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Taking Green Care to the next level

From social farming to impacts of disconnection from nature on psychological and community resilience to finding science-based strategies to innovate and promote nature-based health and social care: on 7 December around 100 participants from 24 countries across 4 continents joined the final  online event of the Green4C (GreenForCare) project. A mentimeter showed that people came from varying working backgrounds: education, research, Green Care practice, Health care, politics, and more. 

The event was opened with an exciting presentation by Matilda van den Bosch (IS Global) discussing the state of science in Green Care. Green Care stands for a “range of activities that promote physical and mental health and well-being through contact with nature” (1). Her presentation set the scene for the meeting showing how crucial nature is for our physical and psychological health. Next, Deirdre O’Connor (University College Dublin) and Marjolein Elings (Wageningen University & Research) introduced Social Agriculture, one of thematic sectors of Green Care. Especially the video from social farms and gardens brought across the feeling of how much social agriculture can do for physical and mental well-being as well as to strengthen social inclusion. As Jim Hidderley put it in the video “Humanity is not designed to life in a box! Green spaces, fresh air, animals and contact with other people that is, that is the key to life”.

The video perfectly captured why people have been working so passionately on the Green4C project over the last three years. Davide Pettenella (UNIPD) presented the Green4C project and its outcomes. The goal of the Erasmus+ funded project was to innovate and promote nature-based health and social care through university-business alliances. This was achieved by working towards the development of Green Care entrepreneurial opportunities for students, researchers, professionals, as well as practitioners to promote nature-based solutions for health, well-being, and social inclusion. Amongst the outputs of the project was a Training Needs Assessment report, 20 factsheets on Green Care initiatives, the Blueprint on Innovation in Green Care, and Market Outlooks for Forest-Based Care, Urban Green Care, Green Care Tourism and Social Agriculture. Furthermore, a strong Green4C Alliance was formed amongst people around the globe working with Green Care.

Photo: https://www.greenforcare.eu/explore-our-alliance/

The following part of the event gave voice to different Green Care projects. Katriina Kilpi (BOS+, NatureMinded) opened the pitch session presenting the project SamenBuitenBuurten (Neighbours out and about). Tackling loneliness in elderly people, the project uses the power of nature to connect people by bringing people together in the outdoors through varying activities. Tadghg MacIntyre (University of Maynooth) presented a project approaching the detachment from nature from a somewhat different angle. The project GoGreenRoutes investigates the impacts of disconnection from nature on psychological and community resilience. The cities included in the project implement green corridors, linear parks and pocket parks to improve the physical and mental health of their urban residents. A different field, although very closely related to Green Care, namely Blue Care was touched upon in Lewis Elliott’s (University of Exeter Medical School) pitch about the Blue Health project. The project looked at the impact of urban blue spaces across EU on human health and wellbeing particularly in the light of climate change and urban design. As blue spaces they define natural or man-made spaces that prominently feature water and are accessible to humans. Colm O’Driscoll (Etifor) pitched the Uforest project, which brings together universities, businesses and public administrations for the development of new trainings. These trainings are for example for online courses where students or professionals can learn how to create Urban Forests and how to green their city. It also supports students and practitioners working towards innovative urban forestry projects. The final pitch was presented by Michael Scherer-Lorenzen (Uni Freiburg) who presented the Dr FOREST project. The central question to this project is how diversity of forests affects our health and well-being, aiming at combining biodiversity conservation with ecosystem management in such a way that it supports human health and well-being.

Photo: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-girl-forest-trees-happiness-3411790/

After a short break in which the video of the Green4C project was shown, Aynur Mammadova (UNIPD) presented one of the main outputs of the Green4C project, theGreen4C manifesto. Based on three years of research on Green Care innovation, the Manifesto contains recommendations and key actions to enhance the creation of new Green Care initiatives and to remove the barriers for the diffusion of Green Care practices.While the Manifesto is mainly addressed to policy and decision makers, it also contains specific guidelines for Green Care services and professionals, as well as land managers, funders, supporters, researchers and scientists interested in Green Care. It is possible to adhere to the manifesto by filling in this form until the 23rd of December. After that, it will be published with the list of those who adhere to the manifesto as Annex I.

The presentation of the manifesto was followed by a round table discussion to gather impressions on the manifesto from experts and people with experience in the different Green Care sectors. The first speaker of the discussion was Jan Schmidt, Head of Department „International Certification of Healing Forests“ in the International Society for Forest Therapy which is operated by BioCon Valley® GmbH . He stressed the importance of evidence-based certification schemes, that are discussed with experts and acknowledged by an interdisciplinary team of experts. Once this is achieved it is also important to design a standardized process which is clearly structured and easy to assess in a certain area by impartial experts. Marjolein Elings (Wageningen University & Research) made it clear that the manifesto really fits the key action points for social farming but underlined the need to involve the consumer. She referred to the key milestone for social agriculture in the Netherlands: in 2003 clients got a personal budget to decide to which care institution or which day activity center they want to go to. This resulted in an increase in social farmers as they could have direct contracts with people. She also mentioned through contact between famers and clients, farmers often changed their crops or even start organic farming, thus illustrating the power of consumers. Dorota Sienkiewicz, Policy Manager at EuroHealthNet and a public health policy and advocacy expert in the field of health promotion and disease prevention, shared what she thinks is required at the policy level to make Green Care more widely accessible. According to her, accessibility will have to do with policy decisions on funding allocation of budgets, pointing out that only 3% of the total health budget is allocated to health promotion and disease prevention. Regarding the question of what can national forest agencies do to increase the benefits of green care to the society, Amila Meskin, Policy Advisor at the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), saw a lot of opportunities to reconcile forestry and society, but she stressed that the forest sectors sees a lot of expectations from the society. Nathalie Moriarty, managing the ‘Branching Out’ programme at Scottish Forestry since 2014, stressed the need for Green Care programmes to be offered equally. A particular issue with the Branching Out programme is finding follow-up activities and support for participants to do after the end of the programme.

The event was closed off with questions from the audience to all the speakers present which you can find in the recording of the video.  

Sources

1)  ­ Sempik, J., Hine, R. Wilcox, D. eds. (2010). Green Care: A Conceptual Framework, A Report of the Working Group on the Health Benefits of Green Care, COST Action 866, Green Care in Agriculture, Loughborough: Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University.

Featured image: Etifor

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