Katie Stagliano started her own organization as a teenager, encouraging garden growing for people struggling with food insecurity. With the idea in just the third grade, she now has over 100 gardens across the United States, donating over 38,000 pounds of produce to people in need.
BL: Hey Katie! Could you tell me a little bit about your organization Katie’s Krops and how you got started?
Katie: The idea for Katie’s Krops began when I was in the 3rd grade. In 2008 I brought home a tiny cabbage seedling from school as part of the Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. I tended to my cabbage and cared for it until it grew to an amazing 40 pounds. Knowing the cabbage was special I donated to Tri-County Family Ministries a local soup kitchen where I served her cabbage to 275 guests of the soup kitchen. I thought if one cabbage could feed that many people imagine how many a whole garden could feed. I decided that day to start a vegetable garden and donate the harvest to those in need. That was the start of my dream to end hunger one vegetable garden at a time.
I started with a garden in my backyard but knew she wanted to do more. I approached my school Pinewood Preparatory School and asked if I school could start a vegetable garden on the campus and donate the harvest to feed people in need in the community. The school embraced the idea and provided me, then just a 4th grader with a plot of land the size of a football field. A large-scale garden at the school was born with the help of classmates and teachers. More gardens followed at farms, schools, homeless shelters, soup kitchens & private homes with the harvest from all donated to local soup kitchens, a homeless shelter, and families in need in the community. To date, I have donated thousands and thousands of pounds of healthy food to those in need.
I started numerous gardens in South Carolina but dreamed of having Katie’s Krops gardens across the United States. To make this dream a reality, I offered grants to other kids to start gardens to feed people in need in their communities. The decision to offer grants was twofold; to expand my dream to feed people in need across the country and to pay it forward and believe in other kids the way, so many people/organizations had believed in me. For the first grant cycle, I received over 200 applications from kids ages 9 to 16 across the United States. Katie’s Krops has launched numerous grant cycle. In the Spring of 2018, there are 100 Katie’s Krops gardens growing across the country in over 30 states.
BL: Did you always have an interest in gardening?
Katie: I did not always have an interest in gardening. I was only nine-years-old when I brought home my tiny cabbage seedling. That one tiny plant opened my eyes to the joy of gardening and how many people gardening could help.
BL:Do you have any helpful tips for people who want to start gardening?
Katie: Starting a garden can be great fun and educational. A few things to keep in mind: select a location for your garden that receives at least eight hours of sun a day, start small and expand year after year, grow what you love to eat, text your soil for best results and consult your local Master Gardener program to learn from an expert.
BL: How do you manage being a teenager and an entrepreneur?
Katie: Finding balance isn’t always easy, but I have an amazing support system. I am a firm believer that if something is important to you, you will find time for it. My teachers and administrators at Pinewood Prep (my school from elementary to high) were very supportive of my efforts and gave me the freedom to grow Katie’s Krops and excel in school. When the time came to select a college, I decided to attend a college that would allow me to continue my efforts with Katie’s Krops and that is what I have found at the College of Charleston. But it is important to note that none of this would be possible without my family. They are my rock, my support system, and my biggest cheerleaders.
BL: Have you hit any challenges when starting your organization?
Katie: There have been many challenges along the way, but each challenge becomes an opportunity. The only soup kitchen in our community had to shut their doors for financial reasons. I may have been only twelve years old, but I recognized that our local Katie’s Krops Gardens could be the solution to this problem.
What was the solution? Using the harvest from our gardens, we could create healthy, hot meals for anyone in need in my hometown, Summerville, South Carolina. At Katie’s Krops, we had always donated our harvest to food pantries, soup kitchens and directly to families in need but at that point in time, we had never cooked with our harvest. I approached the head of Food Services at my school, Mr. McNeill and my 6th Grade Science teacher, Cory Fuller. Together we created a plan. We would arrange a meal based on the harvest from our Katie’s Krops Gardens. What we couldn’t grow we would need to purchase. Our garden volunteers would help us create the dinner. The very first Katie’s Krops Dinner was born.
That very first night we came together to host a dinner was so very special. My friends and I, under the direction of our Head Chef Mr. McNeill prepared a wonderful meal. We were able to connect with the people that our gardens helped. We took to the kitchen, the majority of the volunteers only in the 6th grade. Mr. McNeill directed us on knife skills and food safety. The guests arrived, perhaps a little surprised to see such a young crew creating their meal. At the end of the night, everyone in the kitchen knew that this was the start of something very special.
Eight years have passed since that very first dinner. The premise for dinner stays the same. Every meal is based on the harvest from our gardens. We harvest the vegetables on the day we serve them, at the peak of nutrition. The meals are prepared and served by youth under the direction of a Head Chef. Every volunteer who assists with the dinners spends time in the gardens helping to grow the food we serve. Katie’s Krops Dinners are truly garden to table.
Throughout the eight-plus years, several things have changed. After overcoming several location changes, we now serve our dinners at Summerville Baptist Church. The parishioners have welcomed us with open arms and embraced the belief that youth can end hunger one vegetable garden at a time. The number of guests we now serve has grown to an average of 150 to 200 per dinner. We never know just how many guests will join us. It is all part of the adventure.
We have an amazing core group of volunteers, our crew. In under two hours, we prepare a healthy hot meal for over 150 people. We have guests that have never missed a dinner. The meals have become a wonderful social event, a way for families who are facing challenges to support one and other.
What have I learned over the five years that we had hosted our dinners? I have learned that you can eat healthy on a tight budget. Our dinners are not extravagant, they do not cost a great deal of money, but they are healthy, hot and well balanced always including lots of fresh vegetables, protein, and starch. I have learned that no matter how young you are you can make a difference in this world. I have learned the joy that a hot meal can bring to an individual facing hunger. And I have learned how blessed I am to have amazing support from my community, my friends and their parents, my teachers, and my parents.
BL: Do you have any advice for girls who are trying to find their passions?
Katie: Actions speak volumes. It is very easy to talk about doing something, but you will find many more people will support you if you take action to make your dreams, your passions become a reality. Create a plan and take action. You will find the support you need when people see you making an effort to make your dreams come true.
BL: How can we continue making a difference when it comes to eating, growing, and giving?
Katie: Making a difference by starting a vegetable garden is a wonderful experience. You are truly planting the seeds of change. By starting a garden, you can impact someones healthy. Many people struggling with food insecurity have limited access to fresh produce. By sharing your harvest you are improving their health, you are showing them that someone cares for them and in return, you will find great joy. It truly is far better to give than it is to receive.