Farm teaches life skills

People with disabilities acquire qualifications

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Joseph Port collected a number of eggs from the nesting boxes, reward for the regular task of feeding the chickens. He is down on the farm near Wetherby three days a week.

“Everything is good – the practical tasks and being in the fresh air,” said Port, from Leeds. “I love working with animals and especially working as a team with all these guys.

“We know each other very well and can have a laugh together. Some of us…” – “you”, his friends interjected – “talk more than others.”

The farm is no ordinary one. Carlshead Care Farm offers daytime activities, work experience and qualifications to people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

Port is one of a group of four on the farm who pay for their places from their direct welfare payments. In total, 15 to 20 people visit the farm each week, some from Aspire, the Leeds-based society that supports people with learning disabilities.

Improves confidence

Carlshead, one acre in size, contains open fields, fishing pools, trees, allotments, a forest garden run on permaculture principles, two learning rooms, chicken coops and animal hutches, some located within a large sheep and cattle barn. The farm is integrated into a larger network of tenant farms covering 500 acres.

Port and his friends highlighted the rabbits and guinea pigs before measuring out and feeding the chickens, numbering over 80, and then collecting the eggs. Some of these are later exchanged with the local Wetherby greengrocers, Johnson and Sons, for fruit and vegetables.

The farm sells a small number of its products at its own shop and trades at farmers’ markets. But it is by no means self sufficient.

“I am not trying to be commercial as I want the members to be able to take things and cook at home,” said Tanya Bish, who has managed the farm since January 2017, having previously been a volunteer.

“Everyone who chooses to come here is set goals and targets, including working towards achieving ABC vocational awards.

“Checking to ensure the measurements of food are correct is important, whilst combining to achieve a task can improve people’s self-confidence immeasurably. People need space to work in, be able to move around freely, and feel safe and secure knowing there are people here to assist them.”

Kes feeds the chickens. Main photo: Tanya Bish of Carlshead Farm with Charlie, Kes, Nathan and Joseph. Photos: Mark Metcalf

Port said: “I enjoy touching the chickens and especially the ones we hatch. A year or so I have been coming here and on my blog we have videos of the farm.

“It takes time for things to grow – you need to be patient. I like taking home the things we grow and eating them.”

By being on a farm, members learn how food is produced. At Carlshead there was concern about exhausted animals that had been left stranded in heavy snow over the previous few days. Some sheep that were resting in the barn were dying. “We feel sad when they die,” said Port.

Bish believes more people would benefit from visiting care farms, which according to Natural England (NE) total around 230. “Nature-based interventions are beneficial,” she said. “Many people are lonely and being prescribed with antidepressants. Care farms get people into the fresh air, working together as a team, making friends and learning new skills.”

She urged GP practices and other services to recommend care farms as part of a healthy living programme and called for transport facilities to exist “for their patients to visit care farms that have the money, staff and resources to work regularly with them”.

Around 80 care farms are combined together within Care Farming UK. Dr Rachel Bragg, development co-ordinator for Care Farming UK, said the organisation was planning to produce a leaflet that individual care farms could take to potential funding bodies, including probation services, social services and community health, to demonstrate their value.

“We have welcomed the fact that care farms have been included in Defra’s 25 year environment plan and we are confident that the sector can continue to grow in the next few years,” she said.

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