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The development of social farming in the Netherlands

The combination of agricultural work and care is not new. For a long time it was common that individuals who were ‘different’ and could not participate fully in society, worked on a farm. Also in health care, many institutes had a farm or a garden where patients worked (Ketelaars et al., 2001). However, these people with special needs, as many other workers left agriculture due to modernisation and industrialisation (Van Schaik, 1997). Many care institutions closed their farms and creative therapies became popular (Van Weeghel & Zeelen, 1990).  Despite these changes, care farms have never disappeared and in many countries there are examples of care farms that started many decades ago (Sacristan, 2003; Van Schaik, 1997). The driving forces in all these examples were idealism (often based on anthroposofic philosophy) and the positive results (Van Schaik, 1997). Since the end of 1990s, care farms are stimulated. They are considered as examples of innovation in the rural area and contributors to the desired integration of care in society (Ketelaars et al., 2001).

Nowadays the combination of agriculture and social care is seen as a promising combination of functions. The combination of agriculture and social care contributes to the diversification of agricultural production, provides new sources of income and employment for farmers and the rural area, reintegrates agriculture into society and has a positive impact on the image of agriculture (Driest 1997; Van Schaik 1997; Hassink 2001; Hassink, 2003; Hassink, 2006). In addition, these sheltered farms provide concrete examples of the desired renewal of the health care and rehabilitation sector.

The number of care farms is increasing rapidly. The combination of agriculture and care started as a bottom-up process, initiated by motivated farmers. Most of the so called care farms are family based enterprises, independent of health institutions. In many cases the farmers wife has an education in health care and takes the initiative to start her care business on the farm. 

It is remarkable that since the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports stimulate the development and professionalisation of care farming, the number of care farms has shown a spectacular growth, from 75 in 1998 to 720 in 2006 (table 1). The increase in the number of care farms can be seen as an example of growing interest in the relationships between nature and health. This interest was stimulated by a recent report of the Health Council and the Dutch Advisory Council for Research on Spatial Planning, Nature and the Environment on the effect of nature on well being. Care farming is not only a growing sector in the Netherlands, but also in other European countries (Hassink & van Dijk, 2006).

In the 1990s, the main target groups were mentally challenged people and people with psychiatric problems. The number of other target groups has been increasing over the last few years, like elderly, people with an addiction background, people with burn-out, long-term unemployed, children etc. (Elings & Hassink, 2006).

The Netherlands