A local organization that works to connect youths to the land through “field-to-fork” experiences, such as urban farming, will break ground Wednesday on a teaching pavilion at the site of a former public housing complex in south Louisville.

The future pavilion at Iroquois Farm is part of a long-standing commitment to the neighborhood by the Food Literacy Project, which has spent more than a decade partnering with organizations in that area, including schools and businesses.

On a portion of what used to be Iroquois Homes, “we are converting a former public housing complex into a hub for urban agriculture and fresh food, education and access, youth employment and leadership development and really, cultural exchange,” said Angelique Perez, associate executive director. “It’s a very diverse community, home to many immigrant and refugee families, and we see within that community just this really rich opportunity for learning about different cultures through food and sharing that.”

The organization also took note of interest in gardening and agriculture among youths and families in the area, and local farmers “that we work with were interested in how could this urban space be repurposed to enhance fresh-food access and build a local food system,” Perez said.

A rendering of the Food Literacy Project’s teaching pavilion at Iroquois Farm. The organization is working with Luckett & Farley, a Louisville-based architecture, engineering and interior design firm. | Courtesy of the Food Literacy Project

The 10-11:30 a.m. groundbreaking for the teaching pavilion will be a communitywide celebration of the nearly $100,000 building-and-landscaping project that will enhance the farm at 1400 Bicknell Ave., near Taylor Boulevard.

This will be “a shipping-container-based building with indoor room for storage, refrigeration and a small work station, but connected to that … there’s a retractable roof and a patio where we’ll have an outdoor teaching kitchen, so that’s kind of a hallmark of what we do to provide hands-on, positive experiences with healthy food and farming,” Perez said. The project “will just really elevate and build the capacity of our programming at this new site.”

Right now at Iroquois Farm, the nonprofit makes do with some portable burners and an earthen oven built by teens, but “we’re hauling back and forth from Oxmoor Farm,” where the organization has its base, Perez said. This pavilion will give “us a permanent presence and just makes our programming more efficient and effective.”

The Food Literacy Project is a nonprofit organization that helps youths transform their communities through food, farming and the land. Its vision is a healthy and equitable community where people and places thrive. | Courtesy of the Food Literacy Project

The expected completion date of the project is spring 2019.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit continues raising money for the project in hopes of closing a fundraising gap of about $30,000, Perez said. So far, it has received support from the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation as well as others.

The pavilion and the Food Literacy Project’s overall work is important, Perez said, to improve the city’s health and combat chronic disease, “especially among minority populations in south and west Louisville,” and to teach young people about healthy food and the concept of interdependence.

Youngsters need to know that “every vegetable that comes across your plate in some way connects you to the earth, to the people who raise that food or prepare that food … and that we’re all in this together and we have to care for the land and each other,” she said.

The Food Literacy Project also continues to reach out to families and others in the neighborhood by, for example, hosting events, such as breakfasts and community conversations and having open farm hours where people can learn about what’s going on at the farm and find out how to get involved. It’s also managing the South Points Farmers Market on Taylor Boulevard, where it is helping to increase access to fresh food.

Donna M. Neary, an award-winning social studies teacher at Iroquois High School, said the nonprofit has been providing invaluable experiences for youths in the Accelerate to Graduate Program, which is for students who speak English as a second language. In addition to their regular schooling, students learn through experiences on the farm and related classroom instruction by Neary and others.

As part of a partnership with the Food Literacy Project, “they provide in-classroom lessons, guidance for our kids,” she said. “We talk about food, nutrition, farming,” and students learn the value of growing fresh produce and eating fresh food.

But the benefits go beyond that.

“Jefferson County Public Schools is focused on deeper learning and project-based learning, and it’s really thinking about the student being in the center of the learning and becoming critical thinkers and developing tangible skills for their life,” Neary said. Having access to Iroquois Farm “makes the learning so real and tangible, so the students are not only reading it in a book and learning about it in a classroom, they are actively going out into the world and seeing if it works.”

Along with planting vegetables, the students have helped to build an earthen oven for baking bread or preparing other foods, and a few have been able to get part-time summer jobs through the Food Literacy Project’s Youth Community Agriculture Program, she said. This year, they’ll get to participate in the creation of a cookbook that will include stories from the teens, who come from around the world, and recipes.

“We’ve really been so happy” with the partnership, Neary said, “and the kids have truly benefited, and they feel such a part” of it.

Join Insider Louisville for a community conversation on food insecurity, food access and healthy eating on Oct. 23.