Written by Sophie Hopkins, MSc student
Care farming is becoming increasingly popular and accepted as a health care service, particularly in the Netherlands where the main clients of care farming are the elderly, those suffering from mental health problems, children with autism and the mentally or physically handicapped. General definitions of care farming are a contentious issue as it is the individuality of care farms that seem to be appealing. However, accreditation schemes ensure clients of a certain standard of care without compromising the rural idyll that is attached to this care option.
Undertaken from an interpretive approach, I looked at the benefits or limitations of care farming to participants by examining their own experiences and perspectives. My case study was a mixed farm in Barneveld where people were incredibly helpful and welcoming. The focus was to provide an overview of all those involved in care farming, from the clients, to the staff, volunteers and family members, because I believed that it is not only the clients that experience care in this context.
Participants seemed to identity with the aspects of care that they felt most suited them. For example, the staff were concerned with meeting the client’s needs and seeing each person as being unique. The clients however favoured being given time and space to find their own way. They also felt as if their work was more meaningful if it could directly assist with the maintenance or income of the farm business and they took great ownership and satisfaction in these roles. To all, the idea of being part of an extended family or community was important.
Surprisingly, the roles of nature and animals were not as important as the role of people involved in the care farming progress; they simply provided the framework. The lack of familiarity about both farming and the environment amongst many of the participants was another an unexpected find and further extenuated how the focus was heavily on the care of the people. This led to questions such as ‘how important is the farm in care farming?’.
The ultimate conclusion was that all participants benefited from the idea of being ‘useful’. How this translates into care depends on the context and those involved, but it seemed as if caring for one another, whether client, staff, family and so on, created an environment in which people could focus on their abilities rather than their weaknesses. I hope that further investigations can continue to enlighten the experiences of the actual participants in this choice of health care, as it is their feelings that should ultimately determine if care farming is a success or not.
I was at this farm and really it is an innovative dimension to family farms!