A new greenhouse being built by Fort Wayne's Human Agricultural Cooperative could be operational by February, Ty Simmons, the group's executive director, said Saturday.
Simmons was joined by Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack and area residents, all of whom have supported the effort, to celebrate and break ground on the new 30-foot-by-40-foot greenhouse near the intersection of South Clinton and East Williams streets, south of downtown.
The group, gathered in a circle, turned the first dirt at the site currently recognizable by a crude, handmade sign referencing former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and a small, dilapidated dog house.
Once built, the greenhouse will help address food security issues on Fort Wayne's south side and serve as an educational tool for future generations, Simmons said. The past four years, Simmons has helmed a youth farming project on 17 acres off of Tillman Road.
“We are working toward change every day,” Simmons said. “This is a better day because we get to see the beginning of something that's going to change, not only the neighborhood, but a lot of children's lives.”
The addition of the greenhouse will allow the program to continue year-round, Simmons said. He has estimated the total cost of the facility at about $84,000. In addition to Surack and several local families, the project is backed by the La Rez Neighborhood Association.
The greenhouse will be named for Simmons' grandparents, George and Maggie, and could produce up to 50,000 pounds of fresh vegetables per year. Much of the harvest will be donated, Simmons said, and the cooperative hopes to further expand its operations and programming in the future.
In an interview Saturday, Simmons said he's excited the project has received the necessary approvals from the Allen County Board of Zoning Appeals and is looking forward to what comes next. Once built, the cooperative will offer programming to help community members work toward a more healthy lifestyle.
“We live in a food desert ... and what that does is it limits the individuals, the residents living in that area to certain foods – usually high in fat, high in sugar, high in starch,” he said. “Basically, what you're doing is you're feeding cancer, you're feeding the diseases.”
A food desert is generally known as an area that does not have a grocery store within about 3 to 5 miles, making it difficult for many residents – especially those who rely on public transportation or those with mobility issues – to access fresh produce.
By teaching people the benefits of healthy eating and how to be self-sufficient with their food options, Simmons said the organization can help fill “a void not only in the community, but also in people's lives.”
“What we're trying to do is bring people back to nature through food,” he said.
The Human Agricultural Cooperative is always looking for donors and supporters, Simmons said.
Anyone interested in supporting the group's efforts can send an email to email@example.com. The cooperative can also be found online at facebook.com/humanagriculturalcoop.