John Sones reports on an open day at a 40 acre smallholding focused on care and farming.

Ellie Goff runs a 40 acre smallholding in Abberton near Colchester which she has built up during the last six years and keeps a variety of poultry, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and cattle. What makes her different is that she runs it as a care farm and in May she held an open day for policymakers, commissioners and referral agencies.

As well as showcasing how she could help people with learning difficulties, disaffected young people and those with mental health needs have another chance in life in a ‘real’ farm setting, visitors are also given the opportunity to try one of the practical exercises on offer for themselves. Care farming has been described in various ways including ‘combining the care of the land with care of people’ and as ‘the therapeutic use of farming practices’.

Each care farm is individual and there is no blueprint for the ideal one as each will be different not only in size and what is offered but also in the groups of people that are catered for. Charges and the source of the payments will also vary. Funding may come from personalised budgets through the health sector or via the education sector.

In her welcome, Ellie gave a brief history of the farm and described how it is continuing to expand and explained how she was able to offer ‘inspirational and life changing experiences’ to those who come there. During this she told me of a young man who never spoke and was heard talking to one of the animals on the farm. A moment she said she ould never forget and which helps to make it all worthwhile. Being a qualified further education teacher, Ellie offers training leading to recognised qualifications. The horses and ponies for example are not used for riding but are ideal animals for hands on experience in learning animal care. Activities like grooming can be very therapeutic and help to build a bond between the person and the animal.

The farm also has a goat herd whose milk is used to make ice cream and this can be used to show a chain in the production of food. Recently raised beds have been built so that vegetables can be grown giving a direct connection with the land and where our food comes from.

The first speaker was Gaynor Orton from Care Farming UK who spoke about care and social farming in the UK and Europe. She outlined the physical, mental health and well being and social benefits of care farming and explained that care farms are not based on an individual’s limitations but on their potential giving them a connection with nature, people and meaningful work. Adding that there are also benefits for the farmer but it is not just another income source. People running care farms are committed to helping people and without that commitment, it will not work.

Care farming is expanding and other areas of need are now being looked at including dementia and ex-service personnel. It is also becoming more widely known and was featured on the BBC programme ‘Countryfile’ recently.

Care Farming UK currently has 171 registered care farms and 176 potential ones across the UK, covered areas such as healthcare, social rehabilitation, education and employment. There are also care farms across Europe .

Care Farming UK was formerly the National Care Farming Initiative but changed its name and structure in June when it became a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. As well as sponsoring Ellie’s Open Day, Care Farming UK will be sponsoring many more around the UK during the year. Gaynor was followed by Rachel Hine from the University of Essex who outlined her research into Green Care and Care Farming.

She explained that the physical activity combined with the mental exposure to nature had become known as ‘green exercise’.

From this there were three health outcomes: improved psychological well being, physical health benefits and the facilitation of social networks and connectivity.

In 2008 a health benefit analysis had been carried out which found that the people attending the seven care farms examined experienced improved self esteem and moods. Currently there is a trial in Norfolk at Clinks Care Farm called ‘Farming on prescription’ where local doctors can ‘prescribe’ time on a care farm.

Visitors experienced some of the activities that Ellie’s care farm offered. One group carried out a supervised goat health check.The conservation and crop growing side of the care farm is expanding and another group built a bug hotel under the supervision of a member of staff from the Essex Wildlife Trust If you are running an open farm or thinking of inviting visitors onto your holding read leaflet AIS23 ‘Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions’ available from the Health and Safety Executive website at

It also has advice to teachers and others who organise visits for children’.

If you think that care farming is something for you, then contact Care Farming UK (membership is free) via their website or write to them c/o Harper Adams University College, Freepost NWW8123A, Edgmond, Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB. Alternativly telephone Gaynor Orton, on 01952 815335 or email