Social Farms & Gardens, working with Thrive, have today been selected to expand and transform care farming services across England and ultimately help improve the mental health of disadvantaged children and adults with defined needs, by bringing them closer to nature.

The Growing Care Farming project is part of the Children and Nature Programme being supported by DEFRA, funded by the Department of Education and managed by Natural England, which aims to encourage children from disadvantaged backgrounds to play and learn outside, in and out of school, and is a key commitment in the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan published last year.

The £1.4m Growing Care Farming project will run across all nine English regions and will create more opportunities for both children and adults to attend care farms, where they will access health, social and specialist educational care services while experiencing the natural environment in new ways. Therapeutic activities vary between care farms but typically include looking after livestock and growing crops and plants.

Social Farms & Gardens has a long history of working with its member care farmers, city farmers and community gardeners across the UK (see The charity will work with care farmers and will support those interested in starting up in care farming in order to achieve these plans – which seek to increase the number of care farming places in England to 1.3 million per year by 2023. Social Farms & Gardens will work together with Thrive to provide new training opportunities and supporting resources for care farmers.

A key factor in the success of this project will be the engagement of professionals and commissioners in the health, social care and education sectors as well as the care farming community. The project will establish regionally-based networks and care farmer expert teams which can be responsive to local requirements.

Chris Blythe, director of Social Farms & Gardens, said: “Research shows a clear relationship between the benefits of spending time on a care farm and improved mood and self-esteem. Today’s announcement represents a milestone in helping more people in need to access nature to improve their health and wellbeing.

“It will enable a rapid expansion of care farming places to deliver high quality services to people with health, social and educational needs.

“Importantly it will provide a stronger platform to increase understanding about the lifelong therapeutic benefits of access to nature among healthcare, social care and education professionals.”

Gardening-for-health charity Thrive, which specialises in using Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) to help people with disabilities, poor mental health and long-term physical conditions, will provide its training expertise to equip the care farming sector to deliver the Growing Care Farming project. Thrive will provide four new courses for care farmers, two classroom-based ones that will run across the country and two others that will be available online via

Thrive has a track record of working with teenage students with Special Educational Needs via its Grow and Learn programme, which recent analysis showed had improved the cognitive skills of 60% of participants from 2016-18.

Kathryn Rossiter, Thrive’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted to have this opportunity to work closely with the care farming sector promoting greater use of nature-based activities that will help many more people.

“The care farming and therapeutic gardening sectors have many similarities and share similar aims, so this represents an exciting project to bring our training expertise to a wider audience of practitioners and professionals.”

The success of the Growing Care Farming project will be evaluated through an independent process commissioned by DEFRA.

Farmers’ questions on social/care farming answered

FarmBuddies, a social enterprise based at Petersfield in Hampshire, have announced the publication of their ‘5 Minute Introductory Guide’ for farmers interested in diversifying with a social/care farming enterprise.

The guide is a timely response to last month’s announcement by central government, the secretary of state for the environment, food & rural affairs said that funding of £1.4m will be provided for the promotion of social/care farming over the next three years to effect a step change in accessibility to farms to help improve the mental health of children and adults with defined needs.

The FarmBuddies Guide provides brief but comprehensive information on social/care farming for family farms and smallholdings up to 500 acres. An enterprise could be for just 12 or 24 days a year on the average farm, providing the farmer with increased job satisfaction and extra income.

Drawing on his experience working with farmers engaged in social/care farming enterprises, Stephen Sellers founder/manager of FarmBuddies said: “Respecting farmers’ time, I am confident this brief guide offers the right level of practical information to enable them to consider a new and effective use of their farm. The need is growing to improve the wellbeing of an increasing number of young and older people.”