Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Green Care

Have you ever wondered about an alternative to drugs or therapy? What if your doctor could give you a prescription to work on a farm?

Well, if you live in Europe, this might be a reality for you. Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom have recently begun to include ‘green care farms’ in their mental and social health programs.

How does it work?
A doctor or psychiatrist can refer a patient to work on a ‘care farm’ for a continuous period or as a weekly activity. In some countries, social workers or occupational therapists may also suggest that their clients seek out work on a care farm. Farmers are paid for providing this service and also benefit from the added workers.

Who gets a prescription?
At one time, the focus of green care programs was on people struggling with psychiatric difficulties and those with intellectual disabilities. However, green care has since grown to include people suffering from addictions, burnout, and chronic unemployment, as well as the elderly and young children. And in some countries, it’s growing by leaps and bounds. For example, in the Netherlands, the number of green care farms recently rose more than a thousand-fold, from 75 care farms in 1998 to more than 800 in 2008.

What are the benefits?
Participants in these programs are reporting great benefits, and many have expressed the importance of being involved in the entire lifecycle of plants - from seeds to harvest. Working with nature becomes a metaphor for their own struggles and journeys in life as they notice and reflect on natural and seasonal cycles of life and death.

The bottom line
While medication sometimes seems to be the easiest route (and in some cases is necessary), getting outside is being proven again and again to be important to human health, and therefore could at least enhance the effects of medication. 

Many of the veterans I've talked to who are involved in organic farming are reporting that:

1) working on a farm complements their prescribed medications and/or therapy, or

2) they don't need medication because working in the garden or on the farm is very effective in managing their symptoms related to post-traumatic distress, and

3) they've known other veterans who were able to come off their anti-anxiety meds and sleep aids after working on a farm for a while

We need to start pushing our medical professionals to become aware of this research, and to start looking at alternative avenues to supporting our health and well-being!


Di Iacovo, Francesco, and O’Connor, Deirdre (Eds). (2009). Supporting policies for social farming in Europe: Progressing multifunctionality in responsive rural areas. Press Service srl, Sesto Fiorentino (FI). Retrieved from http://sofar.unipi.it/index_file/arsia_So.Far-EU_def.pdf

Elings, Marjolein and Hassink, Jan. (2008). Green care farms, a safe community between illness or addiction and the wider society. Therapeutic Communities, 29(3), 310-322.

Hickey, Brendan. (2008). Lothlorien Community: A holistic approach to recovery from mental health problems. Therapeutic Communities, 29(3), 261-272.

Hine, Rachel, Peacock, Jo, and Pretty, Jules. (2008). Care farming in the UK: Contexts, benefits and links with therapeutic communities. International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, 29(3), 245-260.

Mind (2007a). Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health (executive summary). Retrieved from http://www.mind.org.uk/assets/0000/2139/ecotherapy_executivesummary.pdf

Mind (2007b). Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health. Retrieved from http://www.mind.org.uk/assets/0000/2138/ecotherapy_report.pdf


  1. This is fabulous! Thank you for sharing your insight. People often forget how important nature is to health!

  2. Thanks, Nadine. I love sharing this research. And as one wise person told me, this research is really only the tip of the iceberg. The more people we have talking about these kinds of experiences, the better we will understand them and understand their importance, both for us as human beings and for the entire planet.

  3. I've thought green care would also be good for healing grief. There are also many urban public spaces that could be included in green care.... like school grounds, university campuses and public parks. Have you heard of anything like that?

  4. Hi Jackie, that's an interesting though and I'm going to look into it further. What immediately comes to mind, though, is that many of the groups/services that work with victims of torture incorporate healing gardens into their programs. I'll try to write a post about that next week.