#GrowWildStories: "We're doing our bit to help our planet"
How a Care Farm in Suffolk grew wildflowers to spark connections and tackle isolation in their community
We spoke to Geoff and Mandy from Pathways Care Farm about their latest project, and how Grow Wild has helped them in developing their post-lockdown projects to address unemployment, social isolation and poor mental health.
“We first got involved with Grow Wild a couple of years ago. We were inspired to create a wildflower garden in my acre and a half of land, and that was going rather well. And we then had the idea of expanding the project to the wider farm. We applied for some funding, as we wanted to support a number of people who are disadvantaged in some way. We were lucky enough to receive funding for ten people to participate in a project focused on growing wildflowers, and we were able to use some of Grow Wild’s support and resources to help develop the project. We also had a number of beehives, which fed into the project well. Our woodland and farmland are very diverse areas.
Throughout the development of the project, we've had an absolutely amazing time. We have a brilliant teacher who leads our sessions, he enthuses people. Some of the aspects of the project have included harvesting and collecting the wildflower seeds, digging up some wildflowers and putting them in pots to see if they grew, and each of us has taken an area of grassland, scarified it and sowed seeds on that, and we’re waiting to see if they take off. The local community members that we’re trying to reach - they've managed to get involved with the whole process.
It's quite humbling that the people who come to the farm range in age, from 19 to early 50s. Some of them haven’t worked for some time, or haven’t worked at all, and some of them have depression or learning difficulties. They all arrive in plenty of time to start the day and come to every session. They stay involved the whole day and complete a learning diary at the end of the day. I think they are so engaged because the learning is so practical.
We’ve been running as Pathways Care Farm for six years. It’s idyllic, and the great thing is that we are situated 100 yards from Tesco at the edge of a housing estate, so we’re very accessible for people. Despite being so close to town, we’re well protected from the surrounding road. There are fences all the way around the farm, there's a reservoir, too, which we don't own, but there's lots of lovely wildlife and birdlife there. There's also a woodland walk, the wildflower gardens and some orchards. We also have a large vegetable growing area and lots of animals as well, so as a care farm, we’re quite diverse.
We have attracted a lot of people and have built up quite a reputation over the last few years. But the unique thing I think about us is the atmosphere. Every single person who comes here says, “Wow, this is an oasis”. The people who do the course have access to the whole farm for planting, looking for wildflowers and more. They can go out for walks, see the animals and see us working. It's quite a unique atmosphere.
Our main agenda from the funding that we've received is to get people into volunteering or paid employment. We look for people who have a flair or an interest and might want to stay on after the programme as volunteers. Some of the volunteers we have are people who joined us when they're either retired or semi-retired or have been through some difficulties themselves. Sometimes, they go right through from being a service user to a volunteer. It’s so diverse - it makes the whole thing a real living community.
I think there are so many benefits for the volunteers and beneficiaries here. The benefits of being outdoors are huge, particularly with COVID. Having the wind in your face and sampling the elements gets you in touch with the reality of nature and the world. We don't have computers, although, towards the end of the quarter, we are going to be teaching people how to build a website and to market the wildflowers that they're growing. We are getting into sales as well, but the real advantages for the course participants are being in a loving, caring environment where they're shown dignity and respect.
We found people came that didn’t know each other, yet through the course, they started helping each other. They were building their own caring community as well, which I think is a big plus. It’s a lovely group of people. New course participants or volunteers arrive and see that there are people from all walks of life, that there's room for diversity, and that there's room for everybody. Everyone's got something to contribute, which then builds confidence. That's our ethos. Everybody is equal, and everybody has value, and we stand by it constantly. There may be people with different roles: teachers, facilitators, volunteers - but that doesn't mean that they're any more special than anybody else.
A typical day on the farm
A typical day starts at 10 am when some of the farmworkers come, but, as helpers, we get there a bit early. Alongside the teachers, we plan the day’s activities. The teachers have planned the whole course already, which lasts until June. But we decide as a team what we're going to do that day. And obviously, it's weather dependent as well! We break for lunch at around 1 pm, and we have a morning coffee break as well. Last week, we tried to learn the names of some of the wildflowers and match the names to the pictures. And I have to say that some of the group are far better at it than we are! We also pot seedlings, work on the soil, prepare the ground… it's all quite practical. In fact, one of the people on the course said: “it's really good because we're doing our bit to help our planet” - they're associating it with the bigger picture, which is great.
“One of the people on the course said:
"it's really good because we're doing our bit to help our planet.".”
We’ve seen many other benefits in our participants and volunteers, too. We have one participant who recently suffered a bereavement. He was saying last week that it's really helping him to heal, not just walking around the farm, but being able to contribute. We also realised in the first week that there was one person who didn’t have any lunch. So, the following week, other people started bringing things to share, and we realised that there's a huge community element to this. They're not only getting to know each other, but they're caring for each other, too.
In terms of our plans for the future, we’ve secured some funding to support carers to come onto the farm. These are full-time carers, so they hardly ever get out. We’re delighted with this new funding, as it will mean somebody can go into their house to look after their loved ones whilst they get some respite and come to the farm and learn about wildflowers. Loneliness and isolation are huge areas that we're trying to tackle on a small scale as well. We’re so lucky to have a resource like this farm, and it's great to be able to open it up and get people to come and enjoy the safety, but also the community that we're setting up.”