“Food is our most basic need and most fundamental connection with our environment and yet modern conveniences and an industrialized food system have created a culture of cheap food while alienating people from the landscapes that sustain them” (Hale et al, 2011).
So, how do we get back to basics and regain this fundamental connection with our environment?
Community or social farming gives people a way to reconnect with the land and its natural resources, helping promote health and well–being. There is evidence to illustrate the positive impact gardening has on both mental and physical health, especially in people who feel excluded or marginalised in society.
A new study about this form of gardening has shown community food growing can not only improve people’s fitness and encourage healthy eating but it also helps alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Community farming offers connection to local communities and pathways towards recovery, providing people with a sense of stability and routine and giving many a meaningful purpose in their daily lives.
The benefits of social or community gardening include physical, mental and social benefits as well as benefits for the wider community in the understanding of mental health issues and alternative ways to help those affected by these issues.
This type of activity helps to build self –esteem and confidence by engaging people in an activity that is meaningful and of interest to them. This kind of motivation and purpose helps to distract sufferers from symptoms of mental health issues and can therefore lead to an improvement in their condition. People don’t only begin to feel better on the inside, but their physical health improves through greater connection with healthy and fresh food in the growing of their own produce.
Social farming or gardening also helps to integrate people who may have felt marginalised, back into society with the building of social relationships through work and meeting people similar to themselves. This in turn helps build self–confidence and independence and has, in some cases, led to formal employment for people who gained experience and developed skills through such activities.
It also helps to de–stigmatize mental health and improves understanding and awareness of mental health treatment throughout the wider community.
The Quarries Community Farm in Bangor is a great example of this type of social farming in action. A venue and community resource, it is set in a natural environment to promote health and well–being for all. The farm was set up in 2009 by Joan, her partner Tina and her brother Peter. Peter has had direct experiences of mental health issues and feelings of isolation and decided to start a self–help group.
They wanted to bring people who were experiencing this similar feeling of marginalisation in society together, both to empower them and to help promote their mental well–being. The Quarries Community Farm works in partnership with local groups that represent individuals who are marginalised or living with disability in the local community.
Set on 100 acres of grazing land the farm has natural woodland and a community growing space. Activities such as woodland management and horticulture help to engage people as a team whilst providing them with a worthwhile experience and, quite often, stepping stones to the future.
The farms aim is to help foster social interaction between people whilst connecting people with their environment and promoting issues of social and environmental sustainability. They have an ‘ethos of compassionate farming, practical self–sufficiency and permaculture’. The Quarries Community Farm is a brilliant example of how reconnecting with the land and growing food can not only help to promote the health and well–being of people but also provides an alternative outlet for people who are affected by issues of mental health whilst developing a strong support network for these groups.