‘Farmers’ Yards’ To Promote Social Inclusion

The pilot project, which will be led by a group of farmers in north-east Galway, is due to be rolled out in January 2023

A new project is working to establish a dedicated social organisation for older farmers.

With over one-third of Irish farmers now aged over 65, Shane Conway and Maura Farrell in the Rural Studies Centre at NUI Galway are working on setting up ‘Farmers’ Yards’.

They feel the initiative could “respond positively to the widely reported ‘greying’ of the farming population”.

The emotional and social wellbeing of older farmers is ‘more important than ever’ in the context of increased levels of social isolation and loneliness in rural communities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

The emotional and social wellbeing of older farmers is “more important than ever” in the context of increased levels of social isolation and loneliness in rural communities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Designed to fit the older generation’s aspirations, interests, needs, and values, the proposed organisation, with a network of clubs in every county (or similar geographic entity), would promote social inclusion in farming by allowing the older generation to come together as a local peer group.

It would be in a friendly and informal setting, and akin to that in place for young farmers in rural Ireland — like Macra na Feirme.

Mr Conway explained the social organisation “would also help ease concerns around the fear of the unknown upon ‘stepping aside’ and retirement, by providing older farmers with an outlet to remain actively involved in farming, because for many, it is a way of life, not just an occupation”.

“Furthermore, membership of such a group would provide opportunities to develop a pattern of farming activities suited to advancing age through increased collaboration with farmers at a similar stage of their lives,” he added.

“Such peer-to-peer comradeship would be extremely beneficial for farmers living alone, as it would help contribute to their overall sense of happiness, belonging and self-worth in later life.” 

Ms Farrell highlighted that despite the “widely reported successful social and emotional wellbeing benefits of the Men’s Sheds movement throughout the world”, NUI Galway advises this proposed social organisation for older farmers would be open to both men and women, “thus helping to bring about increased levels of social inclusion amongst older women involved in farming”.

NUI Galway proposes the long-established livestock mart sector can help facilitate the rollout of Farmers’ Yards as they have “a considerable role already in terms of providing such a social hub for the older generation of the farming community”.

“In addition to their primary function of providing a consistent, stable, and transparent method of buying and selling livestock through a guaranteed payment structure, the bidding ring and canteen at marts also provide a vital social facility for the farming community, some of whom have no other social outlet,” Mr Conway added.

“Indeed, many older farmers rely on their weekly visit to the mart to meet friends, exchange ideas, and catch up on local news in an informal setting”.

“This has almost grown in significance in recent years as many of the natural meeting points within rural communities have been removed due to the closure of post offices, pubs and local shops.” 

According to those behind the project, the proposed Farmers’ Yards have the potential to create an age-friendly environment in the farming sector.

“Despite the growth of the age-friendly environments movement, the existing literature is predominantly focused on a model of urban ageing that fails to reflect the broader diversity of rural areas and more significantly that of the farming community,” Mr Conway said.

“Furthermore, generational renewal in agriculture policy’s preoccupation with developing strategies and interventions encouraging older farmers to ‘step aside’ and retire to facilitate young farmers wanting to establish a career in farming appears at complete odds with the basic principles of the World Health Organization’s age-friendly environment concept.”

According to those in the project, the successful formation and implementation of NUI Galway’s Farmers’ Yards proposal can “help address this significant underrepresentation and disregard by generating a culture of appreciation and respect for their way of life”. 

“Both within policy circles and society more generally, and consequently prevent older farmers from becoming isolated and excluded from society.”

The Farmers’ Yards project has been funded by the NUI Galway Illuminate Programme.

It is expected an initial pilot project on this initiative, which will be led by a group of farmers in north-east Galway, will be rolled out in January 2023.

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Kathleen O Sullivan – 03/08/2022)

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Rural Enterprise Skillnet

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