“You Reap What You Sow”
In September 2017, my childhood friend Jeffrey Fleming and I scraped together as much energy and money as we could and established FIT FARM. Titled “Reclamation,” meaning to reclaim a right or cultivate wasteland into productive farmland, our vision and project involves unearthing the once pristine roots of the FIT FARM property and planting seeds to teach people sustainability and how to be self-sufficient.
Founded on the belief that when you teach people to build and create things, you also teach them to build and create themselves, our “Life Skills-Based Therapy” model offers people the opportunity to learn new skills while emphasizing personal health and wellness and promoting self-advocacy and self-care. Learning new skill sets improves individuals’ self-image, increases their confidence, and instills in them a sense of self-worth.
Our first goal was to give the FIT FARM property some curb appeal. Throughout the fall and winter, we aggressively worked to uncover the boundaries of the old horse property. What an experience! We found countless remnants of life, love, and labor – from axe heads and anvils to horseshoes and shovels – all of which told a story of years of hard work.
While we toiled away on the land, we also got busy creating alliances to promote the FIT FARM vision.
To date, FIT FARM has created alliances with agencies tasked with delivering people from social service dependency to self-sufficiency.
At present, FIT FARM is working closely with New Haven-based Continuum of Care, Inc. whose mission is to enable people who are challenged with mental illness, intellectual disability or other disability, and/or addiction, to rebuild a meaningful life and thrive in the community. One of the largest agencies in the state charged with “rebuilding lives,” Continuum has approved a pilot program, called “Yard A Facts,” that implements FIT FARM’s Life Skills-Based Therapy model and the synergy between the two organizations is simply inspiring.
Supported by Continuum in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Young Adult Services (YAS) Division, Yard A Facts teaches life skills in an entrepreneurial concept model. Since May of 2018, a group of eight Continuum clients between 19 and 26 years old have been visiting the FIT FARM property to build a business that sells wood constructed products such as picnic tables and other yard novelties. They’re tackling everything from establishing business operations to creating a logo for the company to building the products.We are inspired by the enormous potential of this partnership!
About Jeff and Paul
Jeff and Paul always believed their journey together would one day improve the human experience.
Meeting in the years before high school, they had as many things in common as they did differences. Growing up in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut, they were part of a unique melting pot.
The boys met in middle school; a turbulent social time as the town’s two elementary schools merged to form one student body. Paul and his two siblings were being raised by their single father who had recently lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. Jeff was enamored with the idea of being raised by a dad only as it was opposite his own situation in which he and his two siblings were being raised by their single mother. The teens’ lives couldn’t have been any different. Jeff’s mother was a struggling alcoholic; Paul’s dad was a hard-working engineer. Paul got himself into Avon Old Farms School; Jeff spent most of high school at The Connecticut Junior Republic, a court mandated juvenile delinquent facility in Litchfield.
Jeff was drawn to Paul because he empathized with the loss of his mother and he suffered serious injuries in a bicycle accident just weeks later. Paul was genuine and sincere and it didn’t take long for him to open up his house and heart to Jeff, sympathizing with his life struggles. Paul’s family treated Jeff as family. Paul’s dad fascinated Jeff. Having no firsthand experience with a father, Jeff was constantly impressed by this man and his family and he soaked up all he could so one day he could emulate a man with such character.
Just before his 21st birthday, Jeff learned he was to become a father himself. He thought if he could be half as good as Paul’s dad he would be a better father than most. He quickly phoned Paul with news. And, when the baby, a son, was born in June 1998, Jeff names him Barrett, Paul’s middle name. Jeff went on to have three more sons, Cooper, Hunter, and Logan.
Paul went on to graduate from Clemson University and began working for an up and coming fuel cell company in Boston.
As the currents of life pushed and pulled, Jeff and Paul remained close. Periods of time evaporated and they would pick right back up where they left off whenever they were able to reconnect. When the bottom fell out for Jeff as a single father, Uncle Paul would glue it back together. Today, Jeff’s children are 20, 18, 17, and 16.
Paul believed in Jeff, so Jeff began to believe in himself. He learned to work with what he had to create what he needed, much like Paul’s father had done.
A few years ago, Jeff and Paul began exploring how they could marry their unique life paths and experiences to create a positive social impact. FIT FARM is the culmination of their brainstorm, and they are excited to transform their Life Skills-Based Therapy concept into a proven model for moving people out of social dependency and into social independence by teaching them sustainability and self-sufficiency.