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Sunflower Social Farm helps people with intellectual disabilities

The other side of farming is the capacity to reduce stress and promote human well-being. I saw a fine example of this at the recent Roscommon Lamb Festival 2013. Among the huge range of festival activities was an open day at the Sunflower Social Farm.

Eight years ago when Gerry Browne retired from his veterinary practice he set about developing the Sunflower Social Farm.

This is a farming-cum-gardening centre for people with intellectual disability, on his land on the edge of Roscommon town. Gerry runs it under contract to the Brothers of Charity.

The Sunflower Social Farm provides meaningful work for five people in a safe environment where they can dine on the produce that they have helped grow. In the evenings they return to their families.

Among the visitors to the open day was a busload from the SoFAB (Social Farming Across Borders) project which straddles Northern Ireland and the Border counties.

This EU-funded project promotes the idea of using farming and horticulture to integrate people with a disability with a family farm.

This could be an extra earner for farmers willing to get involved and support such a project. It is also an example of how working with animals and plants can provide therapy and stress relief.

Hopefully this project won't be so regulated that it adds, rather than reduces, overall stress for those involved.

John Shirley

Irish Independent