Larry Masterson was the overall winner in the Services/Rural Tourism category at the JFC Innovation Awards for Rural Business.

Mr. Masterson took home €1,500 in prizes for developing the social farming model on his Blissberry Farm near Mountcharles in Co. Donegal.

Social farming was originally developed in the Netherlands and is popular across Europe. It is the practice of offering family farms as a form of social service. The farm is used in a different way to provide health, social or educational care services for a range of vulnerable groups of people. It remains a working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in the farm activities. People who have used it include those with mental health difficulties, disabilities or those who are in need of rehabilitation.

Larry has been interested in social farming for many years, and helped to instigate the current initiative in Ireland.

He said: “Working in a social farm environment has been shown to have a major impact, giving people a chance to develop something for themselves and improve their skills and health.

Blissberry Farm is a 50 acre mixed farm, and as well as arable crops and conservation areas it has a flock of sheep, ponies, donkeys, hens, ducks, a small orchard with raised beds, an open cultivated area of organic blueberries, and a large poly-tunnel.

Larry has been producing food for sale in the local country market and has a farm gate shop as well. It all provides plenty of opportunities for farm helpers to work with the animals or get involved with vegetable growing and conservation work. Social farming has proved successful in other countries and looks set to provide a fulfilling diversification for more farmers in the years ahead.

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