Tucked in a corner of Portland, one of Louisville’s most economically challenged areas, is the Neighborhood House. The outside of the red brick building is fairly unassuming. 

Inside, it’s quite different. There are bright colored posters and banners hanging, girls laughing and talking on the couches in the lobby, a basketball game going on in the gym, piano playing from the music room, and a water balloon fight taking place on the playground on this hot August day provides welcome relief. Most everywhere you look there are bright young faces. 

One belongs to Miranda Fitz, a sophomore at the neighborhood high school. Ask her what she’s involved in at Neighborhood House, and with a smile she’s quick to reply “Everything!” That includes a new gardening project located outside, just next to the playground.

The purpose of the garden, a cooperative project between the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Neighborhood House and the Food Literacy Project (FLP), is to help young children and teens learn about making healthy food choices that will benefit them, their community and the environment.

“We learn about the local food system, and what vegetables can grow when. And we learn how to set prices so we can take the vegetables to the farmers market,” Fitz says during a walk through the garden. "The farmers market was fun. I got to be the cashier and that was the best.”

Despite the laughter and smiles, most of these children and youth come from homes living in poverty — poverty that can sometimes lead to poor nutrition, even serious illnesses. The Neighborhood House is here to help improve these young lives, and the garden project is another way it is accomplishing the goal.

With the help of a grant from the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the gardening project has expanded beyond container plants to raised beds. The expanded garden will bring more locally grown produce into the community for healthier eating. 

When asked about healthy eating Fitz talks about being able to develop her own recipes. “We had Portland Purple Potato Salad. It had purple and yellow potatoes. I got to make it myself and control how much of everything would go into it.” 

She explains how the garden is helping the environment: “It’s really important for the environment. If you grow food locally it decreases pollution. Like, if you grow food in Georgia and drive it to Illinois for the market, that’s a lot of truck driving and pollution.”

Today, the garden shows signs of the fall harvest with cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes beginning to ripen. In the coming months, these young gardeners should have plenty of fresh produce to share at the Neighborhood House and with the Portland community, as well as keep their environment just a little cleaner.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one recipient of the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering and a part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry.

Janet Tuck also contributed to this story.