Care farm project to help revive lost hope

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul”

Recovery means different things to different people. The dictionary explains it as “to find or obtain the return of something lost”. Hope is an essential component in this process of recovery.

The concept of Care or Community Farms offers hope and more. It is estimated that some 2,000 Care Farms have sprung up during the past decade offering therapy, education and the chance to learn new skills. There is something deeply intuitive about caring for people via nurturing the land and the animals who inhabit it.

A three-year study by Loughborough University has shown the impact gardening has on motor communication and social skills of people facing mental health, learning or physical challenges.

“Many of those who took part in our study were socially excluded in their daily lives with little opportunity to get out in the fresh air and work alongside others,” researcher Jo Aldridge explains. “Being outside, working with nature, nurturing plants was shown to have a distinct impact on health and well-being.”

On a Care Farm, people, animals and the earth work together to forge new possibilities for themselves and to alleviate the effects of what has become known as nature deficit disorder.

Benjamin Rush (1746 – 1813) is credited with being one of the first medical scientists, to recognise the positive effects of the practice of horticulture on the well being of those with mental health issues.

Rush, who was also a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and professor of medical theory at the University of Pennsylvania, published five books, including Diseases of the Mind.

“It has been remarked that male patients who assist in cutting wood, making fires and digging in a garden, often recover, while persons whose rank exempts them from such services languish away their lives within the walls of the hospital,” he commented.

Community-based farms in Ireland, such as the Irish Autism Society’s in Castlemartyr and the Camphill Community are doing sterling work, changing lives with their dedicated approach.

On Monday, May 20, Slí Eile will open a new community farm project in Churchtown Mallow. I was especially pleased to be invited to the event. I first spoke to Slí Eile’s founder Joan Hamilton more than five years ago. At that time, Joan was experiencing deep frustration on behalf of her daughter, who was deteriorating in the traditional psychiatric system.

Joan told me then of her vision for change and a kindlier, more community-oriented way of achieving this. She was passionate and, although she had no idea of how she was going to realise her goal, she was nothing if not determined. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that not only had she set up her foundation but she was about to embark on a radical new venture as well.

*Congratulations Joan. It’s been quite a journey, hasn’t it?

>>“It has. I’ve had the satisfaction of seeing my own daughter gain confidence, acceptance and benefit from the routine and support Slí Eile provides our residents.

“Our approach is based on the belief that people have a capacity to recover their mental health and that given support, a sense of hope, understanding and time, they’ll find their own way forward. It’s recovery through community living. The results we’ve had speak for themselves.”

*I believe your first project was the Villa Maria house and the bakery project?

>>“It’s a non-judgemental, non-labelling approach. The tenants leave the house each morning at 7.30 for the bakery and they have finished their baking by about 11. We sell their delicious baked goods in town and they are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, Cuisine Sli Eile are providing the refreshments for the launch of our farm on the 20th.”

*How on earth did you manage to organise the farm venture, in these difficult times?

>>“I always had something like this at the back of my mind, a supportive living environment for 16 people. Daily chores such as animal husbandry, horticulture, cooking, provide a structure for people who are working to regain control of their lives. Finding the farm came about through pure serendipity. It was a much- loved family home with 50 acres of organic land and 90 acres of forestry. We have it leased for six years.”

*You have Kathleen Lynch performing the official opening duties I believe? And Jeremy Irons in attendance too.

>>” We’re very lucky to have both of these people turning out to support us. Jeremy has become our patron. He has been fantastic. And Minister Lynch has somehow found time to be with us despite her busy schedule. And I’m especially happy to say that local people, our neighbours, support us in so many ways. Now our next challenge is to raise the money to buy the farm!”

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