The project, Social Farming Across Borders, will link health care and agriculture to establish a new social support service for people who use health and social services.
The concept is new to Ireland but has been operating in other parts of Europe.
The Co-ordinator of the Project, Teresa O'Hare from Lisnarick, who has spent the past year getting the structure ready for the pilot scheme which will see the roll-out across the six counties of Northern Ireland and six Border counties in the Republic, explained that they will be looking for 20 farmers initially to deliver the programme over the next two years.
Teresa who has worked in the past with adults and children with disabilities, introducing them to horticulture, said this concept of social farming was new to Ireland but was already widespread throughout parts of Europe, particularly the Netherlands.
Agriculture Minister, Michele O'Neill attending the launch with the Republic's Minister of State, Fergus O'Dowd, said, "Our respective Departments recognise and support the potential of this innovative cross border project. We understand how experiencing farming at first hand, combined with physical activity has been shown to help a broad range of vulnerable people suffering from mental health problems, physical and learning disabilities and drug or alcohol addiction. Social Farming is particularly relevant to my department on two counts. It complements our work on tackling rural poverty and social isolation while also providing an opportunity for farmers to generate additional income by developing a Social Farming enterprise."
Minister O'Dowd further added his recommendation to farmers and farm families across the Region to take the time to consider the potential benefits of Social Farming to their business and local community. He said,"The Social Farming project has been awarded funding of almost 700,000 from the European Union's Interreg IVA Programme. My Department welcomes the targeting social inclusion through this initiative. The development of Across Borders Social Farming network further enables farmers and those involved in health and social care services to engage and develop the provision of Social Farming in the cross border region and Northern Ireland."
Representatives from the farming and health sectors heard from a number of speakers, including Gaynor Tate from Care Farming UK and Richard Nicol of West Midlands Care Farming and Paul Henry of the Community of Practice Group. The Social Farming Across Borders project has been jointly developed by University College Dublin, Queen's University of Belfast, Leitrim Development Company and DARD's College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).