry College, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
(contact: Dr Roy Nelson)
ISBN: 978-1-905254-89-7
II Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming III
Preface ................................................................ V
Acknowledgements ....................................................... VI
Section 1: Introduction to Social Farming
1.1 What is social farming? ............................................ 1
1.2 Where did Social Farming come from? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
1.3 Social Farming in Practice .......................................... 5
1.4 The Social Farming Across Borders Project (SoFAB) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Section 2: Who and What is involved in Social Farming?
2.1 Who is Social Farming For? ........................................ 9
2.2 What does Social Farming include? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2.3 SoFAB Project activities - The SoFAB Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
2.4 Core values in Social Farming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Section 3: Why Social Farming?
3.1 Benets as a farm family .......................................... 19
3.2 Benets as clients ............................................... 21
3.3 Benets to the wider community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
3.4 The Challenges - The SoFAB Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Section 4: Social Farming: the Policy Context
4.1 Social and Health Care Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
4.1.1 Changing approach and direction in service delivery . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
4.1.2 How does social farming link in with health and social care policy? . 30
4.2 Rural Development Policy ......................................... 31
4.2.1 How is Rural Development Policy implemented? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
4.2.2 Rural Development Supports for Social Farming? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Section 5: Planning for Social Farming
5.1 Beginning the journey ............................................ 34
5.2 Exploring possibilities ............................................ 35
5.2.1 Where can I get more information about Social Farming? . . . . . . . . 35
5.2.2 How do I identify and access social farming opportunities? . . . . . . . 36
5.2.3 Who can consider Social Farming? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
5.2.4 Is Social Farming for me? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
5.3 Taking it further ................................................. 42
5.3.1 Preparing a Farm Prole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
5.3.2 The Business Plan ....................................... 44
5.3.3 Finding the Right Match . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
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Handbook for Social Farming V
5.4 Service agreements and support plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
5.4.1 Contractual agreement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
5.4.2 Client support framework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
5.5 Health and Safety ............................................... 56
5.5.1 Regulatory and Legal Framework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
5.5.2 Carrying out a Risk Assessment and preparing a Safety Statement . . . 57
5.5.3 Police checks and clearance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
5.5.4 What about insurance? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Section 6: Delivering Social Farming
6.1 Getting off to good start - The Induction Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
6.1.1 Making people feel welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
6.1.2 Getting their bearings, nding their way around . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
6.1.3 Knowing what the normal routine and schedule is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
6.1.4 Farm Safety Orientation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
6.2 Relationships and Communications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
6.2.1 Relationships - The Heart of the Social Farming Experience . . . . . . 70
6.2.2 Communications ........................................ 72
6.2.3 Condentiality and protection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
6.3 Monitoring Progress and Evaluating Outcomes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
6.3.1 Expected outcomes from Social Farming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
6.3.2 Tracking Progress ....................................... 75
Section 7: Social Farming Resources
1. Health and Safety Issues .......................................... 79
2. Health and Social Care Policy and Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
3. Safeguarding vulnerable adults and children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
4. Social Enterprises ............................................... 81
5. Social Farming and Insurance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
6. Social Farming and Rural Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
7. The Nature and Practice of Social Farming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
1. Contacts/Linkages made by Pilot Social Farmers with . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
individuals and institutions involved in Social Farming
2. Social Farming Across Borders Pilot Farm Prole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
3. Memorandum of Understanding developed during . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
Pilot Practice Phase of SoFAB Project
4. SoFAB Pilot Practice Framework for Participant Support Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
5. Sample risk assessment from the SoFAB training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
documentation relating to common equipment
6. Social farming Checklist for Farm Risk Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
7. SoFAB Pilot Practice Farmer Log Book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
IV Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming V
Social farming, delivered on family farms across Northern Ireland and Ireland, has started on
a journey to realise its’ potential as a valuable and cost effective option that provides a range
of benets which connect people and ultimately improves lives. The Social Farming Across
Borders (SoFAB) Project has raised awareness in social farming and stimulated an interest
among farm families, health and social care services, voluntary organisations and potential
users of services.
This Handbook is a product of the SoFAB Project which was implemented in the cross border
region of Northern Ireland and Ireland between October 2011 and September 2014. The
main purpose of the Handbook is to assist providers and users of social farming services to
understand what is involved in establishing, managing and using high quality and effective
services. It shares lessons gained through the experience of piloting social farming services
on 20 farms over a fteen months period with 66 adults who had either special needs or
mental health issues. The experiences of the pilot farmers and the participant service users
in planning, delivering and using social farming services was captured through the ongoing
monitoring by the project while the experience from social farming practice across Europe
was considered in setting out many of the guidelines.
The Handbook is structured so as to initially help the reader understand the background to
social farming and to appreciate that it is underpinned by core values which distinguish it
from other services and commodities derived from farms. It also shows that social farming
is neither a new nor isolated activity and is widely practiced across Europe. Social farming
is recognised by the EU as a valued activity on farms that ‘makes a contribution in the ambit
of agricultural production to the wellbeing and the social integration of people with particular
needs’. The Handbook then proceeds to guide the reader on the stages in planning and
delivering social farming services and draws on the combination of: international experiences,
the Delivering Social Farming Training Course materials and the documented
lessons from the SoFAB Piloting experience. Sections dedicated to the experience of the
SoFAB Project piloting phase are clearly identied throughout the Handbook.
Many inspirational stories from participant service users, farmers and others are associated
with the experience of the SoFAB Project. Too many to recount in this Handbook but can be
best summed up in the words of one participant who said: “I can say this is the happiest I’ve
ever been and my family will say that, here on the farm”.
Jim Kinsella
Project Manager SoFAB
School of Agriculture & Food Science, UCD
Handbook for Social Farming
VI Handbook for Social Farming
The SoFAB Project Team acknowledges and thanks all those who contributed to the
development and writing of this Handbook. It has drawn on a number of sources of information
including: training materials used in the Delivering Social Farming Training Course (June
- August 2014); and data collected from monitoring and assessment of piloting of social
farming (April 2013 - June 2014).
The contribution of Fiona Meehan and Pat Bogue in compiling the Handbook is acknowledged
as well as the work of the editing committee which comprised: Jim Kinsella, Deirdre O’Connor
and Paul Henry of University College Dublin; Brian Smyth and Helen Doherty of Leitrim
Development Company; and Roy Nelson and Aoibeann Walsh of Queen’s University Belfast.
In compiling the Handbook, information and images on the SoFAB project were provided by
project staff: Paul Henry, Helen Doherty and Aoibeann Walsh while additional images were
provided by some of the pilot farmers.
The 20 pilot farmers and their families provided invaluable experiences and insights that
were captured by the project and contributed to the Handbook. It is also acknowledged that
there would not be a project upon which to develop guidelines for social farming without the
participation of the 66 people who visited the pilot farms on a weekly basis to experience the
social farming services which were offered to them.
The support of the Special EU Programmes Body and contributions of the members of the
Project Advisory Committee and Project Steering Committee in ensuring the effective delivery
of the SoFAB Project is also acknowledged.
SoFAB Project Team (2011-2014): Brian Smyth, Aoibeann Walsh,
Roy Nelson, Paul Henry, Helen Doherty and Jim Kinsella
Handbook for Social Farming 1
VI Handbook for Social Farming
1.1 What is Social Farming?
Social Farming offers people who avail of a range of services including mental health, learning
/intellectual disability, and other aspects of care supports or social marginalisation to engage
and contribute by choice in the farming and social activities of rural Ireland. This is offered
through the medium of ordinary farms and families acting in partnership with services and the
people who avail of supports. It provides disadvantaged groups of people with an opportunity
for inclusion, to increase their self-esteem and to improve their health and well-being. Social
farming also creates an opportunity to further connect farmers with their local communities
through opening up their farms as part of the social support system of the community.
People using social farming services
have chosen to work on a farm as
part of their day support service.
Social farms provide additional
choice to service providers in terms
of the options available for clients
and to develop more person-centred
opportunities. In return, the farmer
is rewarded for the provision of the
service through the opportunity to
expand and diversify their income
with a new service on the farm.
This handbook draws primarily on
the experience of the Social Farming
Across Borders (SoFAB) Project
which was implemented in the cross
border region of Ireland from 2011
to 2014, with a mission to:
“Promote Social Farming as
a viable option for achieving
improved quality of life for people
who use health and social services
and for farm families, through
enhancing social inclusion and
connecting farmers with their
Section 1
Introduction to Social Farming
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Handbook for Social Farming
You will not nd any one, single, internationally recognised denition of social farming, but the
below denition by Di Iacovo and O’Connor (2009) captures the main characteristics:
“Social Farming (SF) is both a traditional and innovative use of agriculture.
It includes all activities that use agricultural resources, both from plants and
animals, in order to promote (or to generate) therapy, rehabilitation, social
inclusion, education and social services in rural areas. However, it is strictly
related to farm activities where (small) groups of people can stay and work
together with family farmers and social practitioners.”
Di Iacovo & O’Connor, 2009
Therefore social farming:
Is always about use of agriculture and agricultural resources;
Has a value based purpose with social objectives promoting rehabilitation, inclusion,
expanded choice for its participants;
Is based around close interaction and relations between those availing of social farming
services and the farming families.
Just as there is no single denition of the term social farming in use, you will nd that the
practise of social farming also goes by different names in different countries, and among
different institutions. All of the following names have been used in various places and contexts
to describe the range of aims and activities associated with social farming.
Social farming
Care farming
Farming for health
Social agriculture
Green care
Green therapies
Whatever the diversity in
denitions the common
elements in all are:
The activities take place in a farm setting, usually involving physical activities and tasks
related to farm production of some kind, whether crops, horticulture or livestock.
The clients1 are people who experience social and other barriers in leading a full and
active life because of either social, physical, learning and/or mental health needs they
1 The term client is used throughout this handbook to refer to the person who is directly using and availing of the social farming
service(s) and is the primary focus and beneciary of the service(s). The term ‘participant’ is used to refer to the clients who
participated in the SoFAB Project, particularly in the piloting of services on farms in the April 2013 to June 2014 period.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 3
There is social interaction with the farming families and others, i.e. it is not ‘just a job’ or
work placement, and these social relationships are recognised as an important part of
the social farming experience
While people are not coming to the farms for therapy, the experience is generally expected
to have a therapeutic dividend or benet
Social Farming is the term used throughout this handbook, as an umbrella term referring to
the range of social farming arrangements and activities as practised under the different terms
noted above.
1.2 Where did Social Farming come from?
While use of the term social farming might be relatively recent, the activities it encompasses
go a long way back. Farming in rural communities was traditionally a social practice, with
intricate community linkages forged by economic relations of production and exchange, the
ebb and ow of the seasons and related food and livestock production, harvest and other
celebratory rituals and festivals.
Before the age of mechanisation and industrialised food production, farming was a highly
labour intensive occupation, providing full time and seasonal employment for local people
with a wide range of abilities and skills, including opportunities for some people of limited
ability who would have had little chance of nding employment elsewhere.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
The rst social and health care services, including hospitals, throughout Europe, were
established by religious congregations. Community members and short and long term
occupants were all expected to work, as part of farming for self-sufciency and income,
as well as contributing towards care and services received. While not originally intended as
therapeutic activities, the health benets and impact on the well-being of those engaged on
these farms were increasingly recognised.
With the expansion of institutional
care provision and practice, work
in farming and horticulture was
seen as part of vocational and
occupational rehabilitation and
training, as well as therapeutic
in nature. Religious communities
while still involved in social and
health care provision have largely
moved away from the traditional
institutional care model. Dunrth
Farm in County Kildare, founded
by the Irish Society for Autism in
1981, is an example of the more
contemporary approach to mental
health care, incorporating social
farming elements.
Irish Society for Autism
The philosophy and ethos of the services provided to People with Autism recognises the
individuality of the person with autism and their capacity to benet from education, training
and care, and their entitlement to participate in the development of Society in accordance
with their individual capacity and dignity as human beings.
Dunrth Farm, a model
in social care, is a 70
acre farm situated 30
miles from Dublin in
north Kildare. It has a
population of 34 People
with Autism supported
by approx. 60 well
trained dedicated staff.
The society also runs
Cluain Farm, a 30 acre
farm at Cluain, Kilwarden,
Kinnegad, and Sarshill
House, Kilmore, Wexford.
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Handbook for Social Farming 5
1.3 Social Farming in Practice
The approach and focus of social farming varies throughout Europe. It is more developed and
more mainstream in some European countries, such as Netherlands and Belgium than it is in
UK and Ireland, although this is changing slowly.
A report by Di lacovo & O’Connor (2009), based on the work of an eight country EU funded
research project entitled Social Services on Multifunctional Farms (SoFAR), found social
farming being practised throughout Europe, particularly in Holland with almost 1,000 social
farming services, followed by Italy with over 600 and France with 500.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland report on Social
Farming in Northern Ireland (2010) noted that there were 126 care farms across the UK
registered with the National Care Farming Initiative (later known as Care Farming UK). Of
these farms just two were registered in Northern Ireland. It was also pointed out that given
the diversity in activities and structures related to social farming activities, there were likely
to be related initiatives and practice which was not registered or widely known or networked.
As of 2014 there are for instance four Camphill Community Centres in Northern Ireland established by the Camphill Movement, which has also
established communities in 23 countries in Europe, North America, Southern Africa and Asia.
O’Connor and McGloin’s 2007 report entitled ‘An Overview of Social Farming in Ireland
The State of the Art’, reported an estimated 90 social farms existing in the Republic of
Ireland ranging from private care farms to residential communities. As of 2014 there were 18
Camphill communities with around 500 people, mostly farm-based, in the Republic of Ireland .
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Handbook for Social Farming
Arrangements to deliver Social Farming
Institutions engaged in social farming type activities include:
institutional service providers such as mental health services, prison services, day/
occupational services;
voluntary sector providers including religious and privately run support organisations and
services, often targeting specic groups of individuals such as people with autism and
people with Down’s Syndrome;
private family farms which can be
specialised or mixed in terms of enterprise
and services;
cooperative farms and communities;
social enterprises offering training,
occupational and educational services for
the public, specically including or
focusing on people with special needs
Three broad institutional approaches to
delivering social farming services are evident
from the practice across Europe, namely:
A public health institution approach which is the main approach in Germany, France,
Slovenia and Ireland
A private farms based approach as in the cases of the Netherlands, Belgium and UK
• Mixed approach of social co-operatives and private farms as in the case of Italy
Camphill Clanabogan, NI
Camphill Clanabogan was started in 1984 and
is situated on approximately 150 acres outside
of Omagh. The farm itself includes 15-20
dairy cattle that are also used for beef. Dairy
products are strictly for community use with
excess milk being used for butter and cheese.
The farm usually has poultry and pigs, while
growing eld vegetables and a garden. Larger
crops include grain, rye, kale, silage, and hay.
Besides the farm products, the community
maintains a bakery, a weaving shop, and a
wood-working crafts shop, all of which sell
their goods to the general public. The community also actively uses renewable sources of
energy. In 1998, they installed the rst wood/biomass heating system in Ireland.
The community has between 80 and 90 residents. Approximately 30 of the residents have
some form of a learning disability. Residents choose to come by a mutual agreement with
a gradual move in process. The care provided ranges from nonresidential day care to one-
on-one supervision. Members of the community work on the farm as a volunteer with their
needs taken care of.
DARD NI, 2010
Social Farming Approach - Italy
Colombini Family Farm, Tuscany Italy
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Handbook for Social Farming 7
The SoFAB Project worked in collaboration with state and
voluntary sector service providers to pilot social farming
experiences on private, family run farms in the period April
2013 to June 2014.
Social Farming across Borders (SoFAB) was a three year project, Oct. 2011 to Sept. 2014,
which operated in 12 counties in the cross border region of Ireland: Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim,
Louth, Monaghan and Sligo in the Republic of Ireland and Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Down,
Fermanagh, Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
Funded under Priority 2: Cooperation for a more sustainable cross-border region of the EU
INTERREG IVA Programme, the implementing partners were:
University College Dublin
Queen’s University Belfast
Leitrim Development
The objectives were to:
Establish social farming
services on 20 farms in
the region on a pilot basis
and to learn from the
experiences gained;
Enable networking of
farmers and health/social
care personnel towards
the establishment of
sustainable, high quality
social farming services in
the region;
Build capacity of farmers and health/social care service providers in delivery of social
farming services through training courses and network visits;
Disseminate information on social farming throughout the region and share the lessons
learned from the pilot farm practice; and
Increase public awareness of the potential of social farming services and contribute to
the debate on how public policy might support such services in the future.
1.4 Social Farming Across Borders Project (SoFAB)
The SoFAB Experience
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Handbook for Social Farming
At the time of writing this Handbook (November 2014) the SoFAB Project is nishing, and
disseminating the experience and learning from the project is one of the the main purposes
of this handbook. While the project engaged in a lot of activities around networking and
promotion of social farming, the key focus for the purposes of this handbook is the rst
objective, the provision of social farming services with individual farming families on a pilot
A total of 20 farming families were selected to pilot social farming practise, 10 in Northern
Ireland and 10 in the Republic of Ireland. Training and orientation for farming families was
provided as part of the project, and the SoFAB management worked with the relevant Health
and Social Care Trusts, HSE authorities, service providers and voluntary organisations to
identify and recruit individuals with needs who were willing and able to participate in social
farming activities on the pilot farms. The farming families’ and the participants’ experiences
were documented by themselves and SoFAB management and researchers throughout
the project, along with feedback from service providers. This handbook is based on the
participants’ voices and recorded experience.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 9
3 Adults and children with disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual)
3 People recovering from mental ill health / burn out
3 Elderly people
3 Recovering addicts (drugs, alcohol)
3 Youth and long-term unemployed
3 Prisoners, ex-prisoners and those in offender rehabilitation programmes
2.1 Who is Social Farming for?
Social farming can be delivered by
any farming family which wants to do
something different with their farm, and in
particular those who want to get involved
in more community or socially benecially
oriented activities. Potential users of
social farming services, i.e. the clients, are
diverse and come from a wide range of
People who do or could potentially benet from engagement in social farming, along with the
farmers and their families are for example:
Section 2
Who and What is involved
in Social Farming?
2.2 What does social farming include?
Social farming encompasses a wide range of functions and activities, including:
Rehabilitation and therapy
Therapeutic and rehabilitation institutions, residential and day care, may include
gardening and/or farming activities as part of their treatment programmes. These
might encompass addiction treatment centres; psychiatric and mental health facilities;
transitional accommodation for those leaving institutional care; and prisons services as
part of rehabilitation policy, as in the case from Norway.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
Inclusion (social and community interaction)
Social isolation and loneliness are reduced by the social interaction with farming families,
other clients, and becoming more involved in community activities and events.
Day occupational services
Social farming can be included as an alternative choice among the range of day and
occupational services offered by statutory and voluntary service providers.
Recreational services (physical activity)
The benets of working in farming, horticultural or forestry activities can be enjoyed by all
community members, not just those with special needs. Community gardens, volunteer
labour and experience on farms, are all ways in which people of all and mixed abilities
come together to enjoy working outdoors together.
Vocational training, work readiness and work
Social farming experience is used to help clients back into the workplace by developing
social and practical, technical skills, and capacity to deal with responsibility and routine.
The Wild Goose Training Centre in Worcester, England for instance (see page 11) offers
day opportunities, therapeutic experiences and training, with accreditation if required, in
land based subjects.
However the enterprises are structured and legally registered, social farming is essentially
about working on the land, offering opportunities to people who are socially, physically,
mentally or intellectually disadvantaged, to work in a healthy, supportive and inclusive
Farming and Prison Life
Farming is a common part of prison life throughout Norway It is part of a progressive, trust
and responsibility focused approach to rehabilitation which has led to some Norwegian
prisons being described as the world’s rst “human ecological prisons”.
Norway has the lowest reoffending gures in Europe, less than 30%. This is less than
half the rate in the UK, where in 2007 for instance, 14 prisons in England and Wales had
reconvictions rates of more than 70%.
These services are highly valued and the announcement in 2014 of the closure of the prison
farm at Ana Prison in Norway, reportedly caused intense upset among inmates. It prompted
a campaign against its closure led by the prison staff union and some exprisoners, including
Patrick who believes the hard, regular work helped him overcome drug dependence as well
as spending his prison time more productively. “Something happens to us addicts when we
come into contact with animals,” he says. “It leads us to open up to other people.”
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Handbook for Social Farming 11
Wildgoose Rural Training
This centre was established 12 years ago on a brown
eld site in the in the middle of a family farm. On a
site of 0.7 hectares, it offers organic farming, farm
livestock, woodwork and greenwood crafts activities
for up to 40 students/day.
School leavers and pupils, adults
and young people with learning
difculty and mental health
problems are among those who
avail of the services here.
The Slí Eile Farm, Cork
Founded by the Cork based Slí Eile Housing Association, the Slí Eile Farm offers a place
where people experiencing mental health difculties can nd safety, acceptance and support
to recover.
The Slí Eile’s approach to recovery through community living is to provide another way of
supporting people to recover from their experience of mental distress:
Creates an environment which fosters hope and instils belief that change is possible.
Creates opportunities for individuals to participate actively in life choices and decisions.
Promotes the support of each individual in their recovery journey, employing a non-
labelling and non-judgemental approach.
Fosters an environment where individuals are respected and listened to.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
For some, as for example the Sli Eile farm shown above, it is a long term way of life, rather
than an interim or short term strategy.
While some activities will take place indoors, spending time out of doors, interacting with
nature, and animals is a central part of the experience.
While the range of activities and arrangements is wide, and people choose to get involved
for many different reasons and with diverse objectives, it is important to recognise that social
farming is not in itself a therapy. While those participating in social farming activities may
derive therapeutic benet from it, this is not the main purpose or aim, and the farmers are
not playing the role of therapists. Social farming supports people in living ordinary lives,
interacting with their community and environment, developing their potential.
The SoFAB Project makes this very clear in identifying that:
“the farm is not a specialised treatment farm; rather it remains a typical working farm
where people who use support services can benet from participation in farm activities
in a non-clinical environment”
SoFAB website
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Animal husbandry, feeding and care
Working with animals proved to be one of the most popular and rewarding areas of work
for clients, both in terms of the knowledge and skill development involvement, and the
relationships forged with the animals.
Participants worked with cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, pigs, and poultry, engaging in
feeding, mucking out, grooming, milking, and specic skills and tasks such as dipping sheep,
herding them, taking care of eeces and hooves.
Farm Areas and Buildings
There are always lots of jobs need doing around the farmyard and surroundings, as part of
learning about livestock care and maintaining safe and sanitary farm areas.
Mucking out barns and animal accommodations, keeping farmyards cleared and swept,
tidying away and keeping tools and equipment in order, were all included in basic, regular
tasks to be carried out as normal farm maintenance.
Renovating and maintaining farm buildings, barns, outhouses, stores, brought good dividends
for the farms as well as skill development for the participants.
2.3 SoFAB Project activities
The SoFAB Experience
Examples of the activities undertaken
during piloting of social farming services
(April 2013 to June 2014)
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
Participants were usually happy to spend time and eat with the farming family. Some also said
they would like a space which was their own. So on one farm the family worked with them to
renovate a room in an old family cottage, and that became their place to ‘hang out in’.
Learning to use farming machinery
was a valued skill development
area for participants, including
using strimmers, driving tractors,
and operating milking equipment.
In one case, getting an old, classic
tractor working again, became
an absorbing and challenging
project for one participant and
his successful achievement of it
proved to be a great condence
boost as well as expanding
technical skills.
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This was a very popular and common area of
activities for the SoFAB participants.
They got involved in all stages of growing
vegetables, from ground preparation, through
planting, thinning out and transplanting
seedlings, weeding, watering and harvesting.
Some went along to local markets to help
sell what they had been part of producing. A
few participants worked on fruit production,
learning about caring for fruit trees and
harvesting the fruit.
Conservation, woodland management and woodwork
Woodland management and conservation
activities were practiced on many of the SoFAB
pilot farms, and participants were involved in
learning about practice for conservation of
native woodlands and peatlands and related
skills, including thinning, wood harvesting,
coppicing, live hedging.
Some participants were engaged in working
directly with wood, developing carpentry and
craft skills. Other participants constructed a
great treehouse during their time on the farm.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
Indoor activities
Given our climate, having some alternative
activities which can be carried out indoors in
very bad weather proved to be important in
keeping participants occupied and interested.
Working indoors in the farm kitchen, baking or
cooking or making jam, proved to be popular
with participants, not just for the company
and the craic, but for the condence boost in
learning new skills, and in producing something
which could be brought home and shown off.
Improving cooking skills especially had an added value in enhancing independent living and
social skills and competence.
2.4 Core values in Social Farming
People drawn to social farming, including farmers and clients may be coming with different
aims, motivations and expectations. So your main motivation in terms of social farming may be:
Wanting to make positive changes in your own and other’s lives;
Farm business diversication and developing multifunctional farm enterprises;
Promoting inclusive rural community development;
Implementing people centred services, facilitating choices.
You may also be coming from a very broad range of perspectives and philosophies,
associated with your own beliefs and values. The Camphill Community philosophy (outlined
below) for instance draws on the anthroposophical philosophy of Rudolf Steiner integrated
with Christian beliefs.
The Camphill Philosophy
The Camphill philosophy is that “no matter
what an individual’s disability may appear to
be, the spirit - the essential core that makes us
all human - always remains whole. So everyone
deserves equal respect and opportunities in life
so that all may be able to full their potential”
Christian community focus, also biodynamic
farming and production principles
This reects a commonality of values around sustainability, care for the environment, social and
community links and inclusion.
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Earth’s Best, an American organic baby food company, for instance paid growers more than
competitors did, trading off potentially higher prots against principles around fairness and
respect for relationships, with the earth and with people.
The commonality of values underlying the practice of social farming, illustrated by the Camphill
and Earth’s Best philosophies, could be said to encompass the following:
3 Community Focused
Social farming is not just about individual participants or individual farms, but about these
individuals as part of a community, and the role of the farm in the context of rural community
life and networks.
3 Inclusive
Individuals with needs are full members of the community, and entitled to be fully integrated
and accepted into community life and affairs, not segregated and treated as ‘other’, or as
a problem to be solved.
3 Self-Direction and Choice
Whatever needs they are facing, all are entitled to have a say in what direction their lives
are taking and to make choices about what they want to do with their lives. Social farming
expands the choices available to people with mental health and learning/intellectual
difculties and other needs.
3 Contributing Citizens playing Valued (real) social roles
Social farming in this respect is seen as ‘real’ work, with clients playing a real role in
contributing to the local economy and community, not just being kept occupied for the
sake of therapy or convenience.
Socially valued roles
Social Role Valorization (SRV) is a concept that has inuenced disability policy and practice in the
US and Canada and is relevant to how we appreciate values attached to social farming. It has
evolved from the Principles of Normalisation and recognizes that society often tends to label groups
of people as fundamentally “different.” This label often means that society regards these as having
less value than others. The goal of SRV is to create and support socially valued roles for people in
their society, because if a person holds valued social roles, that person is highly likely to receive
from society those good things in life that are available to that society or at least the opportunities
for obtaining these. In other words, all sorts of good things that other people are able to convey
are most likely to be accorded to a person who holds societally valued roles, at least within the
resources and norms of his/her society (
The values and principles of SRV underpin many of the models of person centred planning which
are in application today. These are currently evolving to models of Self Directed living such as
Supported Self Directed Living (
Earth’s Best enterprise
“Yes, we paid growers more, and yes, this ultimately made Earth’s Best more
expensive, but this was the price of a fair reality built upon what we valued most
and wanted Earth’s Best to stand for: ‘relationship,’ relationship to the earth, to
children, to growers, to employees, to investors, and to ourselves.”
Ron and Arnie Koss, Aug 2012
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Handbook for Social Farming
We place a signicant emphasis on relationships between people. We use the existing
relationships of the farm, the family, and the community to build new social roles for people.
A belief that farms and farm families are uniquely placed as natural community connectors
through their enterprise, business, family, social & cultural roles in their locality
We work in collaboration with people who use services, their advocates and representative
bodies. We work in partnership with ‘Service Providers’ and professionals who provide
supports to people
We represent people who share this vision and want to work in creative ways in community
using their farms as places for people to work, learn, live, and grow; or to simply be part of
a ‘way of life’
The SoFAB Experience
Core Social Farming Values for the
SoFAB pilot project
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The main reason for engaging in social
farming is the way in which the majority of
those involved benet from the experience.
Evidence of benets is not just anecdotal,
or based on personal ‘feel-good’ stories.
Reported benets from engaging in social
farming documented throughout the
history of social farming practice are many
and varied, with positive impacts for the
farmers, and for the clients, as well as for
the community as a whole.
The SoFAB Project report on ‘Costs and Benets of Social Farming’ (September 2014)
documents the evidence available on many of these benets. Some of this evidence is
summarised in the following sections, along with the experience of the SoFAB project, which
documented personal testimonies through many conversations with participants and the
farming families, along with the impressions of service providers and support workers.
3.1 Benets as a farm family
Benets for farming families are both economic and social. Many farm families get involved in
social farming for reasons other than nancial, while many farms and organisations engage in
farming for therapeutic and holistic reasons rather than economic motives.
As a farm family providing social farming services, documented experience and research
from other providers suggest the kind of social benets you can expect to experience would
include achievement and fullment through:
• seeing the effects on the people who spend time on your farm;
• making a difference in their lives; and
• helping typically excluded people to become more included.
While the capacity and work output of clients will vary a lot, you and your farm may also
benet from the extra labour provided by service users. The economic reality dictates that
your social farming activities should at least generate sufcient income to cover your costs.
In this respect, social farming can provide an opportunity to diversify the income earning
capacity of the farm and rural economy. Sources of funding, and payment arrangements vary
hugely, but there are potentially opportunities to make a living income from social farming
Section 3
Why Social Farming?
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Handbook for Social Farming
The SoFAB Experience
The social farmers’ perspective
Farmers who engaged in the SoFAB project spoke of their
own increased awareness both of the needs of those with
disabilities/ill health, and of their capabilities.
They talked about a sense of personal achievement in how
they worked with participants, built relationships (working and
friendships) with them, and learned new skills in managing and
supporting them in their daily work.
Some farmers said the pilot project had made them more
aware of farm safety while others said that they themselves
slowed down to keep pace with participants and became less
rushed/stressed in their own work.
Most of the farmers talked about how they enjoyed the
company and camaraderie of working with participants as a
team on the farm. ‘I would look forward to the company, farming is a lonely occupation’… ‘It’s
nice to have someone to work with’.
While social farming participants had varying levels of ability and capacity to undertake activities
on the farm, farmers reported benets in terms of labour on the farm and ‘getting jobs done’. Some
said they had become more organised in planning their work and that having clients working with
them as a team helped motivate them in taking on the more tedious or more mundane tasks
around the farm. Overall, farmers felt that the farm was better maintained and looking better as a
result of the service users working on the farm. As one farmer said of the tasks undertaken with
her participants: ‘All these small jobs I had on the long nger, I’m getting done.
There were also benets for the wider farm family from participation in the pilot programme.
Children and other members of the host farm families interacted with services users and
learned to see beyond their disability. ‘It enriches our lives and the children’s lives too’… ‘The
children see them too, not as people with a disability, they see them as farmers’.
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3.2 Benets as a client
When you look at the documented impact of social
farming on the health and wellbeing of clients you can
divide the benets broadly into physical, mental health
and social benets.
Physical Health Benets
Some of the physical and related health benets for
clients identied in studies on social farming include:
general physical tness; improved farming and other
skills; the farming routine provides natural structure and
clarity which serves to motivate clients; the farm provides
a safe and peaceful environment which leads to less
aggression; and physical work can lead to an improved
diet (and healthy eating) and physical tiredness which
contributes to better sleep patterns.
Mental Health Benets
Some of the greatest benets of social farming appear
to be related to mental health including: improved self-
esteem and well-being; restored feelings of worth and
increased self-condence. Social farming gives people
an opportunity to engage in an activity which interests and
motivates them, and can complement more conventional
The farming family can provide continuity and stability
which increases feelings of security, safety and
condence. It is also evidenced that farm work can
distract from symptoms of ill health, leading to: reduced
feelings of anger, confusion, depression, tension and fatigue; improved social behaviour;
increased self-responsibility; and reduced need for medical intervention and hospitalisation.
Social Benets
The main social benets for those who use social farming
services are the increasing social skills as clients come
into contact with others with similar needs as well as the
farm family and others who visit the farm; the acceptance
of clients by others is greatly valued by them; greater self-
condence in general and greater willingness to try new
things and meet new people and make friends; greater
independence and personal responsibility; formation of
work habits which provide stepping stones for the future;
and integrating people and de-stigmatising services
which can be effective in tackling social exclusion.
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Handbook for Social Farming
The SoFAB Experience
The SoFAB Participants’ perspective
Personal Health and Well-Being
Many of the participants talked about how they
felt better in themselves, physically and mentally,
after the social farming. They particularly enjoyed
working with the animals, and being given jobs
and responsibilities to carry out.
“I like doing it all, it’s keeping you healthy doing
things. And it keeps your mind occupied…you
have more condence when you’re working,
other things like that too”
Social Inclusion
The social aspects were a big issue for all
participants. They talked about enjoying meeting
new people, making friends, especially interacting
with the farming family and their neighbours, and
getting involved in community events. Celebrating
birthdays and festivals like Christmas with the
farming families meant a lot to them.
“I was stuck at home, I didn’t have anyone my
own age to talk with. Yeah I made lots of new
friends; it does feel more like family, a tight knit
As well as by the participants themselves, increased social condence and interactions was
also noted by family members and client support workers: “I think it gave them a bit more
condence and ability to talk to other people…our people don’t get much of an opportunity
to meet new people, to mix with other people” (Support Worker)
Skills Development
Learning new skills was an important gain for
most of the SoFAB Project participants. They
mentioned social as well as farming skills,
especially working with animals, as learning they
enjoyed and valued.
“I learnt something different every day on the
farm. How to feed animals… how to split sheep
up, boy and girl and lambs. Moving them in the
elds.. all different stuff”
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Participants said they felt the social farming had helped them develop and keep to a regular
routine and that their energy and sense of purpose in life had been increased by the experience.
“…I’d be more energetic, it’s something to be living for, to get up for on a day, coming here.
It’s working but you still don’t class it as work”.
“I thought it was great for them, it gives them something to do, something they did do all their
lives, getting to keep at it really” (Care Assistant)
Progression meant different things to different
participants, including social changes, as well
as skill development and employability. Some
clients felt they had progressed signicantly as
a result of their time on farms.
“They were very slow at the start getting out to
the elds…Then they were changing electric
fences, doing everything, once they were in the
swing of it, they were doing all jobs”… “They
came out of themselves a good bit”.
Almost 90% of the SoFAB Project participants,
said that they would like to continue Social Farming. When asked what they liked most about
their time on the farms, on a scale of one to ten, ‘just being on a farm’ was rated the most
enjoyable part of it, followed by ‘being out of doors’.
The interaction with animals, and learning skills in working with animals and caring for them
came out time and again as a highly valued part of the experience. Other reasons for wanting
to continue social farming included: the enjoyment factor i.e. having ‘craic’ , development of
life skills, and having a purpose to their days.
“I just hope I continue with what I’m doing because I’m enjoying it. And I feel very proud of
myself at what I do” (SoFAB participant)
Activity rating by SoFAB participants
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Handbook for Social Farming
3.3 Benets to the wider community
Social farming represents an opportunity for further social inclusion of clients as well as
strengthening and forging new community connections. For farmers, many may already be
integrated into a range of community networks from neighbourhood groups to local voluntary
groups to various associations representing professional, political or other interests.
As social farmers, you can expand your connections with sectors of the community who are
frequently excluded from full participation in community life, and play a role in expanding
their connections with and acceptance by other community members and networks, so
contributing to a more inclusive and people-focused society which benets everyone.
The growing popularity of community gardens (such as the Twin Towns Community Garden
in Donegal) is an example of how community inclusion and cohesion is enhanced by people
of different backgrounds, ages and abilities working together out of doors creating something
to benet the community as a whole.
Clients of social farming can be encouraged and supported to get involved in community
gardening and other community activities which can complement the social farming
engagement and help extend their network of contacts in the community.
There are benets to the rural economy from more diversied farm incomes and new
employment opportunities. The involvement of clients in activities on farms reduces the
isolation for farmers and provides them with work companions in the daily farm activities.
Experience gained in social farming enhances the employability of participants and increases
their potential availability to participate in the general workforce.
The Twin Towns Community Garden
Located in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, the Twin Towns Community Garden is 2 years old and in
the past year the members have added another Polytunnel; held a Grow It Cook It day with
Chef Ian Orr; added more raised beds in the other Polytunnel; a biodiversity hedgerow; a
terraced garden and an extended composting area.
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Challenges in working with participants
identied by the farm families included:
Farming Week
All found that having participants on the farm took
up a lot of time and focus, and it was sometimes
challenging to keep up with all the necessary work
of the farm. Most farmers found that they got used
to scheduling different kinds of jobs on days with,
and on days without participants, as routines
around what they would and could do together
became more established.
Participant Attendance
While attendance by participants on the pilot
farms was generally very good (averaged 83%
attendance rate for all 66 participants), non-
attendance by some clients was frustrating in
relation to time wasted and disruption of planned activities for the farm families.
Relationship between farmer and participants
Relations could sometimes be challenging, particularly in the early stages of participants
time on the farm, for example, getting a good balance between maintaining careful
supervision of activities and health and safety control, and encouraging participants to
take on responsibilities and tasks on their own as part of their skill development and
Challenges identied by the participants included:
Weather and muddy ground
For participants unused to working or spending much time out of doors, farming work
was a bit daunting initially. Some found the mud and muck of the farmyard difcult to
tolerate, although most got used to it as they grew accustomed to the livestock and
absorbed in the work involved in caring for them.
Suitable Activities
Some activities suited some participants more than others. Most tried out and learned
a range of tasks and skills, and it is almost always possible to nd a couple of jobs
which participants are comfortable with, even if there are some jobs they really do not
want to do.
3.4 The Challenges
The SoFAB Experience
Challenges Experienced
While social farming can be very rewarding for most of those engaged in it, that does not
mean that it is easy. It is a challenging, and sometimes energy draining activity. Below are
some of the challenges identied by the SoFAB Project pilot farming families and participants.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
Personal protection equipment
Using protective clothing and
equipment, can prove difcult for some
participants. If they are not used to
farms, they may not readily understand
the importance of using it, and some
may nd it difcult to use masks and
heavy gloves for instance, or as with
some few SoFAB participants, be
uncomfortable with wearing wellington
Busy market
One participant found attending a
busy market day, with livestock and
lots of people being around both
confusing and disorienting. Some
participants may not be used to
crowded spaces, or may have issues
with claustrophobia or being in very
close physical proximity with other people, especially strangers.
• Early morning starts
For those who were not used to regular working days, and for some with depressive
and other mental health issues, getting up early in the morning on a regular basis
proved very challenging for some participants.
Establishing good communications between participants and farming families was
slower in some cases than others, linked to speech impairment and social interaction
skills. Generally these eased with familiarity as all relaxed into the relationship. In
one case, for a participant with severe hearing impairment, the lack of interpretation/
signing support caused frustration and impacted negatively on his experience. Making
sure the necessary supports are in place before starting can be challenging, but makes
a huge difference to the quality of the experience for all.
There were some issues around what had to be paid for, and amounts charged for
the service, mainly in relation to direct payment participants. Taking time to ensure all
potential issues are identied and clearly explained and agreed with the participant as
part of establishing the service contract helped to avoid confusion.
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Social farming as practised in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is still evolving,
and if you are interested in becoming involved in using or providing social farming services, it
is useful to have some knowledge of the policy context and regulatory frameworks governing
the practice of social farming, and how these vary between the two jurisdictions.
The policy context within which social farming operates is complex, crossing over a range
of sectors and areas of focus, and so there is no single policy which covers social farming
practice, or specic regulations relating to it. Service providers, including the farmers, are
required to adhere to regulations relating to health and safety, environmental management
and risk minimisation, and farmers must insure their service for public liability.
The policy areas of most direct
relevance to social farming are:
• Social and health care policy
• Rural development policy
4.1 Social and Health Care Policy
Most potential social farming clients are already engaged with health and social care service
providers, and many will be referred to social farming services through their service providers,
who may be involved throughout the process.
So as potential social farmers, you may nd it useful to have some overview of the main
policy directions shaping the delivery of health and social care services in both jurisdictions
in Ireland, and to see how and where social farming can t in.
Section 4
Social Farming: the Policy Context
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4.1.1 Changing approach and direction in service delivery
The growing interest in the practice of social farming reects the evolution of attitudes and
practice in social and health care, from a medicalised, institutional approach, to a more
people-centred approach embracing personal choice and inclusiveness.
The changing approaches and attitudes over the past few decades towards people with
physical and learning/intellectual difculties has been readily observed within communities
as well as from health care services.
Evolution of service provision approaches for people with support needs
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Traditional approaches to disability, focusing on the person as the problem, and medical
solutions rather than social support, have given way to what has been called ‘a new paradigm
of disability’ focusing on what people can do and want to do rather than on their limitations.
Current approaches in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland reect a model based
on principles of inclusion, choice and personal control, as evident in current policy on health
care, disability, and other service provision both in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern
Ireland. One such approach is reected in the Recovery Model of the HSE’s Vision for Change.
“In order to full the
‘recovery’ principle in A
Vision for Change, mental
health services need
to respect the personal
recovery perspective of
each service user and
adopt an approach to
service delivery that
supports both personal
and social recovery…
There are some differences in policies between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
and, as is sometimes the case, gaps between policy vision and intentions and the reality of
implementation, as experienced both by users of services and frontline health and social care
Republic of Ireland
Public health services are delivered through the Health Service Executive (HSE). Each of the
HSE’s four administrative areas has a Regional Health Forum, which includes representatives
from the city and county councils within that area.
In Ireland there is a mix of models and approaches operated by a wide range of providers from
the public, private and voluntary sectors including: institution-based services, community
homes; outreach services; as well as day and community-based support services.
Despite the diversity within the health and social care services sector, there is a strong emphasis
throughout on the recovery model, with many value-based organisations particularly lobbying
for progressive change and more people-centred provision of services.
In 2001 the new Health Policy “Quality and Fairness A Health System for You” placed
the principle of “Person-Centredness” at the heart of national health and social care
policy, along with Quality, Accountability, and Equity.
A Vision for Change: Report Of The Expert Group On Mental Health Policy was
published in 2006, arguing that: “Every citizen should have access to local, specialised
and comprehensive mental health service provision that is of the highest standard.”
The HSE in setting out guidelines on day services, New Directions - Personal Support
Services for Adults with Disabilities (2012), again stressed three key values:
Community Inclusion & Active Citizenship
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Handbook for Social Farming
Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland the National Health Service (NHS) is referred to as HSC or Health and
Social Care. Just like the NHS, it is free at the point of delivery but in Northern Ireland it also
provides social care services such as home care services, family and children’s services, day
care services and social work services.
Services are commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board and provided by ve Health
and Social Care Trusts - Belfast (the largest of the ve), South-Eastern, Southern, Northern
and Western.
In 2001, the U.K launched their new Disability Strategy: “Valuing People”, with person-
centredness as its core principle and intended driver.
The Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability (DHSSPS, 2007) sets
out a clear vision of how an excellent service for those with mental health problems,
their families and carers, can be provided, with the user experience at the heart of
development and improvement.
Delivering Excellence: Supporting Recovery, the nursing response to the Bamford
Review, sets out a road map for the mental health nursing service to deliver the aims
and the vision of “A Partnership for Care: the Overarching Northern Ireland Strategy
for Nursing and Midwifery (2010- 2015)”.
Transforming Your Care: Vision to Action was launched in Northern Ireland in October
2011, setting out proposals for key service changes, and an Action Post Consultation
Report published in March 2013.
4.1.2 How does social farming link in with health and social
care policy?
Drawing on previous research into the benets of social farming (see Section 3) and on the
experience of the SoFAB Project, social farming
has the potential to complement and contribute to
mental health and social care policy and services
Promoting overall mental health and
• Linking with therapeutic service provision
Supporting user-determined health plans
and budgets
Themes running through current health and social
care thinking and policy frameworks which link
strongly with social farming include:
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Handbook for Social Farming 31
Person-centred - social farming ts in well with the person-centred philosophy and
recovery model approaches at the core of policy in both Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland, with its focus on recognising the whole person and their living
situation and environment, and developing what the individual can do, rather than
focusing on limitations.
Choice – personal choice and control over the lives and service provision for people
with support needs lie at the heart of person-centred care and the recovery model. As
health and social care policy moves further along the path of self-directed care and
service user choice, social farming has an important role to play in widening choices
and expanding the range of services available. Along with widening choice, social
farming, by its nature, strengthens existing skills and develops new capabilities which
enhance independent living and employment options.
Social inclusion social farming has a potential role as part of community-based
rehabilitation and care services, expanding social contacts and promoting greater
involvement in community life and events for people who might otherwise be socially
isolated or marginalised because of physical, mental or learning/intellectual needs.
Local entry points for social farming
Growing awareness about the practice and
potential benets of social farming among service
providers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic
of Ireland, many of whom were directly involved in
or informed by the experience of the SoFAB Project
means there is increasing potential to consider
social farming activities among the range of services offered to clients. A signicant and
growing number of voluntary sector service providers include social farming-type activities in
their range of activities and recovery programmes, including residential and day care services.
In Northern Ireland, progression towards personalised budgets will offer opportunities for
social farmers to be contracted directly by clients for provision of social farming services.
4.2 Rural Development Policy
Awareness of rural development policy and how
it is implemented may be relevant for potential
social farmers, as social farming practice ts
within a range of rural development policy aims,
including promotion of social inclusion; rural
community development; and diversication
and sustainability of farm enterprises.
Since 1991, following reform of the European
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Rural
Development policy in EU Member States has
been established at European level, with countries developing their own national policy and
strategy around the agreed main aims and priority areas. So whichever part of Northern
Ireland or Republic of Ireland you live in, rural development policy is set within the same EU
policy framework with similar priority areas of focus.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
4.2.1 How is Rural Development Policy implemented?
The main rural development measures in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
are the respective Rural Development Programmes (RDPs). These programmes are funded
by a combination of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and national
funding. While broadly similar, the Rural Development Programmes in the Republic of Ireland
and Northern Ireland are based on the EU Framework for rural development but differ in terms
of national strategies, priorities and needs. These programmes are focused on improving: the
competitiveness of agriculture; the natural environment; and the development of rural areas.
The most recent Rural Development Programmes (2007-2013) have reached their end points
while the next programmes (RDP for the period 2014-2020) are expected to be rolled out from
2015 onwards. While the 2014-2020 programmes are not yet approved, they will be broadly
similar to their predecessors in terms of their overall direction with some adjustments in policy
priorities at EU level and in specic measures/schemes at national level.
In the Republic of Ireland, the overall RDP is managed and delivered by the Department
of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
delivers agricultural measures/schemes directly to farm families. The LEADER Programme
which is a key part of the Rural Development Programme, is administered by the Department
of Environment, Community and Local Government. LEADER supports for the 2007-2013
Programme were delivered on the ground by 36 Local Action Groups.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is the managing authority
for the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (NIRDP). DARD delivers specic
agricultural supports and schemes directly to farm families while the LEADER element was
delivered by 7 Local Action Groups (NIRDP 2007-2013). The LEADER programme for 2014-
2020 will be delivered by Local Action Groups in 10 geographic areas.
4.2.2 Rural Development Supports for Social Farming
While there are no specic social farming policy measures or support programmes within
Rural Development Programmes, there are other measures available to farmers and rural
dwellers that are relevant to social farmers. As the Rural Development Programmes (2014-
2020) for both jurisdictions are currently being considered by the EU Commission, the specic
elements where social farmers could gain access to supports are not yet agreed. However, an
indication of possible supports available can be gained by reection on the most recent Rural
Development Programmes 2007-2013. Some of the relevant measures included:
• Supports for the improvement of farm facilities (including farm safety);
Environmental measures included options relating to conservation and biodiversity e.g.
hedgerow rejuvenation and planting, stone wall maintenance, orchard conservation,
bird boxes; and
Specically under the LEADER programme supports were provided for: diversication;
business creation and development; basic service provision; conservation of rural
heritage and training.
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Handbook for Social Farming 33
In the absence of specic policy support for social farming, those interested need to explore
the potential within the wider rural development policy measures. This may require seeking
support for a specic aspect of social farming rather than the overall concept. Social
farmers should examine the supports that become available under the Rural Development
Programmes and LEADER in their own area.
It is worth remembering that the SoFAB Project was managed through the Leitrim Development
Company and other Local Development Companies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of
Ireland are considering supporting social farming activities in their own areas.
Policy and institutional linkages
As social farming crosses a number of different policy and institutional sectors, you need
to be aware that engagement in social farming can entail linking in with a wide-ranging and
diverse mix of people and organisations.
The number and mix of linkages you as a social farming family might be involved with can
vary depending on location, what kind of services you are offering, what kind of clients you
are interested in taking on, and how your activities are going to be funded. Below is an
example of the institutional linkages made by one farming family from the SoFAB project.
Example: Institutional Linkages on a SoFab Pilot Farm
The Campbell Farm, Co Tyrone
The Campbells created and fostered a wide range of
contacts, networks and links to promote and develop the
overall concept and to undertake their
social farming activities. Some of the main
contacts made included: Western Health
and Social Care Trust; Ashdale Care; and
other interested farmers in the Western
Health and Social Care Trust area.
The initial link with the Western Health and
Social Care Trust was facilitated through
SoFAB and the Public Health Agency (PHA).
Through this contact they identied possible
participants for the farm from both the mental
health and learning disability areas.
However, the local demand for supports came from those involved with mental health
issues. There has been ongoing dialogue between the Trust and the farmers with the aim
of developing services for the future. The Campbells have met with the Trust Director of
Services, local Mental Health Services Director and Occupational Therapy Manager in
addition to the Community Mental Health nurse and the local Occupational Therapist to
explore the options for the future and they also participated in the Western Trust Mental
Health Day in 2014.
The key contacts developed by the SoFAB Project and the Pilot Farmers are listed in
Appendix 1.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.1 Beginning the journey
The social farming journey can start with you as
a farmer, as a service provider, as an individual
looking to make changes in your life, hearing or
reading about social farming and thinking “that
sounds interesting, I’d like to know more about
As a farmer, you may be looking at ways to
diversify your family farm income, you may want
to express your own values more explicitly in
how you and your family earn a living, to expand
community involvement and connectivity. You may have an interest in working with people
with particular needs, arising from your own family experience and situation.
As an individual service user seeking change, you may be looking for ways to address and
move beyond challenges limiting your social and economic life, to expand your involvement
in socio-economic and community life. You may just be looking for something different to do,
something more interesting, more challenging, to broaden your sphere of activities and skills.
Maybe you are on a path of recovery from mental or physical breakdown, problems with
addiction, periods of imprisonment and feel that a period of time outdoors and in your own
community would be of benet to you. Whatever perspective brings people to choosing social
farming as an option, the clear focus of provision will be on supporting the progression of the
person, be that through life skills, social role development, work skills and work opportunity.
Direction and planning around this focus are led by the person, their ‘circle of support’ and
other key supports in people’s lives.
As a service provider, you may be looking to broaden choices and opportunities for your
clients, to expand the range of day activities and occupational services available to them.
Common Purpose
Whatever the variety of issues to address, decisions to take, and roles you have to play, you
will all have at least two things in common:
• You are all seeking change, something different in your daily or professional lives, and
Whatever path you are following, you will all go through the same essential stages
along your journey to and through social farming.
Section 5
Planning for Social Farming
/ Carer
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Handbook for Social Farming 35
Figure 1: Stages in becoming a social farmer
The following sections of the handbook take you through these different stages, with
information and guidelines to help you along the way.
5.2 Exploring possibilities
5.2.1 Where can I get more information about Social Farming?
There are a number of sources where you can get more information about social farming, what
it is about, and what it involves, including the increasing number of networks established by
practitioners of social farming such as the Social Farming Across Borders Project (SoFAB); Care Farming UK; Care
Farming Scotland; and Care Farming West Midlands,
Section 2 included information about some voluntary and other organisations which are
practising social farming or engaged in similar activities. Many of these have their own
websites and publications where you can access further information about their activities.
See the Social Farming Resources Section of this handbook (Section 7) for contact details for
these and other networks and organisations, along with references and links for a range of
research and policy documents and reports which you might nd interesting and informative.
Organisation formed by SoFAB Pilot Farmers
The farmers who delivered social farming services on a pilot
basis under the SoFAB Project have come together to form a
social farming organisation. This organisation is called Social
Farming Across Boundaries LTD. At the time of publishing this handbook (November 2014),
this organisation had just been incorporated as a company limited by guarantee and a
rst meeting of the Board of Directors had taken place. It will maintain a strong association
with the SoFAB Project team (2011-14) enabling it to build on the relationships established
through the work of the project.
This newly formed organisation aims to promote and develop social farming for all who
are interested across the island in The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Further information on the organisation can be accessed on the SoFAB website or by email to
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.2.2 How do I identify and access Social Farming opportunities?
There is no one straightforward route for those seeking a point of entry for
social farming, and whether you are a farmer wishing to become involved
in social farming, or a potential client seeking services, you will need to do
some research before nding a suitable opening.
As a farming family, you may nd it useful rst of all to develop some
understanding of health and social care policy approaches and service
provision arrangements. You might nd the Policy Context, Section 4.1., a
helpful starting point for this.
A good approach then is to conduct a survey of your locality and wider geographic area with
regard to services and potential clients, including which services are provided by whom in
statutory and voluntary health and social care sectors, and how and by whom they are funded.
Potential providers or partners to explore as part of your market research into current service
provision and identication of potential social farming opportunities could include:
Statutory Service Providers
Voluntary Sector Organisations
In Northern Ireland, social farming-related services as part of occupational or rehabilitation
care would generally be contracted with or through one of the ve Health and Social Care
Trusts. The Centre for Independent Living NI (CILNI) provides support for individuals who
manage their own care budgets. This means they are allocated a budget and receive
payments with which they contract and pay for their own support services. Some of the
SoFAB social farming services were contracted in this way.
In the Republic of Ireland, while the practise of individual managed budgets is part of current
health care policy, this is not yet widely implemented or available. Many services under the
Health Services Executive and other state providers are contracted out, and direct provision
is the exception rather than the norm.
There is a possibility that you might, as a social farmer, be able to establish yourself as
a registered service provider with the HSE, and enter into contractual arrangements for
provision of social farming services. Such arrangements are still unusual, and you would
need patience and persistence to be successful, but social farming is an innovative sector
and pursuing innovative provision arrangements and mechanisms is an important part of
expanding provision and choice in the ordinary places of community life.
Many voluntary organisations, particularly residential service providers, include outdoor work
and activities among their range of services and treatment programmes. They may be able
to introduce you to potential clients among their members. You might nd that some of
these organisations are open and willing to discuss expanding social farming services for
their members and there may be scope for you as a farmer to establish yourself as a service
provider contracted by them, or to engage with them in developing project proposals and
funding applications for social farming activities.
So if you are a farm family looking for a point of entry into social farming, or if you are a
potential client, seeking social farming opportunities, it is worth contacting representative
and service provision voluntary agencies such as REHABCare,; the
Irish Society for Autism,; Camphill communities,;
North West Parents and Friends Association; Down’s Syndrome Ireland Even if they are not engaged in or offering social farming as
an option, they can be useful sources of information and advice for you.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 37
Local Action Groups
Local Action Groups throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are involved in
implementing the LEADER and social inclusion elements within national rural development
policies. Some are already involved in facilitating and promoting social farming activities -
Leitrim Development Company for instance managed the Social Farming Across Borders
project as part of its rural development remit.
So it is always worth checking in with your Local Action Group to see if they are either
engaged in social farming in any way or willing to consider it. They may have information
about others who are involved even if they themselves are not.
Another possibility you might want to consider as part of diversifying your farm enterprise to
include or focus on social farming and related activities and services, is the establishment of
a social enterprise.
Social enterprises are businesses with a social purpose, and may suit those who wish to adopt
an entrepreneurial approach to achieving social or environmental change. Social enterprises
share a number of common features which distinguish them from other businesses:
• They have a social, community, ethical or environmental purpose
• They generally operate using a commercial business model
• They are not run for personal prot (but do aspire to make prot)
• They operate on the basis of a set of values
• They have a legal status appropriate to these characteristics
The social enterprise sector is incredibly diverse, encompassing co-operatives, development
trusts, community enterprises, housing associations, football supporters’ trusts, social rms
and leisure trusts, and uses a wide variety of legal forms. If you are thinking of setting up a
social enterprise, it is wise to seek advice from an appropriate support agency.
Further information and advice:
Social Enterprise NI
DIY Committee guide
Irish Social Enterprise Network
Social Entrepreneurs Ireland
As a client wanting to check out possible social farming services, you might rst of all talk
to your care support team, and nd out if they are aware of social farming, and if they have
information about possible opportunities. If they are not aware of social farming, it might
be useful for you to gather some information yourself, maybe with support from family and
friends, and bring it to their attention.
It may also be worthwhile exploring what kind of services and support might be available
from voluntary sector organisations, particularly those operating within your area. See the
references to voluntary organisations in the section above addressed to farmers. Even if they
do not offer any social farming-type services, they might be able to offer some support, such
as help with transport, if you can access opportunities elsewhere.
If you are a participant with your own individualised care budget, you may be able to allocate
part of your budget to purchase social farming support. The Centre for Independent Living NI provides support for members
in managing their own budgets. Even for those of you with your own budget, this can still
be a time-consuming and complex process, so be prepared for this - you may need a lot of
patience and perseverance!
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.2.3 Who can consider Social Farming?
The Farming Family
Farmers who are operating any type or mix of farming activities can consider social farming
practice. In the SoFAB Project the participating farmers included dairy farmers, drystock
farmers and tillage farmers as well as some who operated small mixed enterprise holdings.
Partner organisations and service providers may use different criteria to assess the elegibility
and suitability of farmers to provide different services. The criteria used by the SoFAB
pilot project are shown below. These were assessed through farming families completing
application forms initially, then by farm visits to shortlisted farmers and discussions with the
farming families.
Apart from being practicing farmers, the key criteria on the basis of which farmers were
shortlisted and selected from applicants to the SoFAB Project were:
Farm situation and capacity to meet needs: A central criterion was to what extent an
applicant farmer’s farm would be able to accommodate the safety, comfort and welfare needs
of people with a range of needs coming to work on them. What changes or adjustments might
need to be made and were farmers able and willing to make these?
Relevant work, life and/or community engagements and activities: This was about
the kind of work conducted on the farm, and the overall life and work arrangements of the
farming family, and to what extent they could easily and practically accommodate the time,
energy and work commitments required in meeting the needs of social farming participants.
Involvement in community affairs and activities was considered as an important element, in
terms of facilitating and encouraging more social and community engagement for potential
Relevant supporting skills and experience: This was about identifying whether farming
family members might have skills or life experience which would be of benet and relevance
for supporting social farming participants. Some members of farming families for instance
were or had been engaged in health and/or social care work, some had experience of close or
extended family members with mental health or learning/intellectual difculties. While these
experiences were not an essential requirement for entry into the project, or to undertake
social farming overall, they were considered to be an advantage.
Whether operating solo or as part of a project or group, any farming family offering or considering
offering social farming services should be ready to meet the following requirements.
The SoFAB Experience
Criteria for farmer selection
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 39
As a farming family interested in pursuing social farming, you need to be ready and willing to:
3 Open up your farm and home to engage with and support people with health, social, and
personal support needs.
3 Commit yourself and your family to provide social farming services for a specied period of
time and for specied hours and days.
3 Engage fully with service providers and clients in planning and agreeing a clear programme
of activities and support.
Facilitate and promote social engagement between clients and local communities.
3 Comply with all relevant regulations, including those relating to health and safety; protection
of vulnerable adults; insurance; police vetting and clearance.
The Clients
Social farming can accommodate a wide range of persons with different abilities and needs,
through a process of carefully matching the individual with an appropriate context and
programme, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place.
The SoFAB Experience
Participant prole and criteria
Participants for the SoFAB pilot project were identied mainly through engagement with
statutory and voluntary service providers and support organisations.
Prospective participants, with assistance from support personnel if necessary, completed an
application form explaining why they were interested in social farming and what they hoped
to gain from the experience. They were also asked to say something about themselves and
their interests and support needs.
A total of 66 adults participated in the piloting of services, 37 with learning/intellectual needs and
and 29 with mental health challenges. Participants were selected on the basis of their motivation;
basic physical and mental capacity to take on some tasks in a farm setting; what kind of support
needs they would have and to what extent these could be and were likely to be met during the
social farming period.
Whether you are applying for a place on a project or other organised training or rehabilitation
scheme, or exploring possible opportunities for new experiences with service providers or
family members, there are certain commitments you will have to take on if you want to get
involved in social farming activities.
As a potential social farming client, you need to be able and willing to:
3 Commit to a regular day or days and times for a mutually agreed period
3 Take on tasks which would include working on the land and/or taking care of animals and/
or helping out with maintenance and other physical work
3 Engage socially with the farm family members and others working on and around the farm
3 Comply with any required health and safety practices including use of protective clothing
and equipment
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.2.4 Is Social Farming for Me?
Now you’ve got more information, you feel you know a lot more about what social farming is
and what might be involved, you have established what kind of opportunities there might be
around and who you need to contact and how to take it further.
Social farming does take time, and commitment, and
can be challenging for clients and farmers. Only you
can decide if this is right for you and your family in
your situation and at this particular stage of your life.
So, it is important for everyone who might be involved
to take time to reect on and talk about all the
information they have got, whether there is anything
else people need to know, what would getting involved
entail, what are the implications of taking this on, what
worries or concerns people might have, before coming
to a denite decision to go ahead.
The Farming Family
Embarking on social farming is a decision which affects
not just the individual farmer considering it, but the whole
farming family, and others working on the farm. It is important
to discuss the implications of a decision to go forward with
all those who will be directly involved or affected in one
way or another, to ensure that all are fully informed, and
willing and able to take on such a commitment and make
the necessary changes to accommodate it.
Some family members may be nervous about bringing
people with physical, learning/ intellectual needs and/or mental health issues into and around
their home, and be unsure of how to communicate with, and relate to them. It is important
that everyone concerned has the space to be open and honest about questions and worries
they might have, and has the opportunity to get information and support from others to
address these issues.
As a farming family exploring the possibilities of social farming, you might consider the
following questions and issues before making a decision to apply:
Is everyone in the family agreeable to giving it a go, are there any worries or issues
which still need to be talked about?
Are the family members ready and willing to make the regular time commitment over
the period of however many weeks or months, involved in a social farming contract?
Are there any kinds of physical, mental, social and learning/intellectual needs which
you as a family are particularly interested in working with, and any you do not feel
comfortable or condent to work with?
What kind of activities and services can you offer on the farm, within your current range
of operations, for the groups of individuals you feel would be a good match for you?
Are you ready to ensure full compliance with all health and safety requirements, and
to take whatever additional measures may be necessary to safeguard potentially
vulnerable adults, who may have limited capacity, and little or no experience of farms
or farming activities?
So, do you go
for it or not?
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 41
The Clients
Questions for potential users of social farming to consider,
and discuss with family, carers and service staff, before
making a denite application might include:
Why would you like to try social farming?
What do you hope most to gain from it?
How do you feel about working outdoors, about
working physically, maybe in mucky conditions, or
in bad weather?
How do you feel about interacting and working with animals? Are there any kinds of
animals you would particularly like to work with, or would denitely not want to work
with or be around?
How do you feel about working with soil and plants and getting your hands dirty?
• Are there any aspects you think you might nd difcult, or feel nervous about?
What kind of support and assistance do you think you might need, including practical
areas such as transport, mobility, health and other issues?
Do you think you will be ready and able to give the necessary time and commitment to
make it a success for you?
What emotional and practical assistance can you expect to get from family, friends,
care assistants or other service staff?
The Social or Health Care Provider
A discussion on seeking social farming services may be
initiated in some cases when a client comes to you as their
care provider asking for information about or assistance
in accessing social farming opportunities.
In other cases you may already be aware of social
farming as an option, and you might feel it is a potentially
appropriate option for one or more of your clients, and
be interested in identifying possible openings and
Bearing in mind that the ultimate decision on whether a client can or cannot take on social
farming would rest with the client, as a care provider you still have a clear responsibility to
consider to what extent social farming might be appropriate or feasible for your client at that
moment in their lives, and to advise accordingly.
Has the client been given all the information they need to be able to make an informed
Is there a potentially suitable match for the client, within the client’s locality, or at a
reasonable distance from it?
Is there a reasonable expectation that all appropriate and necessary supports can be
put in place?
Are there sufcient budgetary/nancial resources denitely or at least potentially
available to cover any costs?
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.3 Taking it further
While it contains information relevant for anyone interested in getting more involved in social
farming practice, this following section is particularly focused on the process a farming family
might follow in pursuing social farming opportunities.
Once you have identied a potential opportunity to offer social farming services as a farming
family, the next step is gathering the information you need to put a proposal or application
together and submit it.
Different service providers and agencies will have their own requirements for social farming
and consequently negotiating a social farming service with them will initially require dialogue
with them in order to be clear on what it is they require from a service. The examples given
below are taken from the SoFAB Project. While these are particular to the SoFAB Project, you
will generally nd that most organisations will require the same information in order to engage
with and support social farming.
5.3.1 Preparing a Farm Prole
Starting out as a social farmer is very much the same as commencing any innovative farm
diversication activity or service provision. This always involves the development of a business
plan for the service or product which is being provided by the diversication activity.
A good starting point in business planning for social farming is to prepare a farm prole
- an overall picture of the farm and farming activities, the farming family’s interests and
background, and the locality.
If you are a farmer and want to get started in social farming, the farm prole would be an
important part of your preparation. The prole would be shown to potential clients, who
would be considering which farms, locations and activities might be of most interest for them.
There is no right or wrong way to prepare a prole, but as an example, the proles prepared
by all SoFAB pilot farmers included the following headings and content:
• Your Details – Photo, Location
This includes farming family names, address of the farm, contact details, and who and
where to contact for more information or enquiries.
• About My Farm
Describe your farm, how big is it? What does the farm and surrounding area look like?
How do you use the land? What kind of livestock do you have? What kind of crops do
you grow on your farm? What other kind of activities are there? Do you make cheese
for example, or jam?
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 43
• Activities of the farm throughout the year
What are the main activities, jobs, carried out at different
times of the year?
Some people might be particularly interested in being
around for lambing time, or for harvesting. Some may feel
they prefer to be around a farm during the warmer, brighter
months of the year. It is also helpful to outline what kind
of activities you are proposing, and for whom it might be
appropriate, in terms of what kind of physical and other
capacity and skills would be called on.
• Projects on the farm
This would include specic projects you are currently engaged in, or planning to take on,
which might be of interest for prospective social farming clients. Examples might be:
drystone walling around a farm area;
establishing a herb or organic vegetable garden;
establishing a bog garden;
diversifying into fruit production, cheese making;
installing solar power or a windmill
• My Locality and Community/Local services
Map out your locality and community, including for example: schools, health centre,
government ofces and services, churches, pubs, shops, post ofce, sports facilities,
agricultural co-op, cinema.
This can be a useful planning tool as proximity of different institutions and services
can be important in deciding which type of clients to target, what activities are most
appropriate, and what kind of social and community interaction clients might potentially
get involved with.
• About me/my family - ‘our story’
This is a prole of the farming family, where you might
describe how or why you got into farming, why you are
interested in social farming, whether you have children,
what kind of interests you have. Include enough of
whatever you feel comfortable sharing with others, to
give some idea of what kind of people you are.
The more complete and attractive the prole, the more
likely it is that potential clients will feel interested and
condent enough to want to know more and come and
check out the farm.
Pictures of the farm, the family, the livestock and surroundings are a great way of
helping clients to visualise your farm. They can imagine themselves in that context,
think about whether they nd the idea attractive, and see practically what kind of
activities would be involved if they were to work with you.
A sample farm prole prepared by one of the SoFAB pilot farmers is included
as Appendix 2. You can access further proles on the SoFAB website
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.3.2 The Business Plan
You may or may not already have a business plan
for your farm in place. If you are proposing to get
involved in social farming, it would be advisable to
prepare one. Even if you decide not to carry on with
social farming, you may still nd it a very useful tool
in planning out your farm business.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons they are believed
attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information
about the organisation or team attempting to reach those goals.
Why a business plan?
If you are seeking nance from any nancial institutions, or putting forward funding
applications, a business plan will almost certainly be requested, whether as a separate
document or integrated into a funding proposal, and access to nance would commonly be
dependent on approval of a business plan.
A business plan however is much more than a
funding application. It is a tool which can contribute
enormously to the effective implementation and
success of your enterprise. It maps out what you
want to do, the route you need to follow. It allows
you to track your own progress, and to make
adjustments as necessary in response to changing
circumstances and markets.
It serves as an important tool in convincing others
that you and your idea are worthy of support. Others with a stake in your business plan
Organisations, service providers, who you may wish to partner and work with you, and
who will pay for your service.
Advocates, clients, who are choosing and willing to engage in your Social Farming
Organisations to whom you may wish to apply for grants, e.g. government departments,
enterprise and other business development agencies.
Banks, and other nancial institutions to whom you may apply for establishment or
operational loans.
Investors from whom you wish to attract capital, if you are developing social enterprises.
Professional advisors, such as accountants and solicitors.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 45
What should I include in a business plan?
Business plans vary enormously in size
and complexity. If you are applying for
funding or loans to nancial or other
institutions, some may have specic
formats they want you to follow,
detailing exactly what information they
require from you.
Whether you are using a preset format
or developing your own, the core
elements of any business plan are:
What kind of business you are in and your model of service provision
How you are structured, organised, registered as a legal entity; whether you are a
multifunctional farm, a social enterprise, engaging in social farming as part of farm
What activities you want to pursue over the number of years covered in the plan
Describe the activities, associated range of abilities, horticulture, agriculture, indoors &
outdoors, physical & non-physical elements of the services you are offering
Current assets and resources
nancial, human and material assets
What further resources you need to enable you to carry out your planned activities
nancial, human and material resources
Where and how you propose to get these resources
Access to credit, reinvestment of income back into business, proposed purchase of
equipment, recruitment of personnel
Financial information
What your costs are; your anticipated income; your anticipated prots, i.e. your
projected income less your
costs; summary budgets for
the period of the plan
Your farm prole is a good start for
your business plan, in particular the
description of your farming activities,
current and proposed projects and
what assets and resources you
have, what services you can offer,
and your mapping of your locality
and existing services.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
For a business plan incorporating or predominantly about social farming,
it is important to ensure that you:
3 Describe the benets of what you can provide to those who pay for your services, and to
your clients who come to the farm.
3 Describe the practicalities of how logistics/transport issues for example can be explored
and dealt with, and what you can contribute in this regard.
3 Describe the elements of reporting, recording quality control, monitoring, which you can
3 Show how your business will be organised, how it will be managed and by whom.
3 Detail and address: health and safety, insurance, supervision, supports, Garda vetting or
Police clearances (AccessNI / Garda Vetting, etc).
The SoFAB Experience
Pricing policy
So how do you decide what price to put on the service you are offering, ensuring you are being
fair to yourself and the time and effort going into the service, as well as being fair to the client?
When you are proposing to work in an area like social farming which encompasses a range
of very diverse activities and services and
contractual arrangements, working out your
pricing policy can be a challenging exercise.
You will need to:
1. Calculate your costs
2. Calculate any value from your clients’ inputs to
offset against your costs
3. Set your price for the services you are offering
Calculating your costs
Identify and analyse the costs associated with what you are doing, making sure to include
all of the costs: capital costs, one-off expenditure; running or operational costs; and labour.
Capital costs would include any work carried out as part of preparation for engaging in social
farming, for example renovating/installing new washing and toilet facilities; adjustments to
farm buildings and/or equipment to make them more user-friendly and minimise risk, as well
as purchases of equipment or tools for specic use with social farming clients.
Running or operational costs would commonly include utilities such as heating, light;
provision of refreshments; insurance premia; telephone and other communications
Labour costs, whether included as a separate item or under running or operational costs,
should be included. This would usually be based on calculating the number of hours the
farmer and/or family members envisage spending per client/per day or week, multiplied by
an hourly rate or fee. The hourly rate is a matter for your own judgement, perhaps drawing
on your own research of the labour market, in arriving at a fair approximation of your labour
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 47
The SoFAB Experience
Social farming costs
The SoFAB Project report on Costs and Benets of Social Farming http://www. reported average core costs for the pilot farms of €14.16
in Northern Ireland and €10.84 in the Republic of Ireland (range from €4.14 to €24.10 per
service user per day) and an average total cost (including notional labour costs) of €65.68 in
NI (range from €33.15 to €107.20) and €69.11 in ROI (range from €34.20 to €113.79). Core
costs include capital and running costs only.
Calculating value of clients’ contribution
Against the costs calculated you may also consider offsetting the value coming from the work
carried out by the clients.
On the basis of the services you are offering, and the activities in which you envisage
clients engaging, decide what contributions to the farm enterprise your clients can be
expected to make such as products for sale or other benets to you and your family.
Put a value on the incoming benets, such as number of hours and value of labour;
percentage contribution to market prices of goods produced for sale. Some social
benets as well as economic can be included and valued here.
Pricing your service
To arrive at a price for the services you are offering, you:
• Offset the estimated value of your clients’ contributions against your calculated costs
Decide on a prot margin which satises your circumstances and is realistic in
accordance with your market research
• Calculate your price per hour, per day, per person
In quoting prices for your services, make sure you clarify what this price includes - for example
if meals are provided - and if appropriate, calculate and quote prices with and without
additional or optional items. Identify also any additional costs such as transport or special
clothing to be covered by the client or service provider. If your social farming enterprise is to
be sustainable, it is important to be realistic in pricing, while at the same time ensuring that
you are giving value for money.
Costs for service providers
The above section focused on business and nancial planning for prospective social
farmers. For further information on farmer costs, and information on comparative costs
for service providers, see the SoFAB report on Costs and Benets of Social Farming,
Advice and support on preparing business plans related to social farming can be obtained
from a variety of organisations and web sources (See Section 7).
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.3.3 Finding the Right Match
Successful outcomes in social farming practice rest on ensuring so far as is possible, that
there is a good match between the individual client’s interests, needs and capacity, and
the services offered by the farm and the farming family, leading to a mutually benecial
relationship and positive experience for all.
The farm prole as described in the previous section provides a lot of information which can
help the potential clients to assess if this particular farm might be suitable for them. The
information proled on the farm family and on the potential client, detailing their interests,
and what they hope to gain from the experience, is key in matching up potential partners in
the enterprise.
However well-matched people appear on paper however, it is only when people come face-
to-face that it is possible to assess the personal dynamics and how the relationship might
work. So before any agreement is reached, or contracts drawn up, the rst step in planning
is to arrange personal introductions, between the farming family and the prospective clients.
This can happen wherever people are most comfortable to meet initially, but often starts with
a visit to the farm, usually accompanied by important support people, where both farmer and
clients can get to know each other a little in the setting where they would be working together
in the future.
In some cases, this introduction may
not be successful, and one or other
of you may decide this is not the right
place or client for you. This does not
mean social farming is not the right
activity for you, it means that the
particular dynamic and match did
not work, but others may do.
Matching a social farm and a client
is a two-way process. It is not like
a job application, with the farmer
setting out a list of jobs to be done
and only clients who can efciently
take on all of these tasks being
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 49
The jobs or activities to be included in the arrangement are based on what are appropriate,
realistically do-able, and of interest for that particular client with their particular needs,
interests, and capacity.
Everyone has ability, everyone has skills and those coming into social farming are doing so
because they want to do something meaningful and enjoyable with their time and to develop
their potential further. The focus is not on what people cannot do, but on what they can
currently do, and how they can be supported to further expand their sphere of skills and
ability through the social farming programme.
5.4 Service agreements and support plans
Whoever the referral or partner agencies may be, there will always be a formal agreement or
contract to be signed by all parties. There are two main areas to be discussed and agreed on
as part of entering into social farming practice:
Legal contractual obligations will be established identifying and describing roles
and responsibilities of all parties concerned, describing the expected services to be
provided and identifying expected outcomes
Establishing a support framework which sets out the parameters and ground rules
for how the social farming practice will work on a day-to-day basis, what the mutual
expectations are, and most importantly, what kind of support the client may need to
fully benet from the experience, and how these needs will be met.
In some situations, depending on the context and parties involved in the proposed social
farming engagement, these two aspects may be established as separate agreements, at
different stages in the process. In other situations, all of these aspects will be included in one
contract or service agreement.
5.4.1 Contractual agreement
In the case of SoFAB project, the social farming activities were implemented within a
coordinated and facilitated pilot project and the project management took on the legal
responsibility of signing an agreement with statutory agencies. SoFAB established a
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed by SoFAB project management,
and service providers for each client, as the guiding framework agreed for the pilot practice
The MoU set out expected roles and the responsibilities of each party to the agreement,
including risk-sharing issues and respective responsibilities for this. It also described the
operational process, the procedure for withdrawal from the project, and identied expected
outcomes. The full template is attached as Appendix 3, as an example of the kind of issues
to be considered and included. The support framework was then established at a later stage
as a participatory process with specic farmers and clients.
Since social farming in Ireland is in its infancy it is too early to dene the nature or types of
contracts which will be entered into by farmers and commissioners. Many of the Pilots for
the SoFAB Project are at the time of writing this Handbook (November 2014) at the stage of
negotiating contracts, MOUs, or service level agreements.
In many cases however, it would be you, the farmer, who would be expected to sign up to a
specied agreement or contract, which would likely combine most elements of the SoFAB
MoU and the support framework components.
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
5.4.2 Client support framework
Whether developed as a separate document, or incorporated into the contractual service
agreement, establishing a support framework is a key part of the planning process.
Even where the main elements of a support framework are included in the service agreement
or contract, it may still be useful to establish a more specic and detailed support framework in
discussions between the service provider and the farmers with the clients. This can serve as a
working blueprint for the social farming experience. There are ve key elements which should
appear in any comprehensive support framework, as described below, and these should be
discussed and agreed between the farming family, the client and the service provider.
A comprehensive support framework should clearly set out:
1. Key contact information for the social farmer
2. Personal goals
3. Support issues for clients and how these will be met
4. Logistical issues
5. Key relationships
1 Key contact information for the social farmer
Relationships and communications are at the centre of a successful social farming experience.
Ensure that all concerned have the necessary information about who they should contact
regarding various issues - and under what circumstances. Key contact details should be
stored in the farmer’s mobile phone and should also be kept in an accessible location on the
farm (ie. at a specic place in the farmhouse, beside a ‘phone etc.)
Contact information to keep to hand would include:
• The key worker contact for the person
• Family/Home contacts where applicable
• The Service Manager
• Contacts for transport arrangements
• GP or other medical support contacts as appropriate
The Service Contact for reporting incidents/accidents including abuse/suspected abuse
2 Personal goals and targets
An important part of the planning process and the establishment of a support framework is
talking about what the participants want to get out of the project. What do you as a farmer, or
as a client, hope to gain from social farming? What do you want to change, to achieve? How
would you describe a successful outcome?
For those engaged in a journey of recovery, for those of you who want to expand your
horizons or life skills, for those who want to expand and change your lives beyond their
current limitations, spending some time thinking and talking about the specic changes you
want to make, and setting some goals or targets around these, is an important part of the
For the farmers and their families, it is important for you to be involved in this process of
identifying and establishing goals. This helps you to:
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 51
• Incorporate goals into the support framework and activity plans
Ensure that service-users choose activities that have meaning and are directed towards
engagement in their chosen roles and the aims they want to achieve.
Allow for periodic review during the social farming process, and be ready to refocus
goals and targets as necessary, after exploration and experience
It is also useful for you, as the farming family, to talk about and clarify your own goals and
expectations and to explore how these can be met through the mutually-agreed support
As a client, you may already be engaged in a recovery or life-planning process and have
established some personal goals which you will now want to apply to your social farming
For those of you who have not yet done so, or who would like to establish a specic plan for
this new experience, there are many different tools and methodologies which can be used
by clients and farming families, with service-provider’s input as appropriate, to assist in the
identication of goals and setting of targets and how to assess them.
The Mental Health Recovery Star is one tool which can be used by clients and farmers with
support from service providers, as part of planning and establishing the support framework. It
was developed with service-users and is recommended by the UK strategy on mental health,
New Horizons.
The Star identies 10
areas of our lives where we
might want to make some
changes, and each of these
life areas are further detailed
in 10 sequential stages,
where progression towards
recovery, towards living more
independent, more fullled
lives, can be identied and
tracked. It can be helpful to
identify where clients would
locate themselves along the
10 stages of the arms of the
star, and interesting for the
farmers and others to do the
same. All of us have areas in
our lives where we might like
to make some changes. For
the purposes of measuring
progression, clients can be encouraged to identify the areas of their lives (i.e. along which
arms of the star) they would most like to make changes. This then allows for identication
of specic goals in moving further along the 10 progression stages for each of these areas.
The Mental Health Recovery Star
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
3 Support issues for clients, and how will these be met
Social farming clients come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and needs, and many
will have particular support needs related to these challenges. It is important that any Special
Support Needs, Medical Needs and Particular Known Risks are identied before the on-farm
engagement starts, and clients’ own insights into, and perceptions of, their particular support
needs are central to this process. Discussions around how these needs can be met, and by
whom, would also include service providers and other relevant individuals and institutions.
Some of the issues identied in this discussion, and ways to address them, were highlighted
in the previous section on goals and target-setting. The key questions are:
• How can the service provider or referral agency help meet the needs?
• What does the farming family need to know and to do?
• Who is responsible for what?
• Is there budgetary or other support assistance available to help meet the clients’ needs?
Are there any physical adjustments or changes which need to be made on the farm, for
example to facilitate communications, mobility, access to/use of equipment and tools?
Basic checklist established for support issues
3 Mobility (steadiness/accessibility)
3 Communication methods used by person
3 Likes/Dislikes
3 Dietary issues
3 Health Issues (Have these been checked with the person’s G.P.?)
• Diabetes
• Epilepsy
• Personal care/intimate care needs
• Allergies
• Medication
• Tetanus vaccine history
3 Sensory issues (Visual, Hearing, other…)
3 Road and trafc awareness
3 Smoking
The SoFAB Experience
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming 53
Below are a few examples of the type of support issues included in the SoFAB Project Support
Frameworks, and how they might be addressed
Support issue for Client: How will this be met during pilot practice?
Help with transport needed Family member can bring client in the morning, farmer will
bring client home at the end of the day.
Maintaining daily Ensure farmer has full information on type and timing of
medication regime medication to be taken.
Farmer to make sure client has necessary medication with
them and a contact/designated person(s) if any problem
Build reminders into working day schedule, for example
linking up with scheduled breaks, and installing time alerts
on phone.
Allergic to insect bites Client to always wear protective cream out of doors.
Anti-histamine tables/ointment to be accessible indoors
and outdoors in common work areas.
Check if client has prescription for epinephrine injection
and keep one available for emergencies.
Signicant hearing Client will be accompanied on farm days by care assistant
/speech impairment with signing and interpretation skills.
Some support issues, such as transport, can be addressed more easily than others. Some
issues require specialist assistance and it is vitally important that any essential assistance be
clearly agreed and organised in advance.
For example, in one case during the SoFAB project, a client with hearing difculties did not receive
the expected support, which made communications with the farming family difcult and frustrating
for all, and signicantly affected the quality of the client’s experience with social farming.
4 Logistical Issues
These issues relate to all practical arrangements to be considered and agreed before starting to
engage with the farm. They are the kind of issues which can cause anxiety and frustration when
they are not claried, or do not work out as planned. Establishing and maintaining routines
and regular attendance can be a signicant achievement for some clients, and all involved can
support this achievement by being clear and consistent in their own logistical arrangements.
You will nd that the time and effort put into identifying, clarifying and agreeing concrete
arrangements, is time well-spent, and will contribute hugely to making the social farming
experience a positive one for all. The following are the key issues to be considered as part of
logistical planning.
• Agreed days
How many days, and which days, will be spent on the farm? What happens if these
coincide with bank holidays, or over Easter, Christmas? Are there particular dates
known in advance when the arrangement is not possible for either the farmer or the
Handbook for Social Farming
Handbook for Social Farming
Transport arrangements for clients
The range of transport arrangements for clients in the SoFAB Project included:
Local community transport schemes and initiatives
Transport assistance from organisations such as the Irish Wheelchair Association and
Rehab Care
Social farmers picking clients up from home or care centres or other pre-arranged pick
up points
Family members, support personnel or care provider staff dropping clients off and
picking them up afterwards
Some participants used public transport for part of the journey or drove themselves
• Time
What are the agreed arrival and departure times each day? As
transport arrangements can sometimes be complicated, it is
important to be as punctual and consistent as possible with
regular time arrangements.
• Transport arrangements
Transport needs to be discussed at an early stage in the
planning process. Many farms will not be directly served by
public transport, so even where clients are comfortable with
independent travel, some support arrangements may be necessary.
Is there transport assistance available from the service provider, or any local
voluntary organisations, who might have their own minibus or other transport?
Can the client’s family or care support team help?
Is there any way farming family members might be able to help?
Is there a budget for transport costs?
Regular transport arrangements need to be clearly arranged and agreed and in
place before engagement with the farm starts.
Transport arrangements for clients
The SoFAB Experience
• Meals and refreshments
What are the arrangements in place regarding food? Is there a lunch provided? Are
clients expected to bring their own? Where will they eat? Are there refreshments/
beverages available? Is there any charge for this?
Some Social Farms offer additional services such as the provision of food. This can
be as simple as providing tea, coffee and biscuits on arrival to providing full, cooked
meals. The decision to offer food options within a social farming package will again
depend on the circumstance at the farm, the requirements of the clients and also the
facilities at the farm for cooking and eating. Eating is a social activity and gives people
an opportunity to interact and can provide an important break in the day’s activities or
mark the start or nish to a day’s social farming.
Check in advance if there are any dietary issues to be considered, particularly if