O’Neill Launches Social Farming Initiative

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has launched a social farming initiative aimed at developing linkages between the agriculture and health care sectors.

The ‘Social Farming Across Borders’ (SoFAB) is an innovative project linking the health care and agriculture sectors in the north and south of Ireland to establish a novel social support service to improve health and support farm diversification.

Launching the project at Loughry College alongside Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for Ireland, Fergus O’Dowd, Minister O’Neill said: “Social farming provides an opportunity for a joined up approach to the care and rehabilitation of vulnerable groups in society. Experiencing farming at first hand, combined with physical activity has been shown to help in the rehabilitation of a broad range of vulnerable people suffering from mental health problems, physical and learning disabilities and drug or alcohol addiction.

“This project has the potential to make a difference to the lives of so many people by providing a service which will bring about health, economic and societal benefits. It provides a vital link between health and rural life, and I am delighted that my Department is playing an active role in making it happen. As well as meeting the need for tackling rural poverty and social isolation in rural areas, social farming presents new opportunities for farm diversification. I encourage farmers and farm families to take the time to investigate its potential benefits to their business.”

Minister O’Dowd further added his recommendation to farmers and farm families across the Region to take the time to consider the potential benefits of Social Farming to their business and local community. He said: “The Social Farming project has been awarded funding of almost €700,000 from the European Union’s Interreg IVA Programme. My department welcomes the targeting social inclusion through this initiative. The development of Social Farming Across Borders network further enables farmers and those involved in health and social care services to engage and develop the provision of Social Farming in the cross border region and Northern Ireland.”

Pat Colgan, Chief Executive of SEUPB also welcomed the project by saying: “Social Farming is an innovative project and one which the SEUPB is delighted to be supporting. It addresses one of the core objectives of the INTERREG IVA Programme to contribute to a more sustainable cross-border region. Upon completion, this project will have helped build capacity among service providers and through its pilot programme it will gather crucial information on how best to implement this new concept of service delivery in the eligible area.”

Representatives from the farming and health sectors heard from a number of speakers, including Gaynor Tate from Care Farming UK and Richard Nicol of West Midlands Care Farming and Paul Henry of the Community of Practice Group.

During the next two years, the Social Farming Across Borders project, which has been jointly developed by University College Dublin, Queen’s University of Belfast, Leitrim Development Company and DARD’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) will establish twenty demonstration social farms and a cross border network of farmers, health care professionals and people that use services.

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The Social Farming Across Borders Project will run until 2014 and has been awarded funding of €689,826 under the Rural Development theme of the EU INTERREG IVA Programme for Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland.