The second SoEngage project meeting took place in Krakow, Poland hosted by the Polish partner Association ARID.
ARID is a private association working in the vocational education field. Their main goal is to develop and promote enterprise through lifelong learning. The Association ARID is also a member of the network of small farms and has implemented a number of international projects cooperating with research institutes, universities as well as non government organisations.
The meeting was facilitated by Heather McLaughlin, Coordinator, The Rural Centre, Northern Ireland and attended by representative from each of the 6 partner regions, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain and the UK.
The meeting included agreeing the Definition of Social Farming developed to inform the research on the situation of social farming in each partner region and to define the target group of social farmers to be involved in testing the training materials.
The situation of Social Farming
Each partner presentated a report on the situation of social farming in their region.
Brian Smyth, Leitrim Development Company, Ireland provided an overview of Social Farming in Europe and although using agriculture as a beneficial activity for vulnerable people has been in existence for many years the activities carried out and the farmers involvement varies widely across the EU.
However, Social Farming is growing in interest across Europe for a variety of stakeholders including farmers, farmers’ organisations, service-users, providers of social and health care services and local, regional and national authorities with some very good examples of policy and practice such as in the Netherlands.
Each partner presented their report in the situation of social farming in their region.
Jude McCann and Aoibeann Walsh, Rural Support, Northern Ireland confirmed that the UK and Ireland have established a structure for the development of Social Farming where the focus is not on the farmer but on the individual user whose needs are at the central focus. Rural Support view Social Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services in rural areas. There are multiple benefits from Social Farming for both the individuals involved and the rural economy.
Johannes Dreer, Hof und Leben GmbH, Germany outlined the difficulties facing the integration of Social Farm policy and practice as Germany consists of 16 federal states and concerning agriculture, social, therapeutic and pedagogic work these federal states have different laws. This means that Social Farming in each of these regions may face different rules and regulations. However, Johannes found examples of where farms worked together collaboratively to offer a social farm model and where students could take a module on social farming during their studies.
Maciej Dymacz and Monika Wojcieszak, ARID, Poland summarised two key issues identified by numerous statistical studies which indicate that in addition to the systematic decline in the population in Poland, there is also progressive ageing of the population. In the face of these changes rural areas have enormous potential to use Social Farms to offer support to youth, elderly and disabled users but currently lack expertise and investment.
Javier Morales, DEFOIN, Spain explained there is no term for Social Farming and most activities offered on farms are carried out by providers and not the farmer. The key actors engaged are Public administrations, local organizations / associations, schools and local businesses. Agriculture is the responsibility of regional Governments and the National Government must agree delivery with regional Governments.
Rodica Pana, CPIP, Romania stated that Romania has experienced the development of social farming since the end of the 20th century as a new, economically sustainable practice and experience. Though they do not use phrases such as care farming, farming for health, green care, green therapies, or social farming, the Romanians have unknowingly practiced social farming under the form of different practices or operations in the care, rehabilitation, social reintegration and training of the disadvantaged or of people with particular needs, aiming at enabling them to boost self-esteem and participation in the life of society, to contribute to their well-being, to facilitate learning, to improve health and social inclusion, to re- establish contact with the natural environment and productive activity.
Most partners reported similar findings that Social Farming is struggling to grow. It is a niche area of growth that lacks awareness of what it involves, is not regulated or standardised and lacks financial support to help it grow.