Careship Coorong is searching for the right ingredients to grow both snails and good health in country South Australia.
The unique social care farm based in Coonalpyn has won funding to run a Silver Trail program for people with dementia or social care needs – and the work revolves around the art of successfully farming snails.
Capital funding was raised in 2015 to set up the snail farm about 160km south east of the South Australian capital Adelaide.
But devastating hot summers with temperatures regularly topping 40C stopped harvesting the common garden snails in its tracks.
Now social care farm operator Claudia Ait-Touati said new funding from Australia Post had helped the farm launch a 12-month pilot project to allow people living with dementia experience a social care farm program. A revised farming technique has also been introduced to improve growing conditions for the snails.
Program volunteers from the nearby country town of Tailem Bend along with Coonalpyn locals have been arriving each fortnight to help introduce the new snail-farming model.
Ait-Touati, left, said the farm started with a free-range approach where three to four thousand snails were grown in each of 10 separate fields.
“But three years in a row now we had the big heat and after the heat, the bugs came into the fields and fed on the snails,” Ait-Touati said.
New techniques were explored including using a donated shade tunnel.
Now the snails are being bred inside the tunnel where it is cooler and more controlled areas have been established, each using curtained tables .
This allows snails to climb on top of the tables so they can be fed away from the bug-attracting soil.
“We’ve this year shifted for the first time from free range to a more controlled way of farming in small herds, we’ve reduced it to maybe 100 to 200 with a curtain method of farming snails so it’s a bit more controlled,” Ait-Touati said.
Ait-Touati said the first snails farmed under the new method were now breeding and hatching, once eggs were laid it took about 20 days before they hatched.
“Our first new offspring have just hatched two or three days ago,” she said.
“In the free-range approach it usually takes about two years to reach adulthood but we are able to speed this up with the right food to about eight months, they are fed on a mixture of grains and milk powders for calcium and protein.”
Once the snails reach adulthood they are purged, this involves the snails first fasting and then being fed a mixture of herbs before they can be cooked or sold for consumption at the farm gate.
Coonalpyn’s much-loved social care farm is based around European care farm models that are designed to return self-esteem and friendship to those involved.
Farm volunteers also mix with school students from the nearby Coonalpyn Primary School who visit the farm as part of a separate Y-Cook program.
This involves students gardening, cooking the vegetables they have grown and mixing with elderly visitors to the farm.
The farm also attracts day-trip buses filled with mainly elderly people involved in day programs, with about 60 people from Mannum and Adelaide visiting last week.
Ait-Touati said the aim was to improve self-esteem particularly for those living with dementia. The idea was sparked by Ait-Touati and her husband, Rachid, after they were inspired by the concept in their former home in The Netherlands.
“My Dad was diagnosed with dementia probably 15 years ago and we saw the concept of care farming and what it did for him, we were blown away and the idea was stuck in our minds that it was a great concept,” Ait-Touati said.
Careship Coorong received its first grant to pilot a program in 2015 and the initial batch of snails arrived shortly afterwards.
“The people who come to the farm are actual workers, it shifts their whole role and their value in themselves, it helps with self-esteem and a sense of well-being,” Ait-Touati said.
Alongside that, the school program develops a shift in behaviour that is helping to strengthen bonds in the country town’s community.
The students involved with Y-Cook have shown academic improvement, and many now check on the well-being of some of the older members of the community involved in the cooking program.
Ait-Touati said the primary school principal had noticed some of those elderly members of the community who no longer had children or grandchildren attending the school were also appearing at events like the end of year concert to support children they had met at the farm.
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