Decent Work and Economic Growth

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Amanda Lange Salvia, Tony Wall

Social Agriculture and Its Related Tourist Activities

  • Carlo GiannettoEmail author
  • Maurizio Lanfranchi
Living reference work entry


Social agriculture can be defined as a set of activities, designed by farms and social cooperatives, with the support of the territory’s health services and competent public institutions. The appellative of “social” refers to all those actions and interventions linked to the main agricultural activity, which directly involve the people belonging to weak categories (D’Annolfo et al. 2017; Lurie and Brekken 2019). The social agricultural enterprise model enhances the agricultural resources and the multifunctional production process (Krikser et al. 2019). This activity also includes services concerning the social policies provided by a farming structure, such as the socio-educational services for early childhood or the activities addressed to minors in difficulty, or those which have the elderly as protagonists (Osabohien et al. 2019; Ofuoku 2019). In its current meaning, social agriculture can be considered as a new and different form of welfare (Brown et al. 2019; Torres-Lima and Rodríguez-Sánchez 2008). Social agriculture is able to provide society with multiple and innovative services and at the same time creates sources of income and growth even for those businesses which operate in less-favored areas, thus meeting the territorial needs (Diekmann and Theuvsen 2019; Chen et al. 2019; Yoshida et al. 2019; Mitterer 2018; Chmielewska 2009).

Social Agriculture as an Innovative Model of Multifunctionality

Social agriculture becomes important also as a practice of social innovation, since it provides services included in innovative ways with the active involvement and participation of the different actors. The most relevant elements which have led to the birth and eventually to the dissemination of these experiences of social inclusion, which are also therapeutic, are attributable on the one hand to the demand for services in a changing society, as in the previous century, and on the other to public institutions’ inadequacy in answering this demand (Heringa et al. 2013). The main feature of social innovation processes is the ability to involve, in an inclusive and continuous way, a high number of subjects active in the local system. Rural areas are a container where the social aspect assumes a role especially after the rediscovery of typicality and of rural territorial tourism, which are elements that create a new relationship between agriculture and society (Hediger and Knickel 2009). Social agriculture therefore facilitates the implementation of rural welfare and assigns it an active meaning of regeneration in favor of the communities’ immaterial values; it interprets the intervention in the social field in a logic of promoting development, in a dimension of remedying imbalances and limitation to development. The concept of multifunctional farm enterprise, which has emerged in the EU from Agenda 2000 onward, is considered as an opportunity to reconvert economy, also in a social sense, since it constitutes an integrative source of income and of employment for businesses (Moon 2015). In this sense, social agriculture represents a component of agriculture’s multifunctionality, carrying out networking actions between agriculture policies and social, formative-educative, and justice policies. It becomes a true and proper functional innovation model, a strategic model to improve the quality of life, not only of the individuals who are involved in the different practices but more generally of the local community. It can be defined as a “new paradigm” for European agriculture (Fielke and Bardsley 2013). It is well understood that social agriculture, despite its potential, cannot replace the presence of social service institutional and professional structures. However, it can represent a strengthening of the network of services, in support of rural areas and in many cases of urban centers, which intervenes in specific aspects of prevention, territorial dispersion and rehabilitation (Bergstrom 2009).

Social Agriculture in the European Framework

The first experiences of social agriculture in Europe occurred around the 1970s. Since the end of the twentieth century, social agriculture has gradually developed in all European rural areas as a new economically sustainable practice (Zolin and Caldogno 2012). In Europe, other terms are used to indicate the concept of social agriculture, such as farming for health, care farming, green care, or green therapies. All these terms refer to different activities in the sector of healthcare, of social reintegration, and of rehabilitation of disadvantaged people or in the training of people with special needs (Guirado et al. 2017). Three main approaches are:
  • The institutional approach: in which public institutions play a key role

  • The private approach: based on “therapeutic” farms

  • The mixed approach: based on social cooperatives and private farms

Some interesting prospects have opened through the new Community programming period for the structural funds, since it is specifically related to the achievement of some important objectives, such as social inclusion and the fight against poverty and any form of discrimination (Tulla et al. 2014). In comparison to the previous programming period, the rural development policy focuses its interest on a limited number of objectives, arising directly from the key priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy (Nazzaro and Marotta 2016). These objectives are more coherent with the reference scenarios and more capable of facing the new global challenges. Special attention is paid to the improvement of small and medium rural enterprises’ competitiveness, to the transmission of knowledge and to innovation in the agricultural sector, to the sustainable management of natural resources, to the actions to fight climate change, as well as to the enhancement of human capital and of the endogenous potential of territories, thus ensuring social cohesion and integration (Lanfranchi et al. 2014a). The extension of auxiliary activities within the farm finds its basis on the three Community priorities set out in the EU “Europe 2020” strategy established for the 2010–2020 decade. The European Community has identified three key planks, which are preparatory for the growth of European nations: the smart growth to be achieved by developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation; the sustainable growth, to be achieved by promoting a more resource-efficient, greener, and more competitive economy; and finally the inclusive growth, which can be achieved through an economy delivering high levels of employment that promotes social and territorial cohesion (Jarvis et al. 2016). Among the measures adopted in the last programming cycles for the Structural Funds, the EU has provided support measures for the dissemination of the products resulting from social agriculture and has promoted the allocation of goods and activities related to social agriculture. Some paradigmatic examples are agro-nurseries, agro-asylums, horticultural therapy and onotherapy, and hippotherapy laboratories, which in some European rural realities have led to the creation of real rural social welfare districts (Kuchi and Kabir 2017). These activities certainly include also social agriculture practices, which contribute to encourage growth, employment, and sustainable development in rural areas and to improve its territorial balance, both in economic and social terms, by directly increasing the income of agricultural households. In this sense Community policies are aimed at playing a horizontal role with respect to the different priorities of rural development, by paying particular attention to environmental and social themes, for which a collective approach may produce more efficient and incisive results than those attainable by individual operators (Lanfranchi et al. 2015). Today, social agriculture is benefiting from an important support in the face of the current rural development policy, but it seems safe to say that interesting spaces should be opened for this practice also in the programming of other Structural Funds. The possibility of using the different European funds in close synergy and connection for initiatives supporting social agriculture will allow us to remove the reserves expressed by the agricultural world in the previous programming. Under this new approach, the social sector will not be the only one to benefit from the agricultural funds, but rather all sectors and funds will contribute to the establishment and funding of social agriculture, and it will be considered as an integrated system. Indeed, in recent years social agriculture has been the bond of important interactions in the territory among farms, cooperatives, associations, and public institutions, giving rise to innovative pathways of local development of multi-sectorial nature (Kim et al. 2019). Since social agriculture has to complement the agricultural activity with social and healthcare activities, it requires an integration of the different public policies. It also requires a plurality of professional competences and the involvement of various actors. It assumes an overall “vision” of the social, economic, and cultural development of the country and of the territory and the overcoming of sectoral interventions, and this can be ensured only by a coherent and suitable legal and financial framework (Caraher 2015).

Social Farms

Social farms are agricultural enterprises, which combine their main activity to that of production, with one or more social projects (O’Meara 2019). The social farm model is relatively recent, and indeed it finds its prototype in the “social care farms” which were set up in the Netherlands in the 1990s (Vecchio et al. 2020). People with disabilities can take advantage both physically and intellectually from the direct contact with nature and from the active involvement in the work of a farm (Lee et al. 2020). The greatest benefits of social farms were found for the elderly, and in particular, those with motor disabilities, and for blind people, who managed to find their way and to move in the rural environment, which is completely different to the urban one. From a motor and relational point of view, progresses were also found in those individuals who had experienced “Pet Therapy,” in particular with the horse (Shortall et al. 2019). It is clear that not even social farms can replace the presence of institutional and professional structures of social services. From the management point of view, social farms need the four essential factors of the agricultural holding: land, capital, work, and organization (Graefe et al. 2019). The combination of these factors must be aimed at the pursuit of a social objective. With regard to the conduct, there are two indispensable professional figures: one that deals with the production cycle and one that has competences in the healthcare sector (Gagliardi et al. 2019).

Social Agriculture Related to Tourist Activities

Tourism is perceived as an increasingly important resource for many rural areas and as a useful means of diversifying the farm activities (handcraft, production of renewable energy, protection of the landscape, catering, and hospitality), since it is considered as a valid instrument for increasing the company competitiveness, also for intercepting market needs, and for reducing income risk (Berzina and Lauberte 2018). This bears witness to the fact that rural communities see the development of tourism as an opportunity to diversify the economy of rural areas and to revitalize territories, which would otherwise no longer be competitive in market dynamics and the evolution of agricultural policies (Quendler 2019). Rural tourism embraces various forms of tourism directly connected to rural resources, namely, all those forms of tourism in which the “rural culture” represents the most important component, not to be confused with the “tourism in rural areas,” which instead includes all the forms of accommodation located in rural areas, regardless of the guest’s reasons and of the mode of fruition (McGehee et al. 2010). Rural tourism therefore represents a growing segment with important development opportunities. It is a holiday philosophy that in the last few years has entered by right into regional and national tourism policies, and there it has found a considerable amount of loans and therefore of interventions (Hočevar and Bartol 2016). With regard to the relationship between tourism and agriculture, the principle of diversification of farms has come to the fore, synergistically with the establishment of an increasingly less productivist and increasingly more multifunctional model (Tsartas 2003) – a type of tourist offer, the rural one, which puts territories and communities at its center. Rural tourism is a guarantee to create a real experience, but at the same time, it allows to experience a culture, which is based on the rediscovery of identities and local traditions and, above all, on fully enjoying the environment. Indeed, increasingly more consumers are looking for a commitment in terms of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. In this context, for their peculiarities, tourism activities related to social agriculture find their “declination,” such as agritourism, educational farms, sports farms, and wwoofing. The first two can be defined as traditional and consolidated activities: the others, instead, represent two different models of activities in agricultural holdings aimed at offering services for the well-being of people, which can be implemented in most agricultural enterprises through accommodation facilities. Indeed, these companies are increasingly able to meet the new needs of civil society in a sector and that of the person’s well-being, which is becoming increasingly important (Lanfranchi et al. 2014b).


The term “agritourism” assumes an exclusively Italian connotation. This term includes all those companies, which offer a hospitality service, which must be necessarily complementary to the main activity that, in any case, remains agriculture. To ensure that agricultural activities may generate income, companies must own a relevant part of the agricultural fund. Since the 1970s, the agritourism phenomenon has been growing considerably thanks to the introduction of new forms of hospitality (Cerutti et al. 2016). In this way, farmers have been able to overcome the loss of income due to the exclusive agricultural activities. This process results in a growth of Italian tourism, since it is able to satisfy the tourists’ needs. In many cases, the management of an agricultural holding is based on a family-run model. This has numerous advantages: the agricultural activity summarizes the work of a multiplicity of people of different ages and competences; the product is better controlled; and it is possible to save personnel costs. The main activities that can be carried out in an agritourism include hospitality in areas dedicated to camping; provision of meals and drinks, including alcohol, mainly deriving from their own production; the realization of cultural and recreational activities in this context (Brelik 2013). In order to carry out the agritourist activities, the entrepreneur can use the rooms of his house located at the back and the buildings located at the back, which are not intended for the conduct of these activities (Chiodo et al. 2019).

Educational Farms

Educational farms are present in those agricultural enterprises in which an “active” educational activity is carried out, in particular for children and youngsters (Forleo and Palmieri 2019). The farm remains a production reality to all intents, but through teaching, there is an integration with other activities that involve guests in the manufacture of a typical product or in an activity typical of the countryside. According to Haussmann, the educational farm “is based on the need of agriculture in our society, it offers a practical, pleasant and culturally high response to the need to rediscover our roots.” Indeed, they have the advantage of establishing contacts between the urban and the rural world. They become an instrument for the rehabilitation of agricultural activities as a source of additional income and as a marketing tool. In the educational farm, guests can learn and discover the habits and rhythms of the countryside, the traditions, the social role of agriculture, and the biological cycles of animals and plants. In practice, the educational farm’s offer takes a concrete form through a detailed study of the aspects of cultivations and poultry farming, environmental and ecological education, guided tours, and active workshops, where guests are allowed to follow and participate in the manufacturing of farm products. From an agricultural entrepreneur viewpoint, educational farms are an important chance to diversify the company’s activities and to have an additional income, especially during periods of low season. This activity also allows agricultural entrepreneurs to share their love for the land, its fruits, and animals, by breaking down isolation and establishing new relationships between producers and consumers. Therefore, the main goals of an educational farm are to valorize agriculture through the knowledge and the promotion of regional production, as well as the consumption of fruit, vegetables, and typical certified products (PDO, PGI and biological); to highlight the importance and the economic and social role of agriculture; to empower youths on the protection of the environment and on food culture, by encouraging the recovery of traditions through the knowledge of country civilization and of the professions of the rural world related to nutrition; to promote the dissemination of principles of a healthy and correct diet through multiple educational paths; to use the farm to get to know the agricultural realities in order not to lose a heritage such as the knowledge of traditional production methods; to provide education on taste by acknowledging the organoleptic and qualitative aspects of agricultural products; and to promote the recovery of the historical and cultural values of people’s own land (Ohe 2017).

Sports Farms

Sports farms allow to establish a link between the agricultural enterprise and professional sportsmen in order to create an activity, which has the objective of promoting simultaneously the values of the rural world and of sport (Saito and Kanno 1990). The aim is also to improve the person’s well-being through education, a correct sports practice, and a healthy diet. Sports farms are based on three aspects: providing athletes or fans with a reality, which is differently organized to enjoy sports competition; enriching the tourist offer of an area or a rural territory; and promoting the multifunctionality of the farm or agritourism (Prato et al. 2010).

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

Wwoof represents an example of horizontal network in which the development and sharing of knowledge, information, and innovation processes create a direct link between the countryside and the city (Wengel et al. 2018). This form of responsible tourism was born in 1971 in Great Britain, with the aim of promoting understanding and learning in the field of food production, of the “organic” diversified world approach, and of “alternative” agriculture by creating opportunities for interaction and exchange of knowledge between the small farmers of the English countryside and the inhabitants of the surrounding urban areas. This model has spread worldwide, from Australia to Cameron, from Bulgaria to Chile and Taiwan. Today there are consolidated realities such as Australia (around 1.500 farms) (Lans 2016). At the global level, based on the number of host companies for size, Australia comes in the first place, followed by the United States, New Zealand, Canada, France, and Italy (McIntosh and Campbell 2001). The goal is to create a sustainable global community. Thus, volunteers who are sensitive to environmental issues have the opportunity to travel around the world, at low prices and in an eco-friendly way, receiving meals and accommodation in biological and biodynamic companies, in return for some working hours in the agricultural sector (McIntosh and Bonnemann 2006).

Concluding Summary

In this study, it has been emphasized several times how important the role of agriculture is in allowing the social and professional inclusion of disadvantaged people, since it represents the mediator between the two worlds, the rural and the urban, but also between tradition and technology. The main goal of the activities related to social agriculture is “the qualitative improvement of the person’s life and not only of the production cycle.” Only in this way it is possible to explain the inclusion of disadvantaged people, who, in a purely maximalistic view of the economic parameter, would not be taken into account. Social agriculture is still, now, a new and experimental field, which necessarily requires coordination efforts among bodies that participate in the preparation and issuing of the legislation and the realities constituted in the territory. In propositional terms, there are two directions to be pursued: first, it is necessary to immediately use the financing deriving from the rural development policies, as well as the regional ones and those on security and legality. Second, with regard to the legal path to be taken, it is necessary to create in a clear manner a legislation for social benefits and healthcare services. In conclusion, we can state that the social dimension of agriculture highlights the importance acquired by the agricultural activity within the therapeutic processes of rehabilitation, care, and social inclusion. Indeed, it is well known that outdoor activities play an essential role in the therapy to cure several diseases. This is due both to the exposure to natural elements and, in particular, to the presence of the sun and light on the human body, thanks to the action of serotonin, which improves mood, and to the positive stimulation of sensory organs caused by the contact with nature. In this sense, social agriculture sets itself as a break from the classic health paradigm, repositioning therapeutic and rehabilitation processes within more complex and articulated intervention systems that take into account the positive externality on the individual caused by his ability to improve his skills of expression and participation in social life.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • Marco Tortora
    • 1
  1. 1.Fair AssociationFlorenceItaly