Social entrepreneurship in the care farming sector

Stichting (foundation) BREM and Stichting (foundation) 4PK. Both initiators have the ambition to help reintegrate people that find themselves distanced from the labour market. They achieve this through the commitment of people to grow crops in urban agriculture projects. The results of the Science Shop project is a combined outcome from two social enterprises, and are found in the report ‘Social entrepreneurship in the care farming sector'.

In recent years, the number of social enterprises in the (urban) agriculture has increased. Social enterprises are independent companies that provide a product or service and thereby they primarily or explicitly pursue a social objective (SER, 2015). The financial objective of these companies is to support the primary social purpose.

Care Farms

An example of their success is the growth in the number of care farms. Care farms offer a combination of farming and care for people with disabilities. Research shows that care farms provide participants with meaningful and diverse activities. The work on the farm gives participants structure and a work routine. Participants feel they are a more valued part of society. They form, together with the farmer, the family, the supervisors and colleagues, a social community where you learn to interact with others and get the job done together. By working on meaningful activities participants feel useful, responsible and committed. This has a positive effect on their self-confidence.

Transition of healthcare sector

In recent years, the healthcare sector has been in transition. Since January 1, 2016, the right to get care, welfare and sheltered work are now the responsibility of local authorities. They oversee the allocation of funding. However, the local municipalities have an average of 25 percent smaller budget than the central government had. The Wet Werk en Bijstand (Work and Welfare Act), de Wet Sociale Werkvoorziening (the Sheltered Employment Act) and part of the Wajong (Young Disability Act) are replaced by the Participatiewet (Participation Act). Under this law, the percentage that a person can be productive determines his or her employment future. It is intended that anyone who can be between 30 and a 100% productive will have a suitable workplace at a company or in the government.

Stichting BREM and Stichting 4PK, as providers of rehabilitation to people with a great distance from the labour market, also face major changes in laws and regulations. For instance, the renewal of the Wet Maatschappelijke Ondersteuning (Social Support Act, WMO) and the new Wet Participatie (Participation Act) resulted in sharp declines in public funding of these initiatives. The social entrepreneurs starting out are now faced with the question of how they can achieve a successful business model.

Ten conditions for a promising start

By using various student surveys as a starting point, the researchers have formulated ten conditions for a promising start to a social enterprise. A financial mix is needed consisting of a combination of commercial activities, income from the provision of care, subsidies and possible sponsorships and donations seems crucial to a social enterprise in care farming. Also required is a good location, where various activities are possible and with suitable soil for growing your products. The location is also important for logistics, distribution and the sale of products and services, and also the accessibility to your target audience. Grants, sponsorships, donations and crowdfunding can ensure that you do not have to finance it all yourself at the launch of your social enterprise.

As a social entrepreneur starting out it is wise to thoroughly consider the choice of your products and services. Social entrepreneurs have to deal with employees who often come to the company specifically to acquire skills to develop themselves. An environment with varied work provides more opportunities for this. Also, being able to offer year-round activities is important. When choosing activities, but also the choice of a target group, it is wise to consider the specific development objectives a particular client group may have.

At the start of a social enterprise, it is important to link government objectives to the company aims. This is possible by making the impact of the company visible and also to look at how it fits in with goals or challenges set by the government and institutions. For the success of a social enterprise it is crucial to know how the financing of care is organised. What policy has the local municipality got? What is the social map and who are the people to contact? This requires lobbying and marketing skills. Entrepreneurs must also have perseverance; the beginning is often difficult. Above all, it is fundamental to have a passion for entrepreneurship, product and working with the target group.


Both Stichting BREM and Stichting 4PK were vulnerable as companies. Setbacks such as changing laws and regulations, a harvest failure or problems in the marketing of products were difficult to absorb.

Are there any chances for a restart of Foundation BREM and a continuation of activities aimed at reintegrating people from the labour market at Foundation 4PK? It is possible if they can convert the identified factors of weakness into opportunities. It is essential to find a suitable location where the enterprises can grow for longer (minimum of 5 years), to a scale where they can absorb some setbacks. It will also be crucial to find the right funding mix that focuses on working with different client groups to produce a diverse range of products and services.