FarmAbility co-farmers are women and men over 16 years of age with autism and/or learning disabilities who like being outdoors and enjoy taking part in purposeful activities, such as egg collecting and grading, growing vegetables, caring for farm animals and horses, woodworking, and a range of seasonal farm tasks. Our co-farmers come to the farm between 1 and 3 days each week, throughout the year.
Our programme for co-farmers runs on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am until 4pm. Co-farmers typically take part in three different activities on the farm each day, including taking the FarmAbility dogs for a walk across farmland, through woods, or down to the river. We have a weekly schedule that changes with the seasons, and co-farmers are able to choose from a range of activities for the three months of each season. Co-farmers work in small groups of no more than four, supported by an experienced Programme Leader, and often also by a volunteer or occupational therapy student. We develop a Personal Profile with each co-farmer, so that we can ensure we’re meeting their needs, responding as much as possible to their interests, and supporting them to develop their skills and abilities. We monitor progress by each co-farmer through our Everyday Breakthrough records, and we apply learning from Occupational Therapy and other practice to address specific challenges that co-farmers may experience in the course of becoming more engaged in activities.
All programme activities are chosen for their therapeutic, vocational and practical benefit, and for for their encouragement of a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. All activities are set up to foster confidence and self-esteem, to encourage teamwork and communication, and to give co-farmers the chance to demonstrate their abilities.
Perhaps most importantly, we place huge significance on the quality of the atmosphere we create at FarmAbility. We want everyone to feel welcomed, valued, and included as part of a thriving, friendly and purposeful community. We’re proud that co-farmers look forward to their weekly visit to FarmAbility; for us this is the key indicator that we’re doing OK.
Alongside our main day service we also run an EmployAbility project, which supports young people with autism to build the skills, experience and confidence they need to enter the workforce. We also run sessions for school students aged 16-19 years, and in September 2017, our schools programme will expand to support 20 students with autism and learning disabilities from local schools and colleges to prepare for a successful transition to adulthood.
As well as our location on FAI Farms in Wytham, we are developing partnerships with a number of farms and productive green spaces close to our base, to allow us to expand and bring the benefit to more co-farmers and students. We’re hoping to establish a second ‘hub’ over the coming year in Oxfordshire to extend our capacity for offering more farm and land-based programmes.
We welcome people with a wide range of abilities to FarmAbility, and we encourage people considering becoming a co-farmer to visit us for a free taster session to see what we’re about. For more information about co-farming, or to arrange a taster session for yourself or someone you support, please email JP@farm-ability.org.uk.