Social farming is growing in popularity amongst community-spirited West Cork farmers who are looking to diversify.
The movement is described as ‘providing people who use services with the opportunity for inclusion, to increase self-esteem and to improve health and wellbeing by taking part in day-to-day farm activities on a family farm.’
Founded in Leitrim, three Bantry farmers have recently come on board with excellent results. And now, West Cork Development Partnership, who run the scheme in this area, are looking for more to come on board.
Sheep farmer Jerry O’Donoghue from Pairceanna, outside Bantry, is one of those involved as well as Jerry Daly and Denis Minihane.
Jerry, who runs a 250-sheep farm with his wife Eileen got involved after hearing about the concept from Joe Cronin of West Cork Development Partnership.
After he underwent extensive training, a user of local mental health services was placed with them for one day a week for 11 weeks with great results.
There is a small payment to farmers for getting involved in, however Joe stressed that economic gain wasn’t a motivating factor among participants and mainly covered insurance costs.
‘It’s more about giving back,’ he said, adding that he’d highly recommend the opportunity.
Joe said that, while the programme is still in its infancy, they’ve had lots of queries from various organisations from Skibbereen, Bandon and Clonakilty, keen to get their service users a suitable placement on a scheme.
As a result, Joe is looking to hear from farmers who are open to getting involved. It’s important to note, however, that this isn’t a means of acquiring labourers and that participants aren’t working for the farmer directly.
Instead, it’s providing participants, be they mental health service users or those with learning disabilities, a chance to improve their wellbeing and social interactions.
And, for farmers, it’s about seeing the positive effects of the experience and helping those more typically excluded.
For example, Jerry said, the woman placed on his farm, would never have experienced outdoor life, and ended up helping with things like retagging, moving animals.
‘We went to the mart one day – I think she found the experience very helpful,’ he said.
At the end of last year, Minister of State at the Dept of Health, Jim Daly, committed to funding the national social farming initiative at an open day at Jerry Daly’s farm.
Minister Daly described it as a ‘wonderful initiative.’ He said: ‘The amount of therapy that is available on a farm is incredible, you have fresh air and the wonderful countryside.
‘For too long the medicalised model has taken the lead in mental health issues and I am honoured and thrilled that down here in West Cork we have three family farms involved with the social farming programme.
‘I am thrilled as well to give the commitment that, as a national government, we will get behind this initiative and we will support it,’ he added.