Mary Sellers FarmBuddies writes about improving the wellbeing of young people and adults.

Social Farming, also known as Care Farming, is the practice of offering Family Farms and other similar farming holdings as a form of social service.  Some farms can be a specialized treatment farm but more often they remain a typical working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in the farm’s activities in a non-clinical environment.  Visits are usually one day a week and participants do a variety of regular farm jobs under farmer supervision, including animal care, according to age, choice and ability. 

FarmBuddies, a Social Enterprise established in 2008, arranges for accompanied individuals or small groups with individual needs, from ages 9-90, to visit farms in their local area in the South East.  Over 2000 funded Individual Day Places have been commissioned through FarmBuddies by Local Authorities, charities, schools and parents. 

For Daniel [name changed], a 19 year old with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) who has a wide range of interests including love of the outdoors, what better way of adding to his wellbeing than spending time on a farm helping with the animals and being able to set up his easel and paint (another of his great loves) to his heart’s content in a peaceful, natural and secure place.  FarmBuddies managed to find the perfect setting for Daniel on a 40-acre conservation project in East Sussex where the head steward successfully combines education, agriculture, conservation and ecotherapy to produce a stunning outdoor learning experience. 

This farm stands out not just because of its ultra-calm setting, lake and yurt but also because of the variety of rural activities and the community inclusiveness prioritised by the team involved.  The success of a programme of visits depends on the careful matching of the person and their particular in-terests and needs with the right farm; most farms are pre-visited by FarmBuddies.  Considering the varied aspects of conditions such as autism and other related issues, or the potentially difficult legacy weighing on the family of an excluded school child, it often comes as a surprise how low-tech farming can produce so many changes in a person, which delight all involved. 

Research documents abound in relation to these multi-beneficial outcomes from time spent in nature and in doing meaningful work in the natural environment, with animal care being near the top of the list most times.  Dr Rachel Bragg and her colleagues at Essex University can be congratulated on collating some compelling findings (see notes at the end for the latest publications) over the last ten years to disarm even the most hardened sceptic. 

Daniel’s Mum is very sure it‘s just what he needed:

“Daniel loves Farm Buddies! It has been brilliant for his self-esteem, concentration levels and general enjoy-ment of the great outdoors.  He has been put to work on a number of tasks — from planting trees, to building fences and dams, to feeding livestock and clearing overgrown areas.  Each task has been meaningful, and Pete the facilitator has shown a real passion in his ex-planation and education around ‘farm procedures and the natural world’.  He is also very in tune with the children who have accompanied our son and never demanded too much — and yet has pushed them to achieve and stick at a task.  He tailors each task to the individual’s need and is extremely kind and supportive.  He also has a great sense of fun!  We always leave the sessions tired but very happy — with rosy cheeks and a real sense of wellbeing at having connected to and communed with nature.  And with greater understanding of how a land project is run and how the changing seasons bring about new challenges. I thoroughly recommend it.” 

Successful farm placements need the enthusiasm of the family/carer of the participant and the generosity of the farmers involved taking time to share their land and what’s happening on it. Changing priorities are making it clear that these precious spaces should be more accessible, as it is a win-win situation for all parties involved. 

More information is available at farmbuddies.org.uk and Mary Sellers can be contacted on 01420 538793, at mary@farmbuddies.org.uk and @farmbuddies

Notes

Care Farming in the UK & Ireland: Annual Survey 2016/17. (URL: carefarminguk.org)

Natural England Commissioned report NECR194: Expanding delivery of Care farming services to health and social care commissioners. ow.ly/tl8I30gk8Ve

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This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017  journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 116).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.