Four days a week, Kees Oranje’s 81-year-old mother Paula gets up and goes off to work on a farm in the neighboring village of Brielle, just west of Rotterdam.

Depending on the day, Paula might feed the chickens, assist with chores, or help prepare hot lunches. The farm raises pigs for meat, and grows pumpkins, beans, kale and more in a large vegetable garden. In many ways, Boerderij Op Aarde — “Farm On Earth” — resembles a typical Dutch working farm, but with one key difference: Paula and most of her fellow farm workers have dementia.

Boerderij Op Aarde is one of hundreds of Dutch “care farms” operated by people facing an array of illnesses or challenges, either physical or mental. They provide meaningful work in agricultural settings with a simple philosophy: rather than design care around what people are no longer able to do, design it to leverage and emphasize what they can accomplish.

It’s an approach that research has shown holds many benefits. For people with dementia, who are often less physically active and more isolated, farm settings promote movement and social interaction. And care farms can have emotional benefits, too, giving participants a sense of purpose and of making a meaningful contribution.

“We don’t focus on what’s missing, but what is still left,” says Arjan Monteny, cofounder of Boerderij Op Aarde, “what is still possible to develop in everybody.”

Care farming started growing in popularity in the Netherlands in the late 1990s. According to Wageningen University researcher Jan Hassink, farms, squeezed financially as agricultural costs increased and food prices fell, were looking for ways to become more multifunctional. At the same time, a movement was emerging in the Netherlands to reduce the use of institutions, part of a growing recognition that people with disabilities had a right to be active in society.

A few decades on, care farming is well established in the Netherlands, and interest in the model for people with all kinds of disabilities is growing across Europe, in the U.S., and in many other countries, Hassink says. As an option for dementia care, it is a solution that grows more relevant with each passing year. Rates of dementia are projected to more than double worldwide by 2050. Yet how to best care for those people remains a question many countries are still grappling with.

-  21/03/22