The health of the nation is in farming’s hands, not simply thanks to the nourishment that comes from quality food, but in terms of the emotional well-being that can come from being on the land. Debbie Beaton reports

If every household in Britain was given access to green space it would save £2.1bn in health costs, according to Gregor Henderson from Public Health England.

“Farming is a major influence in the health of the nation, beyond simply delivering good food. Farming is a dynamic process that through its activities and interactions with the environment gives people a sense of purpose and well-being,” he adds.

Evidence of this has been born out in the Let Nature Feed Your Senses (LNFYS) project over the past four years. This is a joint LEAF and Sensory Trust project funded by a £25m lottery grant managed by Natural England’s Access to Nature programme, with organisations such as Syngenta and Children in Need providing match-funding.

The impact on the farmer-hosts and the visitors has been equally uplifting (see panel). LNFYS has worked with 72 farms to host more than 14,000 adults and children with a range of physical and social disadvantages.

“There is now strong evidence of the positive impacts of sensory farm visits on health and wellbeing, which helps farmers promote the benefits of the health service they offer,” says James Taylor, LEAF project co-ordinator.

“The farmers involved feel better equipped to offer visits for groups with sensory and physical impairments, and several have set up daily ‘care farming’ activities on the back of the project,” he adds.

LNFYS farmers Sue, and husband, Jeremy Padfield have 320ha of cereals, 200 beef cattle and a DIY livery for 22 horses at Church Farm, Stratton on the Fosse in Somerset.

Sue hosts at least 25 farm visits a year, but chose to focus on one local elderly care home. “We received a £2,000 budget to cover visit times, mini-bus hire and equipment on the farm and I felt that putting that into one local project would have more impact,” she says.

The Fosse House Nursing Home provides high levels of nursing care for 25 adults, catering for dementia and bed-ridden patients. The activity organiser at the nursing home was a crucial champion and facilitator, says Sue.

“It is amazing how simple things, such as taking people up to see the animals, watch silage making or simply sitting in a hay meadow or field to listen to sounds of nature has such an impact. One man spent hours watering the allotment,” says Sue.

“The elderly come here looking sad and half asleep, but within an hour they wake up and share stories with you that they haven’t shared for years. They leave the farm energised and you can visibly see the difference that it makes,” she says.

Bringing nature to the home has helped to build a lasting legacy of the LNFYS project. It started with Sue taking baskets of freshly cut herbs, cherry tomatoes, soils and flowers to the home. “They gently picked off a tomato from the vines and put in their mouths and it was wonderful to see the pleasure this gave them,” she says.

Now there is a garden at the home, planted and tended by some of the residences. More than £80-worth of plants, along with support on how to grow them, were supplied by Dobbies, a local garden centre at Shepton Mallet.

Sensory `trollies’ with a range of fragrant and textured plants are available for those who are bed-ridden. A sensory table in the day room, with items collected from hedgerows and fields, is now managed by relatives of those in the care home.

“We set up a gazebo on village day and talked to everyone about what had been done at the home,” says Sue.

As a result sixth formers from the local boarding school now visit the residents and take part in sensory nature activities every week. A local Indian chef not only does cooking demonstrations for them but has asked the residents to grow herbs for his restaurant, which now provides an income to buy more plants!

Visitor reaction

“I thought it was absolutely wonderful; to be out in the open, just to enjoy the peace, it was just lovely to see the animals, it smade me feel more relaxed. I just love being around animals, I just get such a lot from them.” Visitor to College Farm, Long Crendon.

“The mornings I know I’m coming to the farm I feel excited and happy knowing that I’m going to achieve something worthwhile that day.” Visitor to Cronkshaw Fold

“I really enjoyed my day at your farm, and thought you made our group all really welcome, but for my own personal experience, I felt relaxed for the first time in years!!” Visitor to Park Hill Farm

Find out more about LNFYS

Training day, 11 December

Anyone interested in hosting visits is invited to a free training day on Wednesday 11, December in Coleshill near Birmingham. By attending, your details will be put on the Let Nature Feed Your Senses website, enabling interested groups to make enquiries directly with you. 

It will explore: 

• What is a sensory approach and why it is important for people of all ages with disabilities and older people 

• Making links with community groups

• Developing sensory farm activities 

• Examples of how other farmers have made their visits sustainable 

• Practical considerations; the industry Code of Practice, risk assessments, access reviews 

• The project website and how you will be promoted 

Please e-mail or phone LEAF on 02476 413 911 before Friday 29 November.