Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend (BOIOFW) is set to return to Northern Ireland with an in-person format for the first time since 2019.
The annual event which opens to schools on Friday 17 and the public on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June highlights the importance of the agriculture and farming industries and the benefits they bring. Participants Linda and Robert Davis from Laurel View Farm are looking forward to welcoming visitors back on to their Templepatrick farm and believe this year’s event is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on social farming and the benefits it brings to both communities and farmers.
Social Farming is the use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, and education in rural areas. At Laurel View Farm Linda and Robert work with various groups including Muckamore Abbey in Antrim. While Covid-19 initially halted the visits to the farm the couple then found a way to continue giving the group members the interaction with the animals that they so enjoyed.
Linda explained: “We have been working with Muckamore for a few years now. Pre-Covid they used to come out to us and the group would have been helping out with grooming and brushing and all sort of farming activities. When the pandemic hit visits were initially halted and then there was an issue with getting transport. At that point Robert suggested he could start bringing the animals to the hospital. He started doing it one day a week but it quickly turned into two and the reaction has been fantastic.
“He’ll pack up the trailer or the car with a pony, or a calf, or lamb or duckling or whatever is about – cat, dogs, they’ve all been! In some ways it’s been a positive that’s come out of the pandemic because originally there were only a small number of participants who could come out to the farm but Robert is now able to work his way around different wards and see far more people.”
Commenting on the benefit of these visits Linda said: “The patients look forward to Robert coming in each week. One of the loveliest moments was with a man who is deaf and blind and struggles to express himself. He had the cat on his knee during one visit and he just sat there with the biggest smile on his face – the staff couldn’t believe it.”
For Linda and Robert social farming and the social aspect to events like BOIOFW are integral to the other work they do on the farm.
“It’s all linked,” said Linda. “At the likes of BOIOFW or with social farming we’ll get people visiting who’ve maybe never been in the countryside before or seen these animals in real life. It helps with our message about supporting local producers and buying locally because it really brings it all home and highlights just what we have on our doorsteps.”
Laurel View Farm will be open during Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend on Friday 17 June (Schools only) Saturday 18 June 12.30-4.30pm and Sunday 12.30-4.30pm