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An overview of social farming in Ireland

It is necessary to preface the following commentary by noting that, to our knowledge, this overview represents the first attempt by Irish researchers from any discipline to provide a comprehensive picture of the nature and extent of Social Farming in Ireland.  As such, the results should be regarded as preliminary and as seen a point of departure for further analysis.  While our longer-term goal is to explore Social Farming on the island of Ireland, time constraints dictated that our predominant focus was on the Republic of Ireland.  However, we did address a very limited number of projects in Northern Ireland.  If time and resources permit, we would aim to include more initiatives from this region in our subsequent analyses.

The term ‘Social Farming’ is not one readily known or initially understood in Ireland.  As elsewhere, the use of agriculture and horticulture as an activity within care settings such as within the old Psychiatric services and Intellectual Disability Services has a long history.  However, in former times the use of agriculture and horticulture was largely as a vocational activity for clients and may often have made a significant contribution to the reduction of costs (through the provision of food) associated with running large residential institutions. 

In this paper, no distinction has been made between social, therapeutic or vocational applications of horticulture or agriculture or working with animals.  Therefore this overview casts a wide net, including inter alia farms dedicated to providing a quality living experience for people with intellectual disabilities, drug and alcohol recovery programmes, mental health day centres, community training programmes, peace building projects along the border with Northern Ireland, programmes for older people and many more besides. 

Ireland