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The Guardian ‘Care farms help people recover their better nature’ by Bibi van der Zee, 2nd August 2011

Care farms are part of a growing ‘ecotherapy’ movement, but do the activities on offer deliver long-term benefits? Bibi van der Zee joins a group of young people to find out

Before breakfast, three young people head down to the woods, struggling a little with the heavy bag of sow nuts. "Just scatter them in different piles," says staff member Jane Brinson, helping them through an electric fence. "If you put them in one place, the smaller pigs won’t be able to get anything."

The pigs, which are enormous, surge towards us, and their new feeders step backwards. "I’m not doing that," says 15-year-old Daniel firmly. Sofia, however, who at 14 is a good head shorter than her fellow pupil, hefts up the bag and moves forward, methodically pouring out a dozen small piles of nuts under the trees as the pigs scrabble around behind her. "She’s a natural," says Brinson admiringly. Sofia does not look up, but a sweet little smile flickers across her serious young face.

The young people are part of a group of pupils from St George’s school in west London who have come to stay at Jamie’s Farm in Wiltshire. Most of them have never been to the countryside before. For five days, they will get up early, feed the animals, return to the farm to eat a huge breakfast, and then head off to do chores which, this being a farm, are dependent on the season. In late July, they are pulling up coriander that is going to seed from the vegetable beds, feeding calves with farmer Jamie Feilden and helping with the harvest.

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