Care farms, city farms and community gardens help a variety of people with mental health issues to feel better and to re-build their self-esteem by gaining valuable skills in a supportive and green environment.

They help a wide range of vulnerable people, including people with learning disabilities, people living with dementia, patients recovering from mental health problems and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. A growing body of evidence shows that people supported by care farms are happier and healthier. Getting involved with farm life means that they benefit from regular exercise, enjoy more social contact and gain new skills that can lead to jobs.

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The team at Clynfyw make their own charcoal to sell

The therapeutic use of farming practices has grown in the UK over the last decade as an effective form of health and social care, so much so that commitment to supporting the expansion of care farming is made in the Defra 25-Year Environment Plan.

Defra has pledged to support the expansion of care farming by trebling the number of places for users by 2022. Currently, 240 UK farms are adding nearly £30m to the rural economy and providing 300,000 health and social care placements every year.

Care Farming UK’s Ian Egginton-Metters OBE, believes the report is an opportunity to gain more recognition of the scale that care farming can achieve: “With supported expansion care farming can make a telling contribution to the rural economy and provide a genuinely cost-effective addition to current social and health care provision in the UK. Care farming has already become part of mainstream in parts of Europe and we believe our study shows this is possible in the UK as well, but only with the right funding and support.”

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Eleanor runs a communication course on Wednesdays at Clynfyw

Social Farms and Gardens works with government, funders and large corporations and it directly supports nearly a thousand member groups and farms: around 250 care farms, 63 city farms, 126 school farms, 1,200+ community gardens and hundreds of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprises.

In recent years the number of care farms has dramatically risen. In 2008 there were approximately 70 while today there are just over 250 and there are more than 100 prospective care farms in development. School farms have increased from 66 in 2006 to 126 today.

Care farming is arguably as important to the rural agricultural community that provides the service as it is to the recipients. It provides an opportunity for on-farm income diversification whilst at the same time continuing and enhancing existing farming activities and skills. The past few years have been challenging times for the agricultural sector as years of declining farm gate prices have put an unprecedented strain on these rural businesses. Care farming is providing crucial new opportunities for small family farms seeking alternative ways to use their farms post-Brexit.

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Care farms help people and animals

In addition, care farms, city farms, community gardens, community-managed allotments and CSAs help bridge the perceived divide between urban and rural communities. They help reconnect people with the land and food production, which in turn helps rural communities and economies prosper. They increase access to land and understanding of where food comes from. Community farms and gardens result in better cooking and eating habits through access to local, seasonal food.

Care farmer Jim Bowen from north Pembrokeshire believes that putting farms at the heart of the care system could not only transform the lives of millions of care users but has the potential to do the same for farming families as long hours and isolation result in many farmers feeling increasing pressure.

He says, “Modern day farming can be a lonely business, whereas a care farmer is part of a community of interest. That includes the people supported by their farm and their families, support agencies, the farm’s staff team, and local people who come to events, or to buy produce. Remembering names can be a bit tricky sometimes - but isolation is certainly no longer an issue.”

Jim’s family has been farming at Clynfyw since the 1800s, but he admits that they were struggling before they decided to set up Clynfyw Care Farm. The family business produced cereals, raised organic pigs and cattle, and ran a holiday let venture, but life was hard.

“At the time my parents were in their mid-70s, my wife had just had a baby - and I’d had enough,” he recalls. The future was bleak, but he describes the way care farming has turned Clynfyw’s fortunes around as “something of a miracle” as today, the care farm is thriving and employs 38 local people.

“Many experienced care farmers will tell you that if they knew at the outset how hard it would be, they would never have got started. But they’ll usually go on to say that they are glad they didn’t know, because they are very happy doing what they are doing now. We’ve had our ups and downs, but now we support dozens of vulnerable people each day, and that’s so rewarding.”