Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has launched an extended social farming initiative for many areas of the country on the family farm of Michael and Siobhan Heslin at Gortletteragh, Co Leitrim.
Social farming targets people with mental health and physical challenges, as well as other vulnerable categories, who are at risk of social exclusion, and get an opportunity to spend time on a working family farm. Commenting at the launch, Minister Creed described Ireland’s family farms as the bedrock of Irish rural life, like the GAA, while highlighting the potential of family farms to counter social exclusion and acknowledging that this is a movement that will grow.
Speakers at the launch included: Minister Creed; Anne Melly, Health Service Executive, and chair of the New Directions National Implementation Group; Colm O'Rourke, RTE GAA analyst; Brian Smyth, SoFI project manager and Leitrim Development Company; and Prof Jim Kinsella, UCD professor of agricultural extension and rural development.
Leitrim Development Company is coordinating the project and it will liaise with three other agencies, the South East Waterford Leader Partnership, West Limerick Resources and South West Mayo Development Company. In 2016, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) allocated €800,000 to support social farming in Ireland, including establishment of a national network and undertaking evidence-based learning from pilot practice. DAFM will invest €720,000 in support of social farming in 2017 and Minister Creed reiterated his Department's commitment to the expansion of social farming in the coming years.
Commenting at the launch, Prof Jim Kinsella, UCD professor of agricultural extension and rural development, stated that "if social farming continues to grow as it has, it can achieve 10 social farms in every county by 2020 and, based on the experience of the Netherlands, Ireland could have almost 1,000 social farms in the future delivering services to a wide range of clients including: people with mental health issues; people with an intellectual disability; disaffected youth; long-term unemployed; the elderly; and those in drug or alcohol rehabilitation programmes." UCD has been supporting and managing the establishment of social farming in Ireland since as far back as 2005. The UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science led the EU-funded SoFAB project in 2011-14 which established and delivered social farming on 20 farms in the border counties and in Northern Ireland. This project is recognised as being the key driver and guide for the initiatives that followed and since 2015 Prof Kinsella and his colleagues have worked closely with the Leitrim Development Company and other local development companies throughout Ireland in maintaining the excellent progress made through SoFAB.