The Impact of Care Farming in the UK
Care farms seek to support and empower people who are in some way vulnerable by enabling them to engage with agricultural places and farming activities. Their numbers have increased substantially in the UK and elsewhere over the past decade, but there is a paucity of evidence concerning that which takes place, associated outcomes and consequential change. This mixed methods study investigated care farming from multiple perspectives in order to provide an enhanced understanding of overall impact. It was informed primarily by qualitative and quantitative data provided by service users and providers but also incorporates input from representatives of other significant stakeholder groups.\ud The evidence of sixty seven care farmers highlighted the challenges associated with the initiation and development of sustainable enterprises, but simultaneously demonstrated this to be an activity that can benefit farming people and places. Altruistic intent was identified as a common denominator and care farming was found to have enabled both new and established farmers to engage with activities that support the land and develop community. Productive and consumptive elements interlink to provide multifaceted value. Agricultural and familial connections were presented as having been enabled, on-farm employment as having increased and farms as having regained their position as a social hub.\ud Multivariate statistical analysis of health and well-being measure scores provided by two hundred and sixteen care farm participants identified statistically significant positive relationships (p<.001) between the amount of time that people had been attending care farms and subjective happiness, satisfaction with life and more generic mental well-being. Analysis of qualitative data suggested that service users often received support initially from the animals, plants and wider natural environment, but that people and associated social interactions were increasingly enjoyed and influential as time progressed.\ud An assessment of the overall impact associated with an individual care farm was provided through the application of Social Return on Investment. This took account of all elements of associated change and assigned justified financial proxies so that overall value could be conceptualised. The analysis suggested that, for every £1 that was invested, there was a return that exceeded £3.50. Value was presented as having emanated from the natural, social, learning and physical elements of the care farm space, but consequential positive outcomes were also demonstrated to impact outside this space.\ud This study found care farming to be a cost effective vehicle for enabling the improved health and well-being of both individuals and wider society. Associated dividends are apparent and it is hoped that this will help policy makers and service commissioners to recognise and understand the value that care farms provide.
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