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SIMRA at the ESRS 2019 Congress- Exploring the role of social innovation driving transformations in rural areas

The XXVIII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress took place in June in Trondheim (Norway), and SIMRA was very present with the coordination of a Working Group, a dedicated session, and several presentations by a group of members of the team.

Diana Valero (Perth College-UHI) was the leading convenor of the WG 11 – ‘Social innovation and social farming as drivers of transformations and changes in rural areas’. The WG aimed to explore the understanding of social innovation in general and social farming in particular as drivers of rural change: from examining how concrete examples of social innovation transform social practices in agriculture, forestry, and rural development to discussing the deeper meanings that those changes may have in different socio-cultural contexts. With 5 sessions and more than 20 proposals, the participation in the WG was remarkably successful, which indicates the interest that social innovation and social farming are raising in rural studies.

The first session of the WG was exclusively dedicated to SIMRA, starting with a general presentation of the project by Diana Valero, which was followed by presentations on different research themes developed by the partnership. Kamini Vicentini (University of Padova) talked about the development of the evaluation framework, which raised lots of interest from the audience. Alice Ludvig (BOKU) talked about policies for social innovation and drew on examples from social farming. And finally, Diana Valero spoke about the diversity of social innovation in rural areas and presented results of the latest analysis conductedon the examples in the SIMRA database of examples of social innovation.

The rest of the working sessions were dedicated to other approaches to social innovation in rural areas, and the participants had the opportunity to hear from other H2020 projects working on related topics. Different perspectives ofsocial farming were the mainfocus of discussionin the last sessions of the WG. Verena Gramm (EURAC) presented results from the SIMRA Case Study ‘Learning-Growing-Living with women farmers in South Tyrol, reflecting on the impacts of this social innovation in the wellbeing of women farmers.

Also, our colleague Manfred Perlik (University of Berne) gave a presentation in WG 30 about social innovations in mountain areas hosting refugees drawing on work also developed in SIMRA.

The work done in WG11 triggered the development of interesting discussions and reflections on the role of social innovation and social farming as drivers of transformation in rural areas and how it can be incentivised and monitored. In particular, a fruitful dialogue was established with the group of experts co-convening the group and who are focused on studying the development of social farming in Poland. The cooperation and dialogue established between SIMRA and other researchers working on similar topics in diverse geographies enriches the work developed in SIMRA and enhances the knowledge exchange in this field and ultimately contributes to the development of social innovation in rural Europe.


Diana Valero (Perth College-University of the Highlands and Islands)

How to foster social farming in mountain areas?

On June 25, 2019, the Care-T-Farms project organised a conference in Brussels on “Social Agriculture and Care Farm: Work opportunity, Social Partnership and Inclusion”. Care-T-Farms is an Erasmus + programme, encouraging the use of farms as places promoting positive mental and physical health and wellbeing.

What is social farming?

Social farming, also known as care faming, is based on the principal of using farms as providers of social and health support services. Social faming is suitable for all ages, but it mainly targets disabled and elderly persons as well as people suffering from diseases. The use of farming activities is associated with a range of benefits, including increased self-esteem and feelings of inclusion, as well as improved health and wellbeing.

Social farms, rather than being specialized agricultural holdings, are mostly multifunctional farms. Thus, they often propose activities linked to horticulture, animal breeding – which is usually very attractive for beneficiaries – and traditional food processing. Small and multifunctional farms are the targeted places to implement social farming since farmers already have experiences in welcoming people in their fields, in the framework of agri-tourism for instance. Moreover, diversified farms can offer a more diverse range of activities during the year, depending on seasons, than specialised farms.

Dr Gabrielle Rocca, President of the World Association for Psychological Rehabilitation (WAPR) exposed how psychiatrist and rehabilitation centres moved during the 20th century from using patients to carry out work as a way to reduce costs, to proposing them activities or work for their social and mental rehabilitation. However, as care is now getting more and more institutionalised, social farming offer a real opportunity to provide care outside health institutions.

How to become a social farmer?

Social farming fits within the idea that some activities can improve social inclusion and self-confidence. During the course of the project, partners of Care-T-Farms realised a study among potential beneficiaries. Results show that the most important value of social farms, beyond the activities carried out and the natural environment, is the commitment and respect of farmers. Thus, partners created 3 training modules, aiming at giving farmers the keys to provide social and health care on the farm, with a global comprehension of beneficiaries’ needs. Each training module targets a specific audience and provides a different level of knowledge depending on people’s background:

  • The “Care Farm Manager” module is directed towards farmers who have experience in hosting people on their farms, as part of school visits, agri-tourism or food tasting activities for instance. It will give these farmers a detailed understanding of planning care fam activities on their farms, with a strong focus on suitability and accessibility for all participants.
  • The “Care Farm Tutor” module will be aimed at farmers, farm workers and secondary school students. It aims to give a basic understanding of the day-to-day activities associated with tutoring people on farm activities in a social farm.
  • The “Care Farm Social/Health Educator” module is designed for social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists who have experience in therapeutic help and assistance. This module will provide specialist knowledge on planning social or care farm courses as an extra-clinical treatment or intervention.

How can policies support social farming?

Although it was the initial idea, these courses cannot provide yet education credits through the European Qualifications Framework. However, the Confederazione Italiana Agricoltori (CIA) – partner of the Care-t-Farm project – is exploring the possibility to have in the future a Master course on social farming in an Italian university. The CIA also organised workshops on the topic in Italy, to promote the concept among farmers.

Moreover, a decree on “Provisions on social farming” from August 18, 2015,  was adopted in Italy to provide guidelines for care farms. It aims to promote “social agriculture, as an aspect of the multi-functionality of agricultural enterprises, aiming at developing interventions and social, health and educational services and socio-work placement, in order to facilitate adequate access to essential services to families and local communities throughout the national territory and in particular in rural and disadvantaged areas”. Social farming is defined in this decree as any agricultural practice aiming at providing therapy support, work placement for disabled persons, social services and food and environmental education. The decree states that municipalities, schools and hospitals should promote products provided by social farms through public tenders and that regions should take them into account when shaping their rural development plans.

Other partners are exploring ways to encourage the development of social farms by contacting agriculture universities, social and health services as well as agriculture decision-makers. Project partners also expressed their wish to further develop social farming through the Smart Villages concept, enhancing the various functions of farmers in rural areas while at the same time proposing innovative social and health care outside urban areas.

Social farming is part the various multifunctional farming activities which can be developed. Care farms are an innovative way to provide social and health care on the farm and can be a real opportunity for mountain areas. The specificity of mountain agriculture, traditions and products is an important asset for social farming. Moreover, it is a way for mountain farmers to provide multifunctional services which go beyond the tourism sector. Care farming also offers space to improve the smartness and inclusiveness of mountain areas.It is an interesting project encouraging social innovation, recalling the “Mountain Therapy” developed in Italy, which you can discover in our brochure on rural services.

For further information on social farming, please read the State of the Art national and European reports of the Care-T-Farms project. You can also get more inspiration in our online database, where you can for instance read about “Learning-growing-living with women farmers”; this initiative involves agricultural cooperatives offering on farm day-care for children.


Blandine Camus (Euromontana)

SIMRA’s 7th newsletter in your mailboxes: a special edition on Innovation Actions!

One of the main objectives of the SIMRA project is to create collaboration and learning opportunities where local stakeholders (communities, researchers, businesses) can work together towards the implementation of social innovations, which could leave a lasting legacy in the area where they are taking place. SIMRA calls these project-supported initiatives “Innovation Actions“. Find out more about the methodology, our7 pilot Innovation Actions, and their results in this special newsletter.Continue reading

SIMRA meets in Athens for its 3rd General Assembly

SIMRA partners and members of the Scientific Advisory Board gathered in Athens from 10th to 12th June 2019 for a productive annual project meeting and the third General Assembly, hosted by the ICRE8 research centre.

With less than one year left until the end of the project, partners focused on the steps needed to finalise the tools they created. These included a set of indicators to evaluate social innovation in rural areas, the analysis of the data collected in the case studies and Innovation Actions, and the emerging policy recommendations to be included in SIMRA’s policy and practice guides.Continue reading