Social Farming in Flanders, Belgium
April 26, 2015

In 2006, over 200 Social Farms were active in Flanders. These are generally active agricultural or horticultural businesses where farming is the primary business and providing social services for clients is as an additional activity. The farms are mostly family-run as distinct from institutional farms or sheltered workshops. As in other European countries including Ireland,‘green care’ (as it is called) is not new to Flanders. Providing informal social supports on farms for people with psychiatric problems goes back many centuries. Land-based initiatives targeting a wide range of people that use services have emerged in recent years, with a significant increase in the number of initiatives that are based on cooperation between care facilities and farms. These new initiatives arose from the individual interest of some farmers or from a care organisation that was creatively looking for a more appropriate care setting for people that use their services. Up to the end of 2005, there was no legal framework for Social Farming, however since then, with the introduction of financial supports available under the Flemish Rural Development Programme, it has become more attractive for farmers to start Social Farms. Social Farming in Flanders can include day services, respite services and supported employment, as well as therapy in the shape of relaxation, personal development or learning social skills. It can also involve short-term or long-term stays, in cooperation with the care institution. Generally, initiatives are small-scale, caring for a limited number of people that use services. There are three main models of care farming in operation in Flanders.

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Model 1: Active care farm, Individual clients People that use the services of a care institution participate as much as possible in the daily work of the farm. In Flanders, the care institution maintains overall responsibility for the wellbeing of the person using the service.

Model 2: Active care farm, Groups Farms make their facilities available to a care institution, but the farmers themselves spend little or no time delivering the service. Supervisors from the care institution undertake activities with people that use services on the farm.

Model 3: Institutional Farm The farm forms part of a care institution. These are often sheltered workplaces, day care centres or other partial services within the care institutions. Organic farming is often a feature and frequently the farm will have other diversified activities taking place (e.g. agri-tourism initiatives, on-farm selling or processing of farm produce). Generally farms cater for 1-3 service users on a given day. More than half of the farms provide services for more than 4 days per week. Others limit their care-giving activities to one or two days per week. In Flanders, it is often the male farmer who works with people that use the service. While developing an alternative income stream can be important, the motivation for farmers is generally a desire to help others. Most Social Farms receive a modest compensatory payment from the Ministry of Agriculture for their work, between €1,000 and €10,000 per annum depending on the number of days’ service. Operational supports are available for farmers from the Flemish Support Centre for Green Care (part of the Flemish National Farmers Organisation), a centre that works to develop the Social Farming sector in Flanders.

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