Established in 2013 and operating social farms since 2014, Kerry Social Farming (KSF) was founded on principles of equality, social inclusion, voluntary community development and collaboration. It is currently one of two projects operating the voluntary model of social farming in Ireland, in that farmers are not paid for their time with participants. It is a locally-led, community-based, shared service that provides farming and social inclusion opportunities to people with physical and intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries and those engaging with mental health services, all within their local communities. Support for social farming in Ireland, including Kerry Social Farming, comes primarily from the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM) through its Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) Rural Innovation and Development Fund. As well as its fit with CEDRA, KSF is also aligned with Kerry’s Local Economic & Community Plan and receives support through the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP). HSE’s New Directions provides the framework for the governance, planning and implementation of KSF based on person-centredness, community inclusion, active citizenship and quality.
The Kerry Social Farming Project commenced in 2013 under the auspices of lead partner South Kerry Development Partnership CLG. The research findings from the Iveragh uplands and Rural Vibrancy in South Kerry more widely point to the broader value of farming to society and the economy as well as the strength of rural vibrancy demonstrated by rising volunteerism through a time of austerity.
It is within this context that in 2013, a working group was formed of members from families of people with a disability, farmers, service providers, community development organisations and local government to create the Kerry Social Farming. The KSF Working Group held its first meeting on 29th May 2013. Prior to May 2013, six months of planning and development work took place, including attending conferences in Carrick-on-Shannon, Belfast and Armagh, as part of the Social Farming Across Borders (SoFAB) project.
From the beginnings in early 2013, Kerry Social farming has helped to build closer links between the farming community and people with disabilities and has grown steadily and sustainably from year to year, delivering 76 days of social farming within the first six months (July-December 2013). This rose to 853 days safely delivered during 2021, despite the disruption caused the pandemic.
Kerry Social Farming has expanded from four farms in 2013 to 25 by the end of 2021, with a number of other farms engaging with us ether as new host farms or those recommencing after a break. To date, our host farms have opened their farm gate to over 60 people with disabilities, allowing them avail of farming activities and enjoy the experience of being with animals and plants in a safe and friendly environment. The farms remained as working farms while offering participant opportunities to learn farm skills, life skills, connect with the rural community and build meaningful relationships.
To promote and operate social farming in Kerry as a viable option for achieving improved quality of life, greater inclusion and community networking for people with disabilities.
Through working collectively in a shared service with the social care service providers, people with disabilities, local communities, local development companies, national and local government, the business community, farm organisations & farm families to develop and provide Social Farming opportunities in Kerry.
Kerry Social Farming steered by KSF Working Group and is under the legal umbrella of lead partner South Kerry Development Partnership CLG (SKDP), which provides the legal, financial and administrative governance for Kerry Social Farming.
Kerry Social Farming is about meaningful Social Inclusion. The model of social farming in Kerry is voluntary and community based – both the host farmers and the participants (persons with disabilities who avail of social farming) work together on a voluntary basis on the farm. The benefits of the voluntary model are that it lends itself to promote real social inclusion and foster real friendships and working relationships. In addition, the voluntary model is sustainable, providing long-term opportunities for participants on the farms. This voluntary model harnesses the phenomenon of Rural Vibrancy that is evident right across Kerry and also evident in rural communities nationwide.
The host farms involved in the Kerry Social Farming are ordinary farms. Participants attend the farm typically once a week for a few hours and get involved in farming activities which can be anything from feeding livestock or sheep, growing and delivering vegetables or flowers, attending the local Mart or other community events. Therefore, farming life and activities continue as normal while participants are on the farm. Through the support of the host farmer, participants meet more people in the local rural community, getting to know the neighbours, other farmers and the farming family.
The KSF Working Group and facilitator ensure that no host farmer is out of pocket. Full financial support is given to cover additional insurance costs and implement necessary farm upgrades that may be required to ensure the health and safety of the participants, as well as funding additional activities on the farm which the participant would enjoy and benefit from.
Kerry Social Farming operates by the principles of bottom-up community development. Using a bottom-up approach, SKDP is ideally placed to bring together various stakeholders in the community to work together as Kerry Social Farming Shared Services.
Kerry Social Farming operates on a collaborative basis, and since 2013 has grown to incorporate a number of social farming partners. Our partners are as follows:
Kerry Parents & Friends Association (KPFA)
St. John of God Kerry Services (SJOG)
Down Syndrome Ireland, Kerry Branch (DSK)
South Kerry Development Partnership CLG (SKDP)
North East & West Kerry Development (NEWKD)
Host Farmers representatives
Social Farm Participants representatives
Health Service Executive (HSE)
Enable Ireland Kerry Adult Services
Kerry County Council (KCC)
Local Link Kerry
Kerry Education and Training Board (KETB)
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) Studio 3
National Learning Network
Representatives of the above partners make up the KSF Working Group, which is a working group of lead partner South Kerry Development Partnership CLG (SKDP) and reports regularly to the management and board of the partnership. Apart from the representatives on KSF Working Group, outlined above, KSF also works collaboratively with Local Link Kerry (Rural Transport) Local Link Kerry in developing a social car model, whereby host farmers and other community volunteers transport participants to and from the farm, thus helping the project to grow sustainably. The above model shows how all partners support the social farm participants by working together.