Science - September 30, 2004

Real farmers provide best care

Psychiatric patients and mentally handicapped people get more out of working on a care farm that also functions as a productive farm. If the care function gets the upper hand, and farm work itself is no longer central, the transition to regular work becomes more difficult for these people.

There are 430 care farms in the Netherlands and on these farms an assortment of people can be found: mentally handicapped, psychiatric patients, ex-drug addicts and people suffering from burnout. Working outdoors with animals and plants can have a healing effect and it helps the clients to prepare themselves for a regular job.

Some care farms developed as the result of an existing farm that needed to broaden its activities. Often the ‘farmer’s wife’ already works outside the farm in the care sector and decides to continue the same activities back on the farm. It is often a question of agricultural income on the farm, but part of the impulse comes from the care institutions. Some farms are also dependent on the income they receive for the care they provide. The farming activities are only there to make the care provision possible.

Marjolein Elings of Plant Research International did research for the Wetenschapswinkel (science shop) and concluded that the care farms where agriculture is still the primary activity offer the best help to clients. On the care farms run by care institutions, the one in charge is often someone from the care sector who has learned a bit about from farming from courses. On farms that have gone over to care the farmer learns something about care provision. The latter alternative works better for the patients. The farmer can be a role model for the clients and they can learn from the farmer how they need to work in agriculture. A farm that runs as a business also gives patients a greater feeling of responsibility, and therefore they regard themselves more as a helper than a patient.

Elings’ recommendation is that care facilities would do better not to set up care farms themselves. It is preferable to seek cooperation with an existing farm that is interested in extending its activities. Too much emphasis on care results in the sector missing its goal. / JT

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