Comment: Social farms can be part of a cathartic process

Robin Asquith, who runs a social farm in the North York Moors.
Robin Asquith, who runs a social farm in the North York Moors.
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I am the care farm manager for Camphill Village Trust, a social farm based in the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors in a rural village called Botton.

The concept of a social farm is very simple: to combine agriculture and/or horticultural production with health and social services provided to people with varying types of disability or mental health concerns.

From learning disabilities to mental health, dementia and substance misuse through to ex-service personnel, social farms provide cathartic opportunities for the benefit of the individual.

Five years ago I had no idea what social farming, or care farming, as it’s sometimes called, was.

Now, having managed social farms for over four years and travelled the world visiting them, I am utilising the knowledge and skills I have acquired to run such a business successfully.

Having graduated from The University of Hull with a degree in Geography in 2011, I then worked in commercial horticulture before being appointed farm manager on an upland hill farm at the tender age of 24. Having not come directly from a livestock background, it was certainly a steep learning curve. 

However, through supportive organisations such as the Fresh Start Land Enterprise Academy in York, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the agricultural business mind-set that I needed to help me and the farm succeed.

Listening to and absorbing advice I was being given then gave myself and my wife enough impetus to establish our own farming enterprise, ingeniously named Asquith’s. Having experienced steady growth on the Upland Hill Farm under my stewardship, I was humbled to become one of the finalists in the Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year Awards 2015.

From personal experience, I feel it is vital to gain an insight into similar and more successful businesses other than your own. The opportunity for me to network with key influencers and get involved in debates surrounding vital issues has been boosted by joining the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Future Farmers of Yorkshire Group.

One of the most rewarding aspects of joining has been the opportunity afforded to me to speak to agricultural students at Bishop Burton College; making the next generation aware of what an exciting and diverse industry agriculture can be is something I am hugely passionate about and will continue to pursue.

Five years ago I was given a piece of advice which still resonates with me today, and that was to take every opportunity that comes my way, embrace it and do your best. I took this advice literally, and it has proved invaluable.

I have now travelled the world through a Nuffield Scholarship, become a trustee of Care Farming UK and helped to influence and direct government policy in relation to social prescriptions and social farming strategy.

Yes, of course, college courses and degrees successfully provide young people with an excellent foundation of understanding, but it’s equally important to broaden your knowledge base and embrace involvement in forums and events. 

Leaving the farm is just as important for growth and success – it can only make you a better person socially and professionally, and the YAS Future Farmers of Yorkshire group provides a wealth of opportunities to do so.