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Care farms are vital healthcare providers

Friday, August 21st, 2009 Care farms are vital healthcare providers

The combination of fresh air, good quality food and caring for animals can be beneficial to most people, but for many former alcohol and drug addicts life on a British ‘care farm’ can bring much bigger advantages.

There are currently over 100 care farms operating around Britain where farmers combine the care of the land with the care of people. Vulnerable people, such as former addicts, are encouraged to work on a commercial farm which will help to improve both their physical and mental well-being.

Participants are taught how to look after animals and learn new skills such as driving tractors or felling trees. In return a person will profit from an alternative form of rehabilitation and the opportunity of starting a new life.

With adequate investment and backing from the government care farms may prove to be a more popular option than traditional rehabilitation units, as a person acquires news skills that will boost their employability, which may provide them with a sense of purpose when they return to their former surroundings. In fact the number of drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill people who go on to take up full-time jobs is so big that plans are under way to create a national farm care plan.

One of the longest running and most established care farms in the UK is Willowdene Farm in Chorley, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire which was started up 20 years ago by the Holmes family.

It continues to operate today under the supervision of Matt Homes, after he took control of the 200-acre forestry and livestock business from his parents.

Along with his wife, Sarah, he accommodates 14 male recovering drug users, aged 20 to 50, and enrols them on a nine-month course where they learn various skills including sheep and cattle management, how to use chainsaws, drive tractors, run the farm office and cook food.

“But what they really love is being part of family life,” Mr Holmes said. “Most are estranged from their families. They are lovely people who have never had structure in their lives. We get them up early and work them hard doing household chores and work around the farm.”

Mr Holmes insisted: “It provides us with additional income but we are not in it for profit.

“People sometimes say we are getting cheap labour, but the lads get so much benefit and it helps society because they get into jobs.”

Care farming is already fully integrated into the health system in the Netherlands, where it was pioneered. In less than ten years the number of Dutch farms offering these facilities has risen from 75 to more than 800. It is the fastest-growing farm diversification business, with average revenues of some £52,517 a year.

For more information about care farming and to find a full list of the participating farms in your local area, please visit:

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