Former NFUS president Ross shows he cares about farming

Former Scottish NFU president John Ross CBE has been appointed as the new chairman of Care Farming Scotland, the charity promoting the role working farms and holdings can play in the rehabilitation of people recovering from illness, following long-term unemployment, homelessness or release from prison.

Ross, who has also chaired NHS Dumfries and Galloway and among several other roles, is currently chairman of the Programme Board for Prisoner Health Care, said he believed the CFS programme could expand.

"As a practical farmer who has also been involved in the provision of health care and the rehabilitation of offenders I can see very well how work on a farm or holding might help those rebuilding their lives after illness or other problems."

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There are currently ten care farms in Scotland but Ross said there were more who were willing to become involved in the project. He was also keen to explore how best care farming could be integrated into the wider provision of health and social services in Scotland

Care Farming Scotland, which was launched in 2009, uses commercial farms, woodlands and market gardens to offer people worthwhile activity, within a supportive environment.

It can benefit people with learning difficulties or patients recovering from long-term illness, including depression, stress or drug-related issues.

Routine activity like livestock keeping also benefits those returning to work after a long absence. There have been care farms in England for a number of years and in parts of Europe they are part of the health or social services.

Ross's appointment was welcomed by MEP Alyn Smith, who also pledged his own support to the organisation.

"The role of worthwhile activity on farms, woodlands and gardens in rehabilitating folk is often overlooked, and could do with expansion," said Smith.

"Scotland is not a big place, and there are many ways in which practical hands-on, and indeed hands-dirty, experience can have genuine benefit, and so save on other public health or justice budgets.

Smith added that he believed public service in Scotland still remained too often bound by governmental structures, where there was a real role for the third sector to bridge the gaps and focus on the needs of the individual.

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Meanwhile a grant of 5,000 from the VION food group will be used by the charity in order to gain a better understanding of how best to make the links between those requiring the service, those willing to provide it and those who might fund it.

Currently there is no single approach across the authorities and there is still a patchy understanding both of what care farming might offer and also of the wide range of client needs.