SOCIAL Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services in rural areas.
Each farm is not a specialised treatment farm; rather the farm remains a typical working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in the farm’s activities in a non-clinical environment. It also creates the opportunity to reconnect farmers with their local communities through the opening up of their farms as part of the social support system of the community.
Rural Support is committed to the continuous improvement of the Social Farming sector for farmers delivering a service and participants benefitting from engagement. As such, the charity has developed Social Farming Standards for the Social Farming sector in Northern Ireland.
The Social Farming Standards involve an application process that is coordinated through Rural Support’s Social Farming Support Service. The Social Farming Standards are awarded by Rural Support in recognition of the high quality of service delivery provided on farms across Northern Ireland.
The standards provide assurances to participants, family members, referral organisations and funders that the farms offer a person-centred service that offers a place for all and takes place on a safe farm environment. It establishes a framework of accountability which encourages professionalism in the sector.
The standards process involves registration and application stages before a farm is presented to a panel of representatives from Rural Support’s Board of Trustees, the Health and Social Care sector, and the Health and Safety Executive NI.
All farmers involved with the delivery of Social Farming services or planning to begin delivery in the near future will apply to meet the Social Farming Standards.
There are currently 15 farms delivering a Social Farming service across Northern Ireland with all farms committed to achieving the Social Farming Standards.
Recently Rural Support marked a special day for the Social Farming Support Service where the first four farms were awarded the Social Farming Standards badge.
Annagh Social Farm, Derrylin; Gortilea Social Farm, Claudy; Butterlope Farm, Plumbridge; and Yellow Road Farm, Hilltown, all received their standards at the presentation morning after completing the application process.
Rural Support welcomed Elizabeth McIlwaine from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, who was instrumental in funding and supporting the development of the standards, Camilla Mackey, from HSENI, and Peter Boyle, from the Rural Support Board of Trustees, who played an important role in being on the awarding panel along with Hugh Nelson, from the Health and Social Care Trust, who was unable to attend.
Annie Mullan, from Butterlope Farm, commented on why having the Social Farming Standard is so important for all those involved in Social Farming: “Since we started Social Farming seven years ago, we always wanted to deliver a high quality, safe and enjoyable experience for our farm participants.
“It is great now to have achieved the standards which shows to the participants, families and referral organisations that we are doing this. Our participants get so much from their time on the farm, building their confidence, making friends and knowing they are doing meaningful work, while we just love having them here and look forward to working with them every week. There is never a quiet day!”
The event allowed the achievement of all four farms to be celebrated along with their commitment, dedication and hard work being recognised for completing their standards, which is an in-depth and extremely detailed process to ensure a high quality of service delivery provided on farms across Northern Ireland.
n To find out more about the range of services and programmes available at Rural Support, go to the NI Farm Support hub at www.ruralsupport.org.uk or telephone the Support Line on Freephone 0800 138 1678, available Monday to Friday, 9am-9pm.
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