Article Review: Moor, D., & Hermsen, M. (2018). Achieving happiness at care farms in the Netherlands.

Picture of a farm I took on my trip to Netherlands in 2014

A few years ago, I took a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I spent some time in the city, but I also spent several days in the countryside. The Netherlands are well known for dairy and cheese products. One of the more interesting social institutions I witnessed on my trip was the emergence of care farming. Care farming is a wonderful example of multifunctional agriculture that connects two different purviews, agriculture and health care. In pre-industrial society, agriculture and health care were closely intertwined to local and small-scale communities, but the two sectors drifted apart with the emergence of modern society.  Care farming allows individuals with disabilities to engage in farming activities to improve their health, social, and educational circumstances. Care farms are inclusive communities that allow individuals to connect with themselves, connect with nature, and foster personal growth. Moor and Hermsen’s (2018) article underscores the value of care farming as a therapeutic tool that fosters happiness.

The aim of care farms is to help provide support in a positive setting. Care farming has identified synergy between agriculture and care (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). In the Netherlands, farming has not only provided food products but emerged as a supplier of other services including recreation, energy, education, and day (care) services for elderly groups. The number of care farms in the Netherlands has increased tremendously, from 75 in 1998 to 1100 in 2017. Furthermore, statistics show that farms have become a regular provider of day care services in the Netherlands for aging adults.

The authors applied Dijksterhuis’s (2015) framework of happiness in order to study three separate care farms in the Netherlands (as cited in Moor & Hermsen, 2018). Dijksterhuis describes six components that contribute to happiness. The authors merged the happiness components of 5 and 6. Component 1 involves the hedonic treadmill whereby satisfaction is preferred over maximization of consumer goods. The hedonic treadmill symbolizes the automatic and unsatisfying nature of our tendency to consume. Component 2 involves inclusion with the right group size and connection with the transcendent. The large brain size of humans is attributed to the social nature of humans and tendency to take part in complex group structures (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). Group sizes of around 15 people allow enough intimate activity for such activities as games or playing music and foster the production of endorphins. Taking part in group activities or a greater whole leads to happiness via a shared experience or flow. Component 3 is about finding a satisfying way to spend time. Active forms of physical effort produce more happiness than passive activities. Activities that lead to a flow experience make us happy. Flow is a state whereby self-awareness and awareness of time are lost and replaced by a specific activity whereby behavior and consciousness merge. Flow leads to fulfillment. The fourth component is focusing on the right goals and preferences in determining an individual’s true needs. People want to feel included, perform based upon their potential, and prefer autonomy. Farming activities allow all three of these. The fifth and final component is training consciousness to find peace of mind. This is done by the examination of one’s own inner thought patterns and training the conscious mind to transcend space and time. Enhancing the ability to become more mindful in turn leads to an increase in happiness.

Three farms were chosen by the authors in the article (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). Each farm encompassed all five components of Dijksterhuis’s framework of happiness. The first farm was “De Ark” in the town of Bloemendaal in western Netherlands. The De Ark farm presented as inclusive community with a focus for people with and without disabilities that connects individuals to live and work together. Connection was a central theme anchored at the De Ark care farm. The Ark puts the principle into action by inviting customers to travel and harvest crops themselves, where they interact with and receive assistance from the people who work there. The customers connected with people with disabilities and relationships are formed. Often, people with disabilities are rarely in a helping role, but the De Ark farm reverses this role and allows members of the public to interact with those with various intellectual and physical disabilities.  The “Het Liessenhuus” care farm grows food exclusively for the less fortunate via food banks (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). Connection with the local community is achieved by producing and selling food. The staffs at Het Liessenhuus are recognized for their contribution to society and everyone is a “co-farmer”. Meaningful tasks are designed to ensure satisfaction at the farm for the co-farmers. Activities with inert motivational values are offered such as animals, crafts, woodworking, and gardening which allows each co-farmer to discover their passion. Passion in turn provides strength. That in turn leads to flow and enjoyable pleasure which is derived from the pursuit of meaningful goal directed intrinsic tasks. The third farm examined by the authors study included “Boerderij Ruimzicht” care farm (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). In contrast to mass production farming methods and economic profit, the Boerderij Ruimzicht farm emphasizes a biodynamic connection. The connection between the soil, plants and animals is considered equally important as producing food. Consciousness as a component of happiness is a major theme found at Ruimzicht. Thus, the farmers attempt to stay connected with all forms of life and the earth itself.

The aim of therapeutic psychological services is to improve the functionality of individuals which in turn creates a positive influence on a patient’s physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Unlike traditional healthcare and psychological services, care farming allows clients to become part of a social working community instead of a client with limitations in a traditional institutionalized setting (Moor & Hermsen, 2018). The prevalence of care farming in the Netherlands appears to have a positive impact on the elderly and those with intellectual disabilities by allowing individuals to work inclusively, experience nature, and develop intrinsic meaning. Modern society places a heavy burden on production and the acquisition of consumer goods. These social constructs place a heavy burden on the members of society whose disability limits their economic output. Thus, society has a moral obligation to the less fortunate members of society for activities that promote health and social inclusion. Care farming is a successful therapeutic tool that does both.

Moor, D., & Hermsen, M. (2018). Achieving happiness at care farms in the Netherlands. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 27(6), 4-23.

Chris Morrison, MA, M.Ed.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern

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