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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.

Author:

Blandine Camus (Euromontana)

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