Dutch national network ProFarm

Recently Groene Welle has started the first ProFarm network in the Netherlands in ‘Het Vechtdal’, we have made contact with a lot of social farmers in that area. We invited a total of 10 social farmers for our first meeting in January 2017. We also invited care professionals, people from school and the local government. While building up the network, we have made use of the profession and knowledge of the cooperation Landbouw en Zorg Overijssel.

From that time on we have continued building up a network for the pilot. So it was important to visit social farmers from ‘Het Vechtdal’, the area where Groene Welle is situated, and also other areas. One contact led to another contact, helped and notified by the cooperation. And we discovered that in our country there are a lot of social farmers who offer different kinds and combinations of education and care at their farm. We came in contact with Jan Hassink, a PhD of the Wageningen University and Research (WUR).  He is also owner of a social farm near Arnhem. He helped us by discovering that there are a lot of different initiatives in the Netherlands and we started to build up a national network for social farmers who offer different types of education on their farms. In June 2017 we had a first meeting with 5 socials farmers in Barneveld and later on in September we had a bigger meeting with 8 social farmers, again in Barneveld. We decided to organize a meeting for social farmers from all over the country in November 2017. That was a good meeting with 20 social farmers and we spoke about what they are doing now, what good practices are and the problems they face and we also spoke about our dream for the future. What does a social farm look like in the most desirable way? What are the characteristics of the different groups and ages of students? What is required for good, qualitative education on a farm?

For ProFarm we will develop education farms in a sustainable way, that means, continuing after the end of the ProFarm project. It also has to be innovative in the Netherlands. We can make ProFarm innovative to develop education farms, because we have already made a great shift on farms by going into the direction of social farms, including different kinds of education. Now the next step is to continue progress to include ways of formal learning that makes it possible for students to finish a certain level of education by receiving certificates or (and that’s what we prefer) a diploma.

Besides being one of the initiators, we are now part of that national network. We will collaborate with social farmers and other stakeholders on different levels, in this case on a national level. As partner in the ProFarm project we want to collaborate with other social farmers and learn from each other, to develop forms of formal or informal education on their farms in a way that is comparable with the pilot in ‘Het Vechtdal’. We call these farms education farms (ondewijsboerderijen), because the name social farm is already an established name with another meaning.

And still there is a lot to explore about the different kinds of education social farmers will combine with their work on the farm. That is the reason we are sending in a request to the Stichting Fondsenbeheer Landbouw en Zorg, for financial support that will help us to do more research and to organize a national conference this year. Central theme of the conference will be, what do we want to achieve within the next five years with the education farms? What do we need to achieve that goal and what are the challenges we face? How can the local and the national government support our initiative? The network has enough eagerness and is really motivated to go in the direction of developing education farms that are serious partners in the Dutch educational system.