West Limerick Resources is set to establish a new Regional Office for the Social Farming initiative in Newcastle West.
The concept of social farming aims to provide adults with mental and intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, or those who have experienced a setback in life, the opportunity to experience the workings of a farm with the guidance of a local farmer.
Leitrim Development Company (LDC), recently signed a contract with the Department of Agriculture to establish and develop a national social farming network in Ireland for the development and delivery of social farming across the country.
Working with the LDC and with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and the CEDRA Fund, West Limerick Resources is currently recruiting a part-time regional development officer to move the project along.
Helen Doherty from the Social Farming Support Offices said, “At the moment we are looking at developing a regional office in West Limerick for the region, not just for Limerick. That regional office will be covering Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary, North Kerry and North Cork. We are recruiting a part-time development worker that will be based in the office.”
Ms Doherty highlighted that those who would be participating in the social farming service could have mental health or intellectual disabilities.
“This activity can also be made available to people recovering from addictions, the elderly or ex-offenders if farmers came forward who were interested in working in these sectors,” she said.
Dearbhla Conlon Ahern from West Limerick Resources explained how social farming is an “incredible opportunity” for local communities.
Speaking of the good turnout at the social farming information day held at the West Limerick Resources office on April 20 of this year, Ms Conlon Ahern said that there was “a good mix” of service users and providers, and community group representatives but not enough farmers.
The Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP) Coordinator also said that the outcomes for the participant are the most important aspect of the scheme:
“It’s not work experience or an extra set of hands for the farmer; it’s very much around the outcomes that can be achieved for that individual in terms of their social development and their personal development, with equal benefits for the farmer.”
Ms Conlon Ahern said that those with disabilities signing up to social farming should be linked to and referred from a service and over 18 years old.
Ms Conlon Ahern also spoke of the mental health benefits of the programme.
“The interaction with animals has a therapeutic side to it. There’s the fact that those that will be out [on the farm] will be engaging in health and fitness, walking the land, feeding the animals, so these are very positive things,” she said.
Mike O’Connell is the first farmer in Limerick to participate in the social farming programme.
The 55- year-old Limerick man owns a menswear and dress hire store on Catherine’s Street in the city centre but calls himself the “caretaker of the land” of the small farm he inherited from his parents between Mungret and Clarina.
Mr O’Connell first discovered social farming on a trip to the UK.
“I knew that I had found what I wanted to do with my farm. I know in my heart and soul that it’s not big enough for me to make a living from,” she said.
The small farmer added that after suffering a stroke two years ago “makes you more aware of the important things in life” and farms his land two days a week when taking time out from his store.
Mr O’Connell said that there are “huge benefits” in terms of mental health for both the farmer and the service user.
The Limerick native said that his family are behind and him and that the satisfaction he gets from participating in the social farming programme is “unbelievable”.
“It’s not about money; this is simply about giving something back,” he said.