Care farms plough new furrow for social care and education

A radical use for farms and smallholdings in the UK could provide major healthcare, social and education benefits for vulnerable people and give a boost to the rural economy.

That’s the message organisers hope to drive home at an event aimed at health service commissioners, policymakers and referral agencies that has been organised by the National Care Farming Initiative, who want to highlight the benefits of the pioneering care farming movement in the South West.

Care farming is the therapeutic use of farming practices. It is becoming an increasingly important, and cost-effective, way to provide health, education and social care services to a wide range of vulnerable client groups.

The conference, supported by the Department of Health, is being chaired by Dr Julia Verne, Deputy Regional Director of Public Health for the South West. Speakers are Sir Don Curry, Government Adviser on Food and Farming Policy, and Dr Michael Dixon, GP and Chair of the NHS Alliance.

NCFI representative Ian Egginton-Metters said: “We want to spread the message that working outside with plants and animals, in a supportive care farm environment, really does improve people’s physical and mental well-being. We want people from right across the health service, social services, education services and criminal justice services to come to this conference. We aim to demonstrate the value of care farming, which offers a new way to meet care and therapeutic needs and an opportunity to tackle rehabilitation and learning issues holistically.”

South West Care farmer Julie Plumley, who will also be speaking at the conference, runs Future Roots, a small care farm in Dorset, where they work with young people excluded from school.

Julie said: “There are the skills, knowledge and sense of achievement that people gain through working on a farm. But there is also the sense of physical and mental well-being and hope that a care farming environment can offer.”

Sadie Sayers, Extended Services Co-ordinator for North Dorset, uses Future Roots care farm on a regular basis.

“The care farm has helped many pupils from local schools who have experienced real difficulties at home and, as a consequence, find it hard to engage in normal school life. “Working with the animals develops their understanding of the need to think and care for the welfare of others.

“The supportive nature of the farm encourages these pupils to develop new friendships, open up to one another, share their problems, and work through them together as a team.”

The conference, on 11 November 2010 in Exeter, is being organised by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, on behalf of NCFI and is being supported by the NHS. The conference offers the opportunity to learn more about care farming and its potential impact in the South West. It is aimed at professionals within social services, health care trusts, community mental health teams, education authorities and pupil referral units, police and probation services. It will also be of interest to public health professionals, medical practitioners, and representatives of farming and voluntary sector agencies.

For further information about the conference and bookings: or email: [email protected]