It’s summer-time and it’s fruit picking time at Annagh Social Farm.

For most farmers, getting help at harvest is often a problem, but for Simon and Jennifer Bullock – who run the social farm at Aghalane, near the Border outside Derrylin – they have no problem with pickers and farm workers.

They are part of the social farm network where they use innovative ways of adopting agriculture and horticulture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services, improving the lives of people in need of support, usually due to a disability of some kind.

On two days a week, Simon and Jennifer host a group of adult participants from sheltered accommodation or from their family homes where they reside with their parents, and on another day, they host groups from special needs schools.

Many social farms will usually have livestock and poultry which Annagh Social Farm have, but in addition, they have a comprehensive horticultural area.

In the first of its kind in this area, Simon and Jennifer planted a fruit maze with 1,000 fruit bushes comprising blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries, raspberries and apple trees.

It has been designed in an area where there used to be an old apple orchard and the trees had fallen down.

Simon explained he and Jennifer first spotted the Ashcombe Maze in Victoria, Australia, during a visit in the late 1990s and felt some day they could create something similar.

In around 2017, the Bullocks began constructing the maze with the help of participants who worked at the gravel paths and timber edging.

In the meantime, Simon and Jennifer began grafting blackcurrants from cuttings, also accepting some from Florence Court Kitchen Gardens, which they propagated.

The fruit has been harvested for a number of years now and participants enjoy bringing home what they have picked. Some berries are used for baking for berry cakes and a considerable amount are frozen for making into jam during the winter – another activity everyone can join in.

“We also grow potatoes, pears, peaches, apples and grapes,” explained Simon.

For livestock, they rear Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle and chickens, especially some rare breeds.

Annagh Social Farm began as part of a cross-Border project, Social Farming Across Borders (SoFAB) project in 2013, with 10 in Northern Ireland and 10 in the Republic.

They have another farm in the Aughnacloy area, where there are plans for restoration of the farmhouse to be used for sheltered accommodation.

The maze was officially opened by the then Minister of State for Disability Issues in the Republic, who in turn invited 16 of the pickers for lunch in Government Buildings, Dublin.

They have also worked off-site at Fermanagh Fun Farm, helping to create a mural, as artwork is one of the many therapies taught at Annagh Social Farm.

Social farming became an option for Simon and Jennifer when they were looking for activities for their own autistic sons. After visiting social farms around the country, they joined the cross-Border project.

Staffing on the farm includes Simon and Jennifer, but also a number of volunteers and some European gap year students.

With all the help around, fruit picking is made easy, and the reward is nutritious, juicy, sweet berries for all to share.