Connecting people and improving Lives through engaging in social farming -@blissberryfarm @lairdhse06 SoFAB pilot.

Social Farming Across Borders Conference: Belfast Castle, 10th September Connecting people and improving Lives through engaging in social farming

Belfast castle was the venue on Wednesday 10th September for almost 200 people who attended the conference that outlined the experiences of a three year social farming initiative known as the Social Farming Across Borders Project (SOFAB). This was seen as an exciting and viable option for improving the quality of life for people who use health and social services. The conference marked the end of a pilot project that involved 20 farm families in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The SoFAB Project was funded through the European Regional Development Fund and led by University College Dublin’s School of Agriculture in partnership with Queens University Belfast and Leitrim Development Company. The project has been managed from their offices in Drumshanbo, Leitrim and Loughry campus, Cookstown.

The SOFAB Project delivered almost 1,600 person days of social farming experience to the 66 people who used the service between April 2013 and June 2014. Project Manager, Dr Jim Kinsella of the School of Agriculture, UCD, highlighted that ‘farm households provided this piloting service free of charge displaying huge personal commitment to the service’.As well as successfully putting social farming on the map in the region through wide ranging awareness raising and piloting services on 20 farms the project has also left a legacy of over 80 people trained in the delivery of social farming as well as a report on the costs and benefits of social farming which was made available at the conference. A handbook on delivering social farming services is due to be published by the project in late September.

David Small, Deputy Director DARD stated in his opening address that “the project was a truly innovative and groundbreaking project and that the SoFAB initiative has demonstrated that the farming community is not only willing but also very able to help those most vulnerable adults within society”. He also stated that he hoped that today’s conference represented another key milestone in the evolution of social farming from a concept to a working model on the island of Ireland.

Research gathered during the project was presented by Aoibéann Walsh from QUB who demonstrated that the benefits of the initiative had helped a broad range of vulnerable people suffering from mental health problems and learning disabilities though engaging in the day to day tasks associated with farming at first hand. It also helped connect with communities, providing a vital link between well being and rural life in Ireland. “It demonstrates that social farming has the potential to make a difference to the lives of so many people whether it is someone recovering from illness or a farm family opening their doors to a new diversification opportunity”.

The conference attracted a wide range of stakeholders including the farming community; representatives of health and social services, rural development agency representatives as well the departments and agencies responsible for rural development in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Brian Smyth, Deputy CEO of Leitrim Development Company, who chaired the afternoon workshop session said that ‘the newly proposed association for social farming, to be led by the SoFAB pilot farmers will play a key role in the future of social farming in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Dr Jim Kinsella (Project Manager UCD) commented that: ‘the SoFAB Project has been very successful in raising awareness, learning lessons, training people and paving the way for social farming in Ireland and Northern Ireland’. He was adamant that: ‘the future of social farming lay in converting the interest of the Health Trusts and the Health Services Executive into contracted services with farmers that have the potential to offer thousands of people the opportunity to avail of social farming in years to come’ and he added that ‘the social farming services piloted for over a year on 20 farms showed that these were cost effective when compared to existing day care services’.

If you are interested in further information related to the project along with research findings and videos please contact either: Dr Jim Kinsella, School of Agriculture & Food Science, UCD or Dr Roy Nelson in CAFRE, Loughry College or Brian Smyth, Leitrim Development Company.

Source: Dr Jim Kinsella, School of Agriculture & Food Science, UCD

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