This Friday (May 13), Doon Social Farms in Limerick will host an open day to showcase its new farm shop and the rehabilitation, education and care services it provides.
Volunteers will bring people around the farm, where there will be demonstrations how to grow your own vegetables and make your own garden furniture and fixtures,” says farm manager Tom Kent.
“There will be a vintage tractor display by local farmers as well as a display by the local men’s shed. Visitors can come and learn about the animals and the courses we offer. ,
Established in 2020 by Ballyhaura Rural Service after the Sisters of Mercy donated 33 acres of land, the farm offers a range of courses to promote social care, rehabilitation and a range of health and wellness outcomes.
The farm also offers horticulture education through short day and evening courses given through a local training initiative and community education.
“Social isolation, and especially rural isolation, was a big issue in this area,” Tom says. “So to tackle this the Doon Social Farm was established so that youth and other community groups can meet others and learn about biodiversity, farming and the journey from farm to fork.
“Something was needed for young people, to take them outside and learn about our relationship to food and where it comes from – a different place to have a conversation.
“There was also a need for space somewhere that could cater to the social care areas in the community.”
The farm offers practical educational courses that can be tailored to individuals and groups.
“We have a wide variety of people coming to the farm from both primary and secondary schools, HSE mental health groups, youth services, disability groups, and homelessness services,” says Tom.
The main objective of the social farm and its programs, he says, is to instill confidence in visitors, give them access to outdoor green spaces, and educate them about biodiversity and growing organic sustainable food.
“People who come to us participate in practical activities like planting, propagating, harvesting, and feeding the animals,” says Tom.
“Getting your hands dirty and working in a farm setting allows you to get out in the fresh air and interact with others.
“Putting your hands in clay and working with it has also been proven to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which is believed to help stabilize mood, so working with the ground and planting vegetables is mental. Extremely beneficial for people suffering from the disease.”
Tom says that social farms prove to be of great benefit to people living with mental health issues and he and his colleagues are looking forward to starting work in the area of ’social fixation’ next.
“Often when people with mental illness go to their GP they will be given medication, but social prescribing offers a different approach,” he says.
“This is where doctors and GPs schedule time for their patients on a social farm or other such social setting. It has been shown to be very effective because getting out in the fresh air and interacting with others increases serotonin in the brain. The level goes up.”
The Farm runs evening courses for all ages, and semester-long training courses in horticulture. From October, it will host the QQI Level 4 Horticulture course.
Doon Social Farms also operates as a working farm, consisting of two industrial-sized polytunnels on 5ac land, which it uses, grows a wide variety of organic seasonal vegetables, which are sold locally. It also keeps over 200 hens, five donkeys and two pigs.
“Last week we sowed carrots and onions, so they’ll be ready around September,” says Tom. “Next week we will start planting tomato seeds and after that we will focus on cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and some more unusual vegetables like brassica.
“We have a five-year crop cycle in our farm which allows us to manage the land completely organically without the use of any fertilizers or pesticides.
“Being organic, being sustainable and promoting food security are our core values.
“We are selling our produce in local markets and restaurants, shops and cafes in the area and from the farm gate.”
Open Day will be on this Friday (May 13) from 11-2 PM.