Social Farming in Germany

A lack of cooperation between agriculture and healthcare

The SF sector in Germany is developing quickly, but there are still fewer farms practicing SF than in other European countries. Most SF farms are actually ‘sheltered workshops’ (Werkstätten für behinderte Menschen – WfbM) which offer jobs in the ‘green area’, rather than productive farms that offer jobs for people with special needs. There are farms that practice SF which are connected to a full-stationary institution (for people with special needs) and those where one or more clients work. The SF sector lacks organization. Those farms that do practice SF often are members of social institutions (e.g. Camphill association, Anthropoi Bundesverband, Diakonie, Caritas, Lebenshilfe, Arbeiterwohlfahrt). An association called alma e.V. is connecting providers and users of Social Farms, and the Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Soziale Landwirtschaft (DASoL, German Association for Social Farming) has been built up as a national umbrella organization for networking amongst Social Farms. But there is no guaranteed financing for this kind of associations.

Some German states (i.e. Bavaria) have officially recognized Social Farming and are working to improve regulations and financial aids.

In 2017 a new law (‘Bundesteilhabegesetz, BTHG’) will offer new regulations for the participation and inclusion of people with special needs in the labor market. There is a lack of cooperation between the agricultural and the social and health sectors in Germany. Currently the owner of a farm needs either to have a strong personal interest to get into SF or it has to be an organization that already is financed through the ‘sheltered workshop’ scheme. It was said, that once a concept in vocational training has been approved by the national employment agency, there are no further checks of the qualifications of employees unless specific problems get reported. There is a significant difference between rural and urban areas: with rural areas offering jobs in SF but lacking in interested people and urban areas having the people but lacking those job opportunities.

Values of SF are: The individual adjustable work places that SF is able to offer. There is a synergy effect between farms (who need extra help) and clients with special needs (who need a work place that is adjusted to their specific situation). Working on farms offers unique benefits for people with special needs (working outside, working with animals and plants, working within the change of the seasons; the work in itself has therapeutic effects). ‘SF is a contribution to the community. It gives the opportunity to practice agriculture in simple structures, it can go back from being mechanized to a community-based work where you can find people working on the fields. It creates a place of quality, where people can learn that all the food we need can be grown on a farm, they get back the connection to their food, they become aware that farming with livestock doesn’t have to be done with just one animal breed, it is possible to farm with a big variety of animals.’ (RK) SF offers a sense of being useful to the society and contributing to the public which seems very important. Work in the SF makes the clients feel important. Unlike conventional farming practices SF offers the possibility to work in a way that is more humane and conscientious in regards to the environment. Unlike conventional farming 

SF does not rely heavily on the monocultural use of huge areas of farmland – it provides diversification which has positive environmental effects.

Risks of SF are: Clients can become isolated. Regulations are not well known. To work with clients with special needs is expensive and not well compensated. Industrial methods of agriculture cannot meet the needs of SF since conventional farming has become too mechanized to be an attractive working place for people with special needs. Farming in SF cannot be seen as an economic factor but rather as part of the public welfare. Not every person is qualified to do a job in SF. Some farms might take on people with special needs to get cheap labor without giving them the necessary care.

Challenges of SF are: Attending clients in times of crisis. Organizing the finances of a farm. Working hours that usually depend on outside factors (e.g. weather conditions etc.) and aren’t in sync with the ‘normal hours’ of housing institutions for people with special needs. Financing structures are different in each German state and vary depending on the kind of special need a client has. Quality management of the social work in the farms will also be a main challenge for the future since there are no SF specific regulations, definitions or legislation. The general awareness of the society for SF needs to be raised. It is important to stay as close to ‘normal agricultural farming’ as possible to really produce ‘inclusion’. Clients often need longer to learn the tasks needed on the farm and they do/want to retire later, producing elongated times in which the payment doesn’t match up with the actual workload. Farms that work ecological are often to small to be economically sustainable, but small farms are usually better suited for SF.