The social-pedagogical farm is a residential and work community whose main focus is the experience of living on a farm. Children and adolescents learn to look after plants and animals through a meaningful daily structure, developing different skills and abilities at the same time. They shift from passive focus into active due care for nature, others and themselves.

By working together and sharing responsibility for agricultural work, participants learn to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships and communicate with the group, which helps to consolidate social competencies and develop a sense of community. At the same time, learning practical skills raises the boundaries of their perseverance, capabilities, and, last but not least, of self-efficacy.

The rural environment and genuine contact with nature offer children and adolescents and their families numerous opportunities for new adventures and experience that today's generations are largely deprived of.

 Who is it intended for?

The program of the social-pedagogical farm offers benefits for children and adolescents with very different needs, which is also the reason why our program is so broad. We combine children and adolescents with a variety of problems and their intensity, which is a unique example of integration. 

The decisive criteria for admission to the social-pedagogical farm are:

- Absence of an acute phase or a phase of pronounced suicidal tendencies when an individual would be potentially dangerous to himself and the people in their area, since the environment on the farm does not allow for constant control and appropriate safety measures.

 - Participant's ability to learn and perform farm works. 

- Priority is given to children and adolescents with a higher possibility of using this type of experience in the future either from an employment perspective or by taking over a family farm.

 Why a farm?

    Natural environment

One of the key characteristics of social farms is that its users experience or re-experience nature. As research shows, on the one hand, people keep losing genuine contact with nature; and on the other hand, there are conclusions that contact with nature helps to improve the health and well-being of people.

- Numerous studies have come to the conclusion that already looking at pictures of nature, and in particular walking in nature can improve the individual's mood. The feelings of fear and anger subside while more pleasant feelings arise (Harting, 2003; Urlich, 1991; Harting, 1991). Healing effects occur in remote corners of nature as well as in urban areas, especially in parks and in areas around water.

- Contact with nature has important effects on the ability to concentrate. Van den Berg (2003) found that both looking out the window to observe nature as well as the growing of plants indoors increase cognitive activity of individuals. Kuo and Sullivan (2001) came to a similar conclusion in their study when they compared poorer suburbs of Chicago with the poorer block settlement. A view of greenery enabled the residents to focus their attention better, which in turn led to a smaller incidence of aggressive behaviour.

- Some studies have shown that, for example, watching videos about nature leads to decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure and lower tension of the face (Laumann, 2003), while Hartig (2003) studied the physical responses of people while walking. Walking in areas with nature had a refreshing effect on the body, and walking in urban areas increased blood pressure.


     Interactions with animals

Over the past decades, the presence of animals in institutional care settings has been on the rise, which has led to the development of various concepts of animal interventions, the so-called animal assisted intervention. The latter (AAI) refers to any intervention that intentionally includes or incorporates animals as part of a therapeutic or ameliorative process or environment. Animal-assisted interventions include both animal-assisted treatments (AAT[2]) and animal-assisted activities (AAA[3]). Animal-assisted therapies represent goal-directed interventions with animals as key actors in the treatment processes for a particular user. These therapies follow strictly prescribed protocols which are documented and evaluated by experts. Whereas animal-assisted activities refer to a more general category of interventions with less controlled support which can nevertheless result in therapeutic effects, but in strict terms we do not perceive it as a real therapy.

Numerous studies have shown that human-animal contact can enhance the physical, social and mental health of people with different types of disabilities. It has been suggested that contact with animals can reduce stress and anxiety, distract people from negative emotions, facilitate interpersonal relations and provide social support (Bachi et al., 2011; Beetz et al., 2011; Berget et al., 2011; Hauge etc., 2014). Caring for animals can meet the basic social needs for caring for another living being and experiencing reciprocity (Bachi et al., 2011). Taking care of animals can boost people’s confidence and self-esteem, and help create a more positive self-image. Interacting with animals can provide feelings of safety and comfort, and allow people to display affection. Developing a bond with animals is considered to be helpful in developing relationships with other people (Martin and Farnum, 2002).

The role and importance of farm animals at care farms is still a relatively new area of research that requires further study. Therapeutic farms that are more frequently studied provide a setting that is somewhat different from the care farms that are mainly based on small and stable social communities with flexibility in activities in nature-based settings. The animals on care farms are, generally speaking, used for production rather than for therapeutic purposes. In most cases, the focus is on productive farm work, like feeding the animals, cleaning stables and milking the cows. However, interacting with animals during these activities at care farms may also facilitate social and communicative contact with the animals (Pedersen et al., 2012). The benefits enjoyed by care farm users in interactions with animals are presented below.

 - Meaningful day occupation – It is important that interactions develop in a natural way. During the work, there is time for hugging or stroking the animals. Participants can develop a bond by taking care of the same animals for a longer period of time. Taking care of the animals is conceived as real and useful work that provides the participants with a structured environment and days. Even though many participants may not like all the aspects of the work, they realize, however, that the work has to be done and that it is important to take good care of the animals and keep them healthy and happy.

-  Valued relationship – farmers report that farm animals are appealing to many participants, in particular younger animals and participants can develop a close relationship with them. Animals invite people to take care of them. An important characteristic is that animals have no hidden agenda, they do not gossip and, for many participants, especially those struggling with relationships with human beings, communicating with and talking to animals can be a first step towards developing positive experience and intimate communication.

- Mastery of tasks – work on a farm can offer challenging and physically demanding activities. Animals can also challenge people’s courage. It takes courage to work with big animals. Some animals can also do unexpected things, and the participants have to deal with this unpredictable behaviour. Overcoming challenges can help them build self-esteem.

 - Reciprocity – being at the farm give participants a positive experience as they not only receive care, but provide care as well.  They often reported the positive response of the animal to the care they received, which gave the participants a good feeling.

 - Distraction from problems – it was observed that participants focus less on their own problems when taking care of another living being.

 - Relaxation – working with animals can make participants more relaxed. Some farmers specifically mentioned that cows have a very relaxing impact on participants suffering from depression.

 - Customized care – when there is sufficient diversity in activities and a participant takes part in a variety of activities, a quality bond of cooperation is developed and creativity is ignited.  The pace of work is adjusted to an individual and their needs in the given moment.

 - Relationships with other people – shared interest in animals can stimulate contacts and conversation between people about animals can ease social interaction.

 - Promoting healthy life-style – taking care of farm animals involves physically demanding tasks. Many participants with mental illness often mentioned that they become tired in a way that makes them feel good because it is more physical instead of mental.

 - Welcoming environment – farm workers noticed that in addition to farm animals, pets like cats and dogs are also important since they help create a familiar environment where the newcomers feel welcome. 

[1] Ang. Animal Assisted Interventions.

[2] Ang. Animal Assisted Therapy.

[3] Ang. Animal Assisted Activities.

 Bachi, K.; Terkel, J. in Teichman, M. (2011) Equine-facilitated psychotherapy for at-risk adolescents: The influence on self-image, self-control and trust. Clin. Child Psychol., 17, 298–312.

Beetz, A.; Kotrschal, K.; Hediger, K.; Turner, D. in Uvnas-Moberg, K. (2011). The effect of a real dog, toy dog and friendly person on insecurely attached children during a stressful task: An exploratory study. Anthrozoös, 24, 349–368.

 Berget, B.; Ekeberg, O.; Pedersen, I. in Braastad, B.O. (2011). Animal-assisted therapy with farm animals for persons with psychiatric disorders: Effects on anxiety and depression. A randomized controlled trial. Occup. Ther. Ment. Health, 27, 50–64.

 Hauge, H.; Kvalem, I.L., Berget, B., Enders-Slegers, M.J. in Braastad, B.O. (2014). Equine-assisted activities and the impact on perceived social support, self-esteem and self-efficacy among adolescents—An intervention study. Int. J. Adolesc. Youth, 19, 1–21.

 Hartig, T., Evans, G. W. in Jamner J. D. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 109-123.

 Hartig, T., Mang  M. in Evans G. W. (1991). Restorative effects of natural environment experiences. Environment and Behaviour, 23, 3-27.

 Kuo, F.E., in Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Aggression and violence in the inner city: Impacts of environment via mental fatigue. Environment & Behavior, 33(4), Special Issue on Restorative Environments, 543-571.

 Laumann, K., Garling T. in Stormark  K. M. (2003). Selective attention and heart rate responses to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 125-134.

 Martin, F. in Farnum, J. (2002). Animal-assisted therapy for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders. West. J. Nurs. Res., 24, 657–670.

 Pedersen, I.; Ihleback, C. in Kirkevold, M. (2012). Important elements in farm-animal assisted interventions for persons with clinical depression: A qualitative interview study. Disabil. Rehabil., 34, 1526–1534.

 Ulrich, R.S., Simons, B.D., Fiorito E. ,Miles M. A. in Zelson M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-203.

 Van den Berg, A.E., Koole, S.L. in Van der Wulp, N.Y. (2003). Environmental preference and restoration: (How) are they related? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23(2), 135-146.

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