One of the many benefits of social farming is that it encourages the farmer and the whole farm household, including the next generation, to see the farm with fresh eyes and change the state of mind about what it has to offer and what it could do beyond food production.
So says Helen Doherty, National Coordinator of Social Farming Ireland.
A social farmer who runs a suckler farm in County Limerick with her husband spoke to Social Farming Ireland about the new perspective gained from taking a fresh look at the farm.
“Social farming has encouraged us to think, talk and look at the farm in a different way. It showed us what we can do, the skills we have.
Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue said social farming is a “wonderful model” that works well for farmers, but especially well for participants, as it marked Social Farming Awareness Week, October 3-7.
Speaking on the Social Farming Ireland stand at the 2022 National Plowing Championships in Ratheniska, Co. Laois on Thursday September 22, the Minister said: “Indeed we can do so much more in terms of adding value, in terms of farm families and their involvement in the wider community.
Social farming is proving to be a win-win solution for many people in rural Ireland, with multiple benefits not only for participants and their families, but also for service providers, farming households and rural communities, according to Dr. Aisling Moroney, Social Farming Policy Manager.
“Social farming is based on a simple yet powerful concept: giving people facing a variety of challenges the opportunity to spend time and carry out activities on ordinary family farms.
“While the focus is usually on the impact of social farming on the participants, farmers and farm families with the right skills and attributes can also reap huge benefits from their involvement.”
Ahead of the Minister’s Social Farming Awareness Week, Social Farming Ireland recently shared its ten years of experience and research into the benefits farmers and farming families can derive.
“Social farming can be a good opportunity for diversification, bringing a valuable source of additional income to the farming household. Assembling a range of diverse income sources is increasingly necessary to ensure that farms – and particularly less intensive farms – remain viable,” said Aisling.
She added: “Unlike other options, this provides additional farm family income that allows farmers to continue working on the farms they love, doing what they do best.”
“The nature of the farm does not change and they retain their core identity as farmers, but with an added value attached to what they do.”
“Social farming can usually be practiced comfortably alongside food production and other existing activities. Indeed, it is this ordinary daily farming activity that makes farming special for participants and is the most valuable thing it can offer.
“So things like scraping the yard. feeding the calves, weeding, chopping wood, fencing, planting, fetching supplies and cooking simple meals in the kitchen can absolutely be part of the social farming day mix,” Aisling commented.
“Compared to many other diversification options, social farming involves minimal capital outlays or ongoing input costs. No new tractors, buildings, pieces of equipment or expensive supplies are needed. It is the time the farmer spends supporting and working alongside people that is the main input, alongside the existing – but often undervalued – assets of the farm.
“It is the time the farmer spends supporting and working alongside people that is the main input, alongside the existing – but often undervalued – assets of the farm.”
Aisling continued: “Walking to the upper field to check stock also becomes a way to build fitness and achieve natural movement while the late August hedgerow provides learning, as well as a source of blackberries for eat or make jam. ”
Helen Doherty pointed out that research among existing social farmers shows that 57% believe this type of diversification has encouraged them to pursue other diversification opportunities, largely centered on the type of activities that involve greater “openness”. of the farm and what it has to offer the general public or particular groups.
Initiatives such as walks on the farm, in nature or in the forest; educational sessions and visits to schools; offering workshops on specific skills; farm tourist accommodation; and environmental education are all pursued.
A mixed farmer from County Mayo said he was “inspired to share the farm with others”.
“We want to do school tours and tours for transition year students and the public, subject to demand.”
Another County Mayo farmer agreed on the value of having a fresh look at the farm: “When you feel comfortable having people here, you can see what can be done with other. »
Social farmers often talk about falling a little in love with their farm again when they see what the farm, and they, as farmers, can offer others.
“And it is this feeling of personal satisfaction from supporting others, seeing them grow and flourish, that is cited more than any other as the primary benefit of social farming for concerned farmers,” Helen said.
A farmer from County Westmeath highlighted the sense of satisfaction that comes from being a social farmer: “There is a great sense of well-being to have had a good day’s work. It’s a beautiful, uplifting day… It’s been good for the children as well as for bonding with the neighbours.
There are also strong rural development and societal gains, according to Helen.
“Enhancement of the environment or biodiversity and education are embedded, from the simple level of storage and cleaning of sheds and good waste disposal systems; tree planting and forest maintenance; the development of vegetable and fruit gardens; maintenance of peatlands.
“Social farming brings life and vitality to farms and rural areas and helps support rural communities, both financially and socially. As one farmer from County Cork said, it helps to keep the countryside alive, giving people the chance to enjoy what the farm has to offer and the chance to be outside and not be stuck in the interior.
More people than before, said Helen, are coming to know and understand the real importance and value of what happens on ordinary family farms.
“And having people on farms, the most ordinary setting in an Irish context, helps break down the barriers between people and assumptions about ability. People from all walks of life grow together on common ground.
The upcoming Social Farming Awareness Week offers farmers across the country the opportunity to learn more and see what social farming is for themselves.
A farm open day will be held daily, starting Monday, October 3, at Andrew and Elspeth Vaughan’s farm, a busy dairy farm that also has alpacas and horses and runs down to the shores of Donegal Bay.
On Tuesday, the focus shifts to the other side of the country, to the Bateman family farm near Crookstown, County Cork, where Michael, Shirley and their children run a large dairy farm. There is also a vegetable garden and many other possibilities for new activities.
On Wednesday it’s off to Co. Meath, where Emma Jane Clarke welcomes participants to her smallholding near Athboy, where horse activities and gardening form the heart of the social farming offer.
On Thursday, head west to Mary and Niall Murphy’s farm near Athenry in County Galway. This mother-son duo offers the possibility of engaging in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, as well as working with animals, including poultry.
The week ends on Friday near Dungarvan in County Waterford on the farm of O’Grady, a sheep and suckler cow business which also has a large polytunnel where fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown.
Launching Social Farming Awareness Week, Minister McConalogue also praised Social Farming Ireland for producing a new social farming quick guide for farmers. He said it was “so important” to get the information out to a wider audience and to broaden the understanding of what social farming offers.
The Minister congratulated everyone involved – organisations, farmers and participants – for their efforts and for the “tremendous work” done to develop social farming in Ireland in recent years.
“It has certainly been a pleasure for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to fund this work, to see how it has made a real difference and to see the potential there is for the times to come,” said the minister.
Anyone wishing to find out more about social farming or obtain a copy of the quick guide to social farming for farmers should visit the Social Farming Ireland website or telephone the national office on 071-9641772. Those wishing to register to attend one of the open days should phone the office or email Caoimhe at: [email protected]