Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland farm diversification scheme with a difference

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Media captionHelping out on a farm has helped change the lives of three County Fermanagh people.

Malachy and Miriam Dolan farm 120 acres near Garrison in County Fermanagh.

It is a full-time operation producing organic beef and sheep.

But on Fridays, the family offers an innovative service. They take social care clients from the Western Trust who help out on the farm.

Michael Power, Noel Stewart and Kerry Maguire do all the jobs that need doing.

They feed the cattle and sheep, they'll help with fencing, they'll go to the feed merchant or the vet.

Their families say it's the highlight of their week.

Malachy gets paid by the trust for providing the service. But he said, it's about so much more than the money.

Image caption Noel Stewart helps Malachy Dolan on his farm near Garrison, County Fermanagh

"You're really diversifying into something that you think is worthwhile. It's making a difference in people's lives and that's the key driver for doing it," he said.

Kerry is 28 and has been to other day opportunities, but her mum said the farm is, by far, her favourite.

"Generally when you ask Kerry, 'what did you do today?', she'll say 'ah, nothing much', but with this she talks about it all the time," Gemma Maguire Carrothers said.

"The overalls have to be taken out, the wellies have to be cleaned, it's a big deal.

"It has changed her life actually."

Image caption Kerry Maguire's mother said coming to the farm had changed her life

About six farm families in Northern Ireland are offering the service, known as "social farming".

Malachy said that in the Netherlands, about 1,000 farmers participate.

He said it could take off in Northern Ireland if long-term funding could be agreed and issues around bus transport to the farms resolved.

Image caption Malachy Dolan, seen here with Michael Power, said social farming could take off in Northern Ireland if long-term funding could be agreed and issues around bus transport to the farms resolved.

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