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Social Farming in Europe

Since ever, agricultural and rural societies, all over the Europe, have developed experiences promoting diverse practices and forms of solidarity, social assistance and social inclusion.

Particularly we may speak of social farming (or ‘care farming’ or ‘green care’ ) to describe those farming practices aimed at promoting disadvantaged people’s rehabilitation and care and/or towards the integration of people with ‘low contractual capacity’ (i.e.: psychophysical disabilities, convicts, drug addicts, minors, emigrants).

The special added value of social/care farming is the possibility for disadvantaged people to being integrated in a living context, where their personal potential may be valued and enhanced. The presence and the relationship with the farmers, the contact with other living beings – animal and vegetal ones – the assumption of specific responsibilities are some of the key-features of the rehabilitative practices generated by social farming.

All over rural Europe, there is a widespread and rich patrimony of diverse agricultural realities – inherited from the past or created more recently - which are characterised by such a distinctive, sound relation between practices of farming and practices for social inclusion.

In many cases these experiences were born autonomously, behind the personal, strong ethical believes and motivations of their promoters, who carried out in isolation a function of collective interest, mostly invisibly. As a matter of fact, the ‘invisibility’ of such reality, is represented by the absence of a defined juridical/institutional framework for social farming, in most countries and at European level. This makes a quantitative assessment of such realities difficult too.

However, social farming appears as an evolving, dynamic scenario, which is gaining increasing attention from multiple stakeholders in recent times, and which has already visibly grown-up in some countries, where social farming is a legally recognised and formalised activity.

On one hand, this results from a new, widespread positive perception of agricultural and rural resources, leading to a raising interest about the beneficial/positive effects of natural spaces and agricultural areas on the social, physical and psychic well-being of people; health institutions are keen on finding alternative practices, more embedded in the social contexts.

On the other hand, social farming represents a new chance for farmers to carry out alternative services, broadening and diversifying the scope of their activities and their role in society.

The integration between agricultural practices and social services may also allow new sources of income for farmers, sharpening up the image of agriculture in society at the same time, and favouring the development of new relations between rural and urban citizens.

However, in most countries and at European level social farming isn’t an organised system yet, but rather a patchwork like reality mostly developed on voluntary bases, bottom-up actions, and not supported by any specific policies and/or institutional framework.

It is apparent the need for a process of improvement that can extend the offer of social services by multifunctional farms, and enhance their quality. The creation of a social farming ‘system’ appears as a long-term, evolutionary, multi-actor process that should be based on the experience of those rural actors who have already opened the road, developing this reality so far.

As a matter of fact, the prospect of a process of extension and ‘normalisation’ of social farming should avoid the loss of the original spirit and values, like solidarity and responsibility, which most of the pioneer experiences were based on.

Thus, it is apparent that the building of a new institutional environment for social farming requires most attention, that means involving diverse actors into a dialogue, especially assuring active participation of the historical and current protagonists.

Agriculture is Solidarity

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