Organics: Farming with a social conscience
Social farming like organic farming is underdeveloped in Ireland, and we lag badly behind many of our European counterparts in both disciplines.
The focus of this column is organic farming, and considering that it is the only division of agriculture that has remained in constant growth for the past two decades, it is staggering that we still remain at just 2pc of the farming sector here.
Social farming is another area that we fail miserably in. While neither organic or social farming are for every Irish farmer, surely as agriculture comes under increasing pressure farmers need to look at every opportunity to survive and remain viable into the future.
The social farming landscape is about to change dramatically in Ireland as this week Leitrim Development Company (LDC) announced that it won the Government tender to deliver a Social Farming Network.
For many farmers' social farming is a new concept and essentially it is defined as - farmers who offer farming, horticultural and animal related work experience to people who would normally avail of day care services.
Social farming is widely practiced in Europe, with countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium leading the way in terms of best practice. Internationally, a high percentage of social farming projects take place on organic farms.
The beauty of social farming is that most projects are tailor made to suit both farmers and participants.
Helen Doherty, National Project Co-ordinator explained that "this collaborative network is innovative, in that it will bring together many stakeholders from both agriculture and the health and social care sectors, and the network will provide a range of supports and facilitation through four regional hubs.