PROXIMA, Inclusive paths of autonomy and citizenship among social farms and urban gardens 

Have you ever heard about Social Farming? And how it can be linked to Urban gardening?

Social Farming is an innovative approach linked to different topics such Social Inclusion, vocational training and therapeutic practice. It has been defined as an innovative approach by the European Economic and Social Committee (CESE 1236/2012 – NAT/539)

Indeed, Social Farming is aimed at establishing farms as places where people with special needs and disadvantaged groups can take part in daily farming routines as a way of furthering their development, making progress and improving their well-being. Thanks to Social Farming, these people gain knowledge and skills in agriculture and enhance their role for possible employability. Social Farming aims to create a special environment that allows people with special needs to realize a fundamental aspect of life – work.

The practice of Social Farming involves different actors: farms, NGO’s, family organizations, National Health Systems, Social services, Justice Service and different Public Institutions; a multitude of different operators that drive us to explore this great potential for a multidisciplinary approach.

Through working on the EU’GO project in Italy, CEMEA del Mezzogiorno has seen a great potential in connecting Social Farms with Urban Gardens. From this reflection a new local project was born, PROXIMA, supported by the Province of Rome and carried out by CEMEA del Mezzogiorno, that will exploit a possible new system of social inclusion and welfare practice.

Why and How?

If Social Farms represent places of social innovation in rural areas, in an urban context we can trace out social innovation in places such as Urban Community Gardens. The social dimension of a community garden can represent the urban shape of a social farm. Urban Community Gardens have shown their great potential in building social links and being an educational and therapeutic tool for those at risk of social exclusion, a facilitator to intergenerational and intercultural dialogue and a support to professional training: briefly a social inclusion generator.

Thanks to the creation of an online database, collecting information from different realities that are involved in social farming, urban gardening and social and health services, PROXIMA aims to outline a new method for designing individual learning pathways of autonomy, empowerment and employability for vulnerable groups in urban areas.

The innovative character of this local project is the creation of a virtual bridge (the online database) between social farms and urban gardens, and between them and families and social and health services, that will find new places of social inclusion by approaching an innovative practice, the agriculture as a tool for therapeutic purpose, vocational training and social inclusion.

For example, I am a mother of a youngster, suffering from brain injuries. After two years of therapeutic activities in a social farm where my son acquired knowledge and skills in the field, I’m looking for a closer place where he can continue to develop skills and abilities, and become involved in that place. But I live in the city centre of Rome..How can I find a place like a social farm in an urban context?

If I go to the PROXIMA online database, by adding my address and some other required information I could find an urban garden just close to my house. An urban garden that will welcome this young boy and find him a place and give him tasks, activities that he can develop and be included.

PROXIMA aims to outline a new method for designing individual learning pathways of autonomy for vulnerable groups in urban areas, putting a value on their abilities, offering them not only a protected and stimulating environment (social farm) where they can develop their skills as learners but also a context (urban garden) where they can be considered a (competent) person, practicing sociality and citizenship inside their neighborhood area (proximity). An innovative process of social inclusion where the disabilities become abilities and the care is not still synonymous to additional costs but an added value to the entire social well-being of the city. The rural environment, with its values and approaches, can enter in an urban context and establish a new, participative and sustainable welfare, where diversity is no more a condition for exclusion but a factor of inclusion.

During the month of October CEMEA will start meeting different actors to involve: social farms and urban gardens willing to develop the PROXIMA project as a leading actor of a new possible system of social inclusion.

For further information www.cemea.eu