Real Food Share Aims To Sustain All Newtown’s Hungry
It is one thing to try and save the world, but Newtown resident Sean Fitzpatrick decided to start with his own little corner of it.
Mr Fitzpatrick is a classic example of someone who saw a specific need in his own community — that on any given day, as much as 30 percent of Newtown’s households are experiencing food insecurity.
According to the USDA, depending on its severity, food insecurity could range from reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet, to multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
As reported earlier this year in The Newtown Bee, Mr Fitzpatrick has been coaching fitness, health, and nutrition for almost 20 years. He holds a strong belief that access to nutrient-dense food is a right for all and an absolute necessity for the health of this and future generations.
As a result, he is in the process of taking his grassroots organization, Real Food Share, to its next stage by applying for 501(c)(3) status once he has completed amassing a board of directors.
“In all my years of health coaching, I’ve come to believe that healthy nutrition — real food nutrition — is the baseline of all health and affects every aspect of everybody’s life,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “So when we moved to Newtown, instead of opening a fitness studio, I started discovering how hard it is for a significant portion; up to 30 percent of my neighbors and families in our town are classified as food insecure. That is a staggering number of Newtown households constantly worrying about food access and agonizing over where their next meal is coming from.”
Mr Fitzpatrick notes on the organization’s website, realfoodshare.com, that regenerative farming, dedicated soil care, education, collaboration, and connection with the healing power of nature is the heart of his project.
“The potential is unlimited,” he added.
Fulfilling The Mission
While the process of transitioning his idea to a bonafide local nonprofit is challenging, it has not deterred Mr Fitzpatrick from establishing a core mission and initiating the necessary effort to begin fulfilling it.
He told The Newtown Bee that in its initial stages, he and a passionate group of Real Food Share volunteers have already cleared, prepped, and begun growing fresh food on a community garden parcel in Botsford. Their efforts are already yielding produce, recently making their its first donation to FAITH Food Pantry that consisted of several pounds of butter lettuce.
“We will be donating weekly from here on out,” he said.
In regard to that community garden, a dedicated group of just a few consistent workers have converted more than half of the 1/3-acre vegetable garden. In addition, the group has secured assistance from two young men from Ability Beyond for the summer for several hours a week to practice work and professional development.
“We have another young man joining us from the high school program that places paid internships with nonprofits and will be working for the summer,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “And we have our first large group coming to spend a few hours as a team working on July 12.”
Real Food Share is seeking added volunteer support for its main days of service: early Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings.
“We need to harvest and transport the fresh food during the hours leading up to that,” he said, adding that any other volunteers are welcome to join the effort by meeting every Saturday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm at their Giving Garden at 197 Huntingtown Road.
“We are looking to organize and promote large group days from local businesses to come and create new beds and plant,” he said. Additional harvest opportunities are available on the aforementioned Tuesday and Thursday pantry days.
“I’ve had incredible networking with high school teachers who oversee culinary, greenhouse, and the science/tech [programs], and also town representatives from the Senior Center, Social Services, and Economic Development,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “And we’re hoping to continue to create further awareness and opportunities.”
As Real Food Share progresses to its goal, Mr Fitzpatrick was thrilled to be granted access to the Sticks and Stones Vegetable Garden, which the group eventually plans on restoring to full capacity.
“The pristine organic lot at the front of the property has never been touched with any chemicals or unnatural fertilizers,” Mr Fitzpatrick relates on his website. “We expect to grow and donate over a thousand pounds of vegetables this summer and even more in years to come.”
A Return To Roots
As Real Food Share becomes more well-known, he hopes to enlist a growing number of property owners willing to devote a part of their land to the installation of raised vegetable beds.
“Raised beds used to be a staple of the Connecticut and American home fronts,” he states. “We are planning on collaborating with neighbors and organizations to grow vegetables in as many places as possible.”
The next step is searching for a plot of land to call home.
“We will farm the land, host a marketplace and culinary kitchen, and serve fresh and nutrient-dense meals,” Mr Fitzpatrick states. “Education, resources, and volunteer opportunities will be available for all who are interested.”
Concurrently, Real Food Share will be coordinating efforts with local food providers to make sure no food in Newtown goes wasted, maximizing every resource available.
“This is really what I want to do — grow fresh vegetables, communicate with local farmers who produce meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “That’s a return to our roots, a return to a time before processed food. Doing that will give more people the best chance to live their best life. The fact is, a large portion of our families don’t get to go out to a nice restaurant and enjoy organic chicken or a nice cut of steak and a bottle of wine; maybe a good night for them is splitting a box of macaroni and cheese — just to eat something.
“It’s not fair to not have the choice to enjoy fresh, wholesome food,” he added. “Right now, we don’t have a connecting thread to link the folks who may be interacting with social services or other support agencies. So by securing more food, educating about food waste, and connecting these families to our real food resources, it’s a plus.”
Mr Fitzpatrick says there are simple and innovative support systems in place in neighboring communities like Danbury and Bridgeport.
“So there’s no reason in a place like Newtown — that has a lot of people looking to make a positive difference in some way — that we can’t figure out a way to tie the best efforts together to benefit our neighbors and children who are spending parts of their days or going to bed hungry,” he said. “It all starts with communication. We need more people to make it happen. We’re on a mission to take nothing and make it something.”
To reach Mr Fitzpatrick, or to coordinate a group of volunteers or a business support team, send an e-mail through realfoodshare.com or call 917-575-6811.