Food for thought: Levi Lawrence reflects on the end of Real Food Connections

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Food for thought: Levi Lawrence reflects on the end of Real Food Connections

Four months after shutting down his dream, Levi Lawrence is talking about the end of Real Food Connections and still working to make New Brunswick-grown food more accessible to New Brunswickers.

Only now he's doing it as an employee, not a business owner.

Lawrence ran Real Food Connections for seven years in Fredericton, with a Saint John office operating for the company's final year.

But then financial difficulties hit, leading to the company being shut down in early December.

"It's no one thing," said Lawrence. "We had a lot of difficulties. We had some equipment failures. We had a rough couple of months.

"It would be very difficult to pinpoint any one thing.

"It was a really difficult decision," he said. "When we finally saw that things were not likely to improve — a hard decision, but … it only would have got worse if we had not made that decision. It's all hard."

Public silence maintained

At the time of shutting down the business, Lawrence did not speak publicly. He said Wednesday that he didn't speak publicly for a few reasons, including health problems that put him in the hospital and the death of his grandfather.

"We were not in a state where we wanted to have any media activity," he said.

On the heels of the closure, Fredericton businessmen Jason Lejeune and Sean Dunbar created Locavore Foods to "retain the knowledge and kitchen facilities" of Real Food Connections.

Lawrence and his father, Bev, now work as employees for Locavore Foods.

"It's been, until recently, kind of early to really be talking about it," said Lawrence.

Locavore Foods vision

"The vision is actually the same. A lot of things have changed, but the idea is we're going to make what is grown in the region more accessible to those that eat in the region."

Lejeune, who owns Isaac's Way restaurant and the Abbey Cafe in Fredericton, said he "thought there were a lot of bad things about to happen for local food and local food security" when Read Food Connections shut down.

"Real Foods had been such a champion in the community in forging those networks that there was an opportunity to save the business, support the producers and see the venture more forward.

"It reminded me of that cliché of throwing the baby out with the bath water. There were a lot of really good things happening at Real Foods that would be lost permanently if someone didn't step in."

Although some streamlining has taken place at Locavore Foods, Lejeune said "the mission remains the same."

"Locavore Foods … does not exist without the Lawrence family," he said. "They have the learned knowledge, the social connectivity.

"There's an awful large community of people out there that want to support local producers. We're trying to eliminate all the barriers [and] make it easy for them to support local producers."