Breaking Down Local and Regional Barriers to Food Equity with the Human Agricultural Co-operative
Ty Simmons and Chief Condra Ridley started the Human Agricultural Co-operative (HAC) seven years ago to solve food insecurity in their Indiana community. Their vision for the organization was inspired by their passion for helping others and a desire to provide their children with a sustainable future.
“As a father I was trying to figure out how to become more sustainable as a way to assist my children now and in the future,” said Ty. “I also wanted to share the knowledge I had about agriculture with others. The basic necessities of life are food and water and we wanted to find a way to tap into those elements to create a model where we can feed our families and others.”
Fast forward to today and the nonprofit organization coordinates partnerships with many different stakeholders to facilitate weekly food sourcing and distribution, youth farming programs, and long-term solutions to an inequitable food system like educational programming, local investment in food infrastructure, and a year-round greenhouse.
HAC became a 501c3 in 2019 under the leadership of Ty Simmons, Michael Reeder, and Chief Condra Ridley. Their mission is to educate, train, and mentor youth and community members in farming, food distribution, and vocational training.
While the role of the agriculture economy has grown, the share of Black farmers in the US has declined over the last 100 years. According to a McKinsey & Company report, only 1.4% of farmers identify as Black and .5% of total US farm sales are from black farmers.
“Our goal with HAC is to empower the next generation of leaders to keep fighting and breaking down barriers so we have a chance at equity,” asserted Ty. One of the ways HAC helps with empowerment is by working closely with local partners and the community. “What’s special about HAC is that we are in the community, we know the community well, and we work with partners who can actually reach the people who need the help,” explained Ty.
In 2021, PHA partnered with HAC to implement Good Food for All, a program that provides program recipients with 50 servings of produce to feed their families every week, for 12 weeks, in Gary, Fort Wayne, and Cleveland. Working closely with partners like the Community Harvest Food Bank, Legacy Taste of the Garden, RidAll Solutions, Phoenix Foundation, Gary Auditors, township offices, city members, volunteers, and local farmers, HAC led the distribution of 1,465,835 servings of health-building, high quality vegetables and fruits to 1,560 families (an estimated 6,240 individuals). HAC secured an additional 300,500 pounds of produce from partners and served 5,000 hot meals in 2021 with Big Momma’s Kitchen, Junk Ditch, and several other partners and volunteers.
Looking to the future, Ty is eager for HAC to establish a sustainable farm and vocational training model with Smiley’s Garden Angels, a 17-acre hunger relief farm with a history of 20 years in Fort Wayne. To do this, Smiley’s Garden Angels and HAC have launched the Share the Harvest Land Campaign, a fundraising initiative to raise $1 million dollars for 1 million pounds of food.
Donations raised will go to purchasing 30-40 acres of land, a house and a barn, farm equipment and the necessary personnel to manage the farming operation and the youth and community programs for thousands of individuals wanting to build a better future for themselves and their community.
“We have to become sustainable and the only way for us to become sustainable is for us to purchase our own land, get updated equipment, and get our own vocational training program up and running,” said Ty. “The only way to make new farmers is to train farmers. Everybody thinks it’s rocket science - it’s not. We have to invest in training farmers if we don’t want a food shortage, if we don’t want food supply deficits, and if we don’t want an inadequate food supply.”
Ty understands that raising $1 million dollars for 1 million pounds of food is no easy feat but he is committed to making a difference in people’s lives.
“Even when it seems stormy and gray, I love helping others. I know that the work I do through HAC is going to help a mom and children get through tough times. I have children and would hate to be in a position where I couldn’t provide for them. We have to meet and help people where they’re at and this campaign will help us do that.”
To learn more about the Share the Harvest Land Campaign and to donate, please visit the organization’s Go Fund Me page here.