Thirteen years ago I was living in the centre of Bristol, halfway through retraining as an Occupational Therapist. I accompanied my then fiancée to an auction in a small town in rural Devon to buy a ‘beautiful slice of countryside’ the auctioneers glibly said. Most of our acquaintances thought we were crazy. Neither of us had farming backgrounds, but both loved being outdoors and active. What I loved about my Occupational Therapy training was the use of meaningful activity to enable recovery from accident or injury and the dual focus on mental and physical well-being to improve and maintain engagement in daily life. I felt excited to be embarking on a career with a whole host of different settings to work in. But a seed of an idea was starting germinate: could I combine our land with Occupational Therapy and use it therapeutically?
As with most new ideas the beginning was slow to evolve. My business, Coope Care Farm, has been running for five and a half years now, it’s grown most effectively by word of mouth, despite many hours and pounds invested in marketing strategies. When a friend referred my first client we called the project ‘rural activities’, for six months he was the only one! But working alongside him and his various carers from the home where he lived confirmed the hunch the small holding setting if full of meaningful activity and being outside in all weather, being active and productive is good for everyone’s well-being.
At the time we still didn’t know that a new area of green care called Care Farming was emerging. I believe Occupational Therapy and Care Farming go hand in hand and I’m amazed that more Care Farms are not run by OT’s. I know of two others Beckside in Derbyshire, I’ve had wonderful e mail exchanges with the OT running it, after reading her article in OTNews in my early days of being up and running. I can’t recall the name of the other farm but loved their tag line ‘growing potential’ and was rather envious they’d coined that one!
Occupational Therapy is all about the therapeutic use of meaningful activity; our family-run small holding screams out ‘activity’; there is always so much to do! (‘More to do than can ever be done’ in fact, a line from the introduction to the Lion King, a DVD I listen to 3 times a week with a long term client with autism.) The seasons roll on, the job lists change. We sow seeds, weed, water, harvest, barrow wood and stone, muck out horses, pigs, chickens, collect eggs, laugh, chat and banter. We share stories about what we’ve done over the weekend. It’s a little slice of country life taken in half day sessions, punctuated by cups of squash on hot sweaty days and coffee on cold muddy ones.
I feel privileged to be doing something I believe in, in a setting I’ve grown to love. Our small holding has been built on my family’s blood sweat and tears. My work’s not rocket science, just good old fashioned time spent outdoors in all weathers getting our hands dirty. If you’re interested I’ll share more tales with you.
By Emma Middleton, Occupational Therapist at Coope Care Farm