New Dawn For Farm With Caring Mission

A FARMER from Derbyshire who helps troubled youths is to meet ministers to discuss how they might extend schemes like his nationally.

Roger Hosking, 66, and his wife, Beryl, 50, run Highfields Happy Hens, in Etwall – known as a care farm – where about 30 young people help out with the animals every week.

Happy Hens and about 80 similar farms in the UK help youngsters – many of whom have struggled in orthodox education – learn new skills, with the aim of boosting their self-esteem.

Until now, the projects have not been officially recognised by the Government and have received little outside support.

But in a Parliamentary debate this week, Government minister Jane Kennedy pledged to meet a representative group of owners from the UK’s care farms, which will include Mr Hosking.

He said: “Recognition from the minister is a great step forward and this promises to be a new dawn. Care farming is a potential social revolution – it can really change young people’s lives and have a huge impact on society.

“On top of that, it is almost totally self funding – we are not charities, we are businesses.”

The Hoskings keep 24,000 free-range hens, producing 16,000 eggs every day. The sale of the eggs pays for most of Happy Hens’ running costs. A small amount of extra funding is often provided by the official body – Derby City Council in Mr Hosking’s case – which sends people to the farm.

The couple get no extra financial benefit from the care farm. They run it “for the satisfaction” of helping troubled youngsters but have income from other aspects of their farming business.

As care farms are not recognised as a viable social care method, they have no sustained source of funding support and have to deal with bureaucracy from several agencies. These problems and the potential impact that a wide network of care farms could have on the UK were highlighted in Parliament by South Derbyshire MP Mark Todd.

He said: “The evidence is that the combination of open-air settings, practical tasks, team working and strong value systems produce big benefits in self-esteem, behaviour and basic skills. As relatively small activities, care farms often struggle both to comply with the bureaucratic demands of public agencies and with communicating the work they do.”

Mrs Kennedy told MPs that care farming contributed to the health of the farming industry as well as the health of people.

She said: “With increased awareness of care farming, it will move from being a fairly niche activity to take its place beside other recognised activities as a valuable resource for social and health care.”

She pledged to meet the National Care Farming Initiative to discuss the way forward.