Traditional forms of mental health treatment, like psychotherapy or peer support groups, can provide life-changing benefits. However, people living in rural areas may experience stigma that prevents them from seeking treatment. Care farming offers a unique opportunity for rural communities: it incorporates mental health treatment into fun social activities in a stigma-free environment.
What Is Care Farming?
Care farming, also known as social farming, is the practice of using farming activities as a form of therapy, along with counselling and other mental healthcare interventions. Care farms have structured, licensed programs that are led by mental health professionals. Groups of clients work together to complete various agricultural tasks, such as flower or vegetable farming, tending to animals, and harvesting.
Participating in a care farm program provides clients with the opportunity to give back to their community while building self-esteem and learning new skills. Care farms serve a variety of people seeking therapeutic interventions. They may offer services to those coping with depression or addiction, veterans, and children with autism. Any group of marginalized people can benefit from the services of a care farm.
How Does Care Farming Help?
Care farming has been proven to have several mental and physical health benefits! They reduce depression and stress, slow cognitive decline, and give clients a sense of community and belonging. They also provide a safe, inclusive environment for people with mental illness to get to know each other. Moreover, the focus is on farming activities rather than the individual. This can help relieve the social pressure that clients may feel, especially those who are concerned about stigma or judgement. Care farms help clients gain self-efficacy as they practice new skills. They may even offer clients an opportunity to pursue new qualifications and employment opportunities. This instils a sense of hope and confidence that is especially helpful for recovery.
In addition, exercising and spending time in nature are known to be beneficial for mental health. Care farms encourage both of these practices, and often provide animal therapy with psychotherapy or other forms of treatment. Overall, they help clients learn new tools to improve their overall health and make connections with others in their community.
Care Farming in Canada
The care farm model is popular across the UK and Europe. Although it’s not as common in Canada yet, there are already some successful care farms that are spearheading the movement. Green Care Farms is located in Milton, Ontario and serves people living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive impairments. It was founded by Rebekah Churchyard, who learned about the effectiveness of care farms in Europe and wanted to fill this gap in Canada. Green Care Farms has a social worker and researcher on their team who develop and evaluate programs geared toward their target population. The farm features a Sensory Garden, where patients help design the garden and plant their own fruits, flowers, and vegetables.
Fiddlehead Care Farm offers services geared toward children, teens, and young adults. They provide individual and family counselling, as well as with animal therapy. They also teach young people life skills through farming-related tasks, and help them develop a sense of responsibility and purpose. The farm is located in Mono, Ontario and is currently seeking volunteers!
Care farming is a great way to support those seeking treatment in rural communities. By combining the therapeutic benefits of nature, exercise, and group activities, it offers incredibly powerful tools for mental health. Most importantly, care farming encourages people with a shared lived experience to come together and relate to one another, reducing feelings of shame and stigma.