Farming: Public Health Benefits

In this post, LEAF Chairman, Stephen Fell, shares his views on farming and public health following a recent Green City Conference.

Part of my own farming business is growing turf, wildflower turf and vegetation mats for green roofs. I have long had an interest in greening urban spaces and have developed a range of products to make that possible. We as farmers who take green space for granted, perhaps forget that over 90% of our population live in urban areas and don’t have ready access to healthy places.

I recently attended a Green City Conference where delegates from around the world debated the benefits of urban green spaces and the issues surrounding the implementation of green infrastructure plans.

What was really interesting was the synergy of thought between what we do in LEAF, in particular through the Let Nature Feed Your Senses programme, and those in the medical and landscape professions speaking at the conference.

Broughton Grounds Farm - Aylesbury College June 2010

A Let Nature Feed Your Senses project visit at Broughton Grounds Farm

Sir Richard Thompson, physician to HM the Queen, concentrated on the health benefits of green spaces. Green gardens in hospitals improve the mood of patients and staff alike “There is a gym outside your window!”. He went through much of the well documented evidence that recovery times are faster and that physical and mental well being is significantly enhanced by access to green, living landscapes. There are huge savings to be made to the NHS budget and architects and builders of hospitals must be made aware of the green benefits. This chimed absolutely with the paper given at LEAF’s recent President’s Event by Gregor Henderson, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.

The Landscape Institute represents professional landscape architects. Dr Val Kirby produced their outstanding document ‘Public Health and Landscape‘. It is well worth reading, remembering that we as farmers are landscape architects on a grand scale. The Institute believes that much greater priority needs to be given to prevention of ill health in public and social care. Their challenge was to answer the question: can landscape help create healthy places?

Dr Kirby’s report has an evidence based approach to 5 principles of healthy places. In outlining some of them you will start to see the synergies I mentioned earlier:

Healthy places…

  1. Improve air, water and soil quality, incorporating measures that help us adapt to, and where possible mitigate, climate change.
  2. Help overcome health inequalities and can promote healthy lifestyles
  3. Make people feel comfortable and at ease, increasing social interaction and reducing anti-social behaviour, isolation and stress
  4. Optimise opportunities for working, learning and development
  5. Are restorative, uplifting and healing for both physical and mental health conditions

See what I mean? Integrated Farm Management and Let Nature Feed Your Senses. Town and Country, City and Farmland. Our urban cousins are realising what we have long known – that being out in a green landscape is good for you. It’s much more challenging to create and maintain that green space in the middle of a city, but we as the large scale ‘landscape architects’ have a wonderful opportunity to improve the health of the nation.

By opening our farms, encouraging disadvantaged or convalescing people to experience, see, feel and smell what we can take for granted is a precious gift – perhaps we should all think more about the links between public health and landscape.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


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