Social Farming Works – this is one of the key findings of an Evaluation Report on Social Farming in Kerry, launched by Minister Michael Creed last week. A huge crowd turned out for the launch of the report on what was a fantastic day at George Kelly’s ‘Hazelfort’ Farm, at Ballymalis in Beaufort, Co. Kerry, where visitors got the chance to go on a tour of the farm to meet with participants, host farmers families, and a multitude of stakeholders involved in the social farming initiative. The report, which was prepared by Dr Brendan O’Keeffe (Mary Immaculate College), Dr Caroline Crowley (Crowley Research) and Dr Shane O’Sullivan (Limerick Institute of Technology), was commissioned by the Kerry Social Farming (KSF) Working Group in 2016, under the umbrella of lead partner South Kerry Development Partnership CLG (SKDP). The commissioning of this Project Review formed part of a Social Farming Model Project developed by KSF/ SKDP and is being funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), via the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA). The authors undertook a detailed independent review of the Social Farming initiative in Kerry to access its impact as well as to examine ways in which the project can be developed and enhanced. There are currently over 20 participants and twelve host farms engaged with the KSF Project, which is administered by SKDP. The current project has also seen the appointment of a full time co-ordinator, Irene Kavanagh, to oversee the project, and the numbers of farmers and participants are expected to increase in the coming months. Each of the participants visit their host farm at least once a week, where they undertake a variety of tasks with the host farmer around the farm, from feeding the animals to minor repairs to undertaking a variety of engaging farm activities and projects. Outlining the findings of the report, Dr Brendan O’Keeff e stated that the Social Farming initiative, which firrst began in South Kerry in 2013, has yielded multiple dividends for all involved. “The model adopted in Kerry works particularly well because it has been tailored and adapted for local conditions” Dr O’Keefe noted, adding that the openness of host families, the bottom up approach adopted by SKDP, the funding now being provided by the DAFM and the person centred approach are among the key factors leading to its success. In welcoming the report, SKDP Chairperson Gloria O’Driscoll also highlighted the input of the other agencies involved in KSF such as St. John of God Kerry Services, Kerry Parents and Friends Association, North East West Kerry Development, Enable Ireland, Down Syndrome Kerry, Cunamh Iveragh, Local Link Kerry, the HSE and Kerry County Council. MEP Seán Kelly praised the host farmers involved in the project and pointed to the element of volunteerism as being vital to the project. In his address, Minister Creed said it was a humbling experience to meet with the participants in the KSF initiative, and he was very pleased to see that it works. “Inclusion isn’t just a word, its actions” Minister Creed said and he praised the fantastic collaboration that existed between all the groups involved in social farming in Kerry. He said the report findings and recommendations will be of benefi t to all, highlighting how the initiative can be improved and developed, and to inform what broad lessons can be transferred to other areas of the country. Minister Creed said he was delighted to be in South Kerry to launch the report and the words he heard from all the participants, and those involved with the social farming initiative in the county, will echo with him. Social farming is where family farms ofer social, health or training supports to a small number of people with particular needs in a supervised programme of farming-related activities. In Kerry Social Farming, people with intellectual disabilities or acquired brain injuries attend farms of all sizes involved in market gardening, dairying, sheep and beef production.

Minister Michael Creed with Claire O' Dwyer General Manager Saint John of God Kerry Services       
A section of the huge crowd that turned out for the launch of the
Anthony O Connor & Shane Savage enjoying the day