Care farming - a green care approach

– Jenny Phillips

Care farming, also known as social farming, is one form of therapeutic approach identified under the umbrella of green care. Green care utilises strategies that focus on and engage with ecotherapy, eco-education, therapeutic horticulture, care farming, wilderness, and nature therapy. Care farming is defined as the use of commercial farms and agricultural landscapes to promote physical and mental health (Hine, Peacock and Pretty, 2008).


All care farms offer elements of ‘farming’ in varying degrees and these could be via crops, livestock, horticulture, use of machinery or woodland/land management. Care farm provision varies greatly from one farm to another. the UK has approximately 250 care farms, which provide an estimated 9,000 places per week across the UK.


Who are care farms for?
• Anyone with a defined need can receive benefits from a care farm.

Care farms most frequently provide services for:
• People with mental health difficulties
• Young people excluded from school or receiving alternative provision
• Adults, young people or children with learning disabilities or with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• Ex-service personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• People living with dementia
• People with drug or alcohol addiction/history


Care farming services can offer:
• Health care, social care, or specialist education services for those identified as being from one or more vulnerable groups
• Programmes of farming-related activities for individuals with an identified need
• Supervised, structured and bespoke care provision and services on a regular basis for their users
• Services for adults, young adults, and children


Over recent years, there has been a growth in research identifying the benefits of care farming. General benefits have been identified as the powerful mix of being in nature and being part of a bigger group, taking part in meaningful farming activities.

The research has generally looked at specific population groups and identified the benefits for these populations, however when looking at the individual results, you are often able to identify positive outcomes that are common to all groups:
• Improved physical, mental, and emotional health
• Increased self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem
• Friendship formation, improved social skills, and reduced social isolation 

There are also several different theories that support the use of care farming:
1. Salutogenic theory - This explores the factors that promote and maintain health and well-being, shifting the focus from what causes illness and disease (pathogenesis), to understanding what makes people healthy.
2. Self-efficacy - This is based on social cognitive theory, which identifies a continuous relationship between a person’s thoughts, actions, and their environment. In therapy, the aim is to help individuals improve their selfperception and behaviour, by enhancing their self-belief, self-esteem, and sense of control.
3. Therapeutic landscapes and green care - Research in this area has identified that particular landscapes or environments promote health and wellbeing.
4. Jungian psychology - A way of understanding human nature that doesn’t focus too much on predetermined outcomes.

Instead, it emphasises the deeper significance of our experiences. Jungian metapsychology gives meaning to connections that aren’t simply cause and-effect and it recognises connections between the psyche/our inner thoughts and the external world. Jung refers to events occurring at the same time as ‘acts of creation in time’. Ultimately these theories connect with the therapeutic power of care farms and their ability to improve challenging or harmful life situations/occurrences, by offering people a temporary site of respite/refuge and the opportunity to develop new skills, friendships, and resilience, recognising that contact with nature is inherently good for you.

The farm animal’s impact
Throughout human history, people have owned domesticated livestock and many farmers show affection for their animals. Some of the first animal-assisted therapy programmes utilised farm animals in the ninth century, a therapeutic programme using farm animals was established in Gheel, Belgium. Farm animals can facilitate important life lessons such as self-worth, responsibility, and how to care for other living beings. The skills involved in animal care are transferable and adaptable to other humans and pets within that person’s life.  

Have you heard of…
Goat yoga combines the joy of yoga with the playful presence of adorable goats. During these sessions, goats freely roam among the class. Picture a goat perched on your back or gently investigating your ear as you strike a pose. The goal is to create a light-hearted atmosphere, encouraging smiles, laughter, and a memorable time for all involved.

Goat yoga can…
• Provide a relaxation response – human-animal interactions promote the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin (happy hormones)
• Lower anxiety and increase relaxation
• Provide comfort and connection
• Reduce feelings of loneliness
• Provide mental stimulation
• Offer escapism and a happy distraction
• Encourage therapeutic processes and interventions
• Be FUN!!! 

Cow cuddling is a unique and beneficial activity that involves meditating and embracing cows.
This interaction allows cows to provide reassurance and fill people with love, temporarily alleviating their worries. Studies have shown that cow cuddling promotes positivity by harnessing the calming effects of a cow’s slower heartbeat, warmer body temperature, and large size. This cuddling process induces a soothing experience for humans by enhancing the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone released during social bonding. Farms providing cow cuddling may also offer cow brushing and walking.

Care farming for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
ASD is the umbrella term given for all of the four former types of autism: ASD, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. Many care farms incorporate animals, recognising the profound impact of the human-animal bond on the behaviour of children with ASD. By fostering communication between individuals and animals, this bond effectively reduces anxiety and offers opportunities for improved social interactions. Engaging with animals not only promotes feelings of safety, entertainment, and comfort but also facilitates the development of affection. Ultimately, forming relationships with animals helps individuals build connections with others and alleviate the symptoms of ASD.

Jenny Phillips joined our team for the latest episode of POD-CACHE, sharing her passion for farm therapy and animals.  Listen now on your favourite podcast platform to find out how Jenny's love of animals presents in her work with children in Early Years and SEND settings. 

This article was first published in the summer issue of CACHE Alumni's quarterly member magazine, Aluminate.  CACHE Alumni members get access to a range of benefits which include Aluminate, video resources, e-learning, events and lifestyle discounts through our member benefits scheme, CACHE-Back.  Membership starts at zero cost, with fully funded memberships available because of our relationship with NCFE.  Sign up today to get immediate access to our full range of benefits and resources.