Deirdre O’Connor Lecture


social farming ie

So Far, So Good? Social Farming and Wellbeing: insights from Ireland

A public lecture by Deirdre O’Connor, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin and UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

Social Farming offers people who avail of a range of social/health services (including mental health, physical/intellectual disability, elder care, among others), or who experience social marginalisation, the opportunity to engage in the farming and related social activities of their communities. This opportunity is offered through the medium of ordinary farms and families acting in partnership with service providers and the people who avail of these supports. It provides such groups of people with an opportunity for inclusion, increased self-esteem and improved health and well-being. Social farming also creates an opportunity to further connect farmers with their local communities through opening up their farms as part of the social support system of their locality.

While the practice of using horticultural or agriculture-related therapies to support vulnerable people in Ireland has a long history, traditionally, these services were offered within an institutional setting. The idea of linking a family farm with social, health or care services, in order to provide service users with a social farming experience, is a relatively new concept in Ireland. At the same time, there is growing recognition of, and interest in, this family-farm based model in Ireland, informed and inspired by successful practices, policies and institutional supports which are emerging across Europe and further afield.  

This lecture explored recent developments in social farming in Ireland in a comparative context and consider how the lessons learned and insights gained might usefully transfer to other settings. 

Deirdre O’Connor is a lecturer and researcher in Resource Economics in the School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin. Her research interests include agricultural, rural and food policy analysis (especially food security and food poverty) with particular reference to the impact of EU policy on rural communities in the Irish and European context. She has a specific interest in the area of social farming, notably in analysing the practices and initiatives which are emerging, as well as the policy environment in which they developing, with reference to both Ireland and other European Union Member States. She has acted as Chair of an EU-wide network of academics and researchers examining the practice of Green Care in Europe, led the Irish strand of a major EU-funded study on the policies and practices surrounding social farming in different EU Member States and participated in the first cross-border initiative (between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) to develop social farming on an all-island basis. More generally, she acts as the UCD Principal Investigator on a number of EU-funded and nationally-funded research projects related to agricultural/rural development policy, food security and food poverty. She served as Chair and Board Member of a national multi-agency initiative in Ireland addressing issues of food poverty and social exclusion until 2015. She has held visiting Professor positions at the University of Pisan and Senshu University.

Dr O’Connor is a UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.