Katie: "I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love everyday, and work with amazing youth to fight hunger, one vegetable garden at a time! Working together, I know we can be apart of the solution to ending world hunger."
Issue XI Emerging Empowerer Feature Empower
Interviewed by Vanshika Gandhi
Edited by Bhagyashree Prabhutendolkar
20th September, 2021
Katie Stagliano is a 22-year-old from Summerville, South Carolina. She is the founder of Katie’s Krops, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to start and maintain vegetable gardens of all sizes and donate the harvest to help feed people in need as well as to assist and inspire others to do the same. Till date, Katie’s Krops has donated over 450,000 thousand pounds of healthy food to those in need.
Your dream to grow a healthy end to hunger began when you were nine years old. Most people at this age aren’t even fully aware about what ‘End Hunger’ is. What moment prompted you to realize how big of a problem global hunger is?
Katie: When I was nine years old, I wasn’t aware of just how many people hunger affected. When I brought my cabbage to Tri County Family Ministries in May of 2008, I saw first hand how many people were struggling with hunger and food insecurity. Seeing people from all walks of life and all ages in line for what might be their only meal of the day was a real eye opener for me. After seeing how my one cabbage helped to feed 275 people, I knew I needed to do more. If one cabbage could feed 275 people, imagine how many people an entire garden would help feed! The more time I spent donating my produce to those in need in the community, the more I learned that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Just because someone looks or acts a certain way, does not mean they are not struggling to put food on the table. People find themselves struggling with hunger and food insecurity for many different reasons and you never know what someone is going through until you take a walk in their shoes. For the past 13 years, I have been blessed to be able to meet some of the most amazing people who are going through times, and I feel so grateful to be able to do what I can to help them.
Do you think we can end world hunger by 2030?
Katie: I am a firm believer that working together, we can make a big difference in the fight against hunger! Hunger is a multifaceted issue and I do not believe just one approach can help to end it, however, as we work to face the root of the problem and come at it from every angle I believe we will make a tremendous impact. Working for the past 13 years to provide youth with a sustainable way to provide healthy, fresh produce to those in need in their communities, I’ve seen first hand the passion they have for helping others and their drive and determination. I am so excited for the future and to see the amazing ways we continue to fight to ensure nobody goes to bed hungry.
Watch our interview with Katie Stagliano, the Emerging Empowerer of Issue XI
You have won several awards including America’s top 10 Youth Volunteers by Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, Global Teen Leader for ‘Three Dot Dash’. You are the youngest recipient ever of Clinton Global citizen awards for leadership in Civil Society. Despite all these accomplishments, what do you consider as your greatest achievement?
Katie: As I look back on the past 13 years, I consider my greatest accomplishment to be the family that I have created through my work with Katie’s Krops. I have come to know so many incredible youth, across the United States and across the world who are passionate about fighting hunger in their communities. I have grown so close with the individuals and families I have come to help with Katie’s Krops, they are truly a second family to me. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and are there for the triumphs and the hard times. I cannot imagine getting to go on this journey with anyone else, and feel so blessed to be surrounded by such incredible people. Everyone I have met along the way has shaped me to be who I am today!
When you donated the cabbage to a local soup kitchen, which fed 275 guests, what was the experience like? Was it overwhelming? Did the joy of seeing people eat the cabbage you had grown, encourage you to start Katie’s Krops ?
Katie: Every night before I sat down to dinner, my dad would remind us just how fortunate we were to be sitting down to a healthy meal every night because there are some families who rely on soup kitchens for what might be their only meal of the day. That’s when I got the idea that changed my life forever. I decided to donate my cabbage to a soup kitchen where it could help feed those in need. My mom called around and found the perfect home for my cabbage, a soup kitchen called Tri County Family Ministries. One Wednesday morning in May of 2008, I brought my cabbage to the soup kitchen with my family. When we arrived at the soup kitchen, I was greeted so warmly by the volunteers and guests of the soup kitchen, they gave me hugs and thanked me for my donation and were so incredibly kind. When I brought my cabbage inside I weighed it and it came out to an amazing 40 lbs! I came back that Friday to serve my cabbage to 275 guests of the soup kitchen. That one day changed my life forever and set me down the path of youth service. If one cabbage helped to feed 275 people, imagine how many people a garden could feed! It was such a wonderful, eye opening experience and at the age of 9 I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful for that experience and the wonderful people I met that day.
Could you give us an insight into your book ‘Katie’s Cabbage?’
Katie: Katie’s Cabbage is a book I wrote about my experience growing my 40lb cabbage and how it changed my life. In the book I share my experience bringing home my tiny cabbage seedling, watching it grow and the experience of donating it to a soup kitchen where it helped to feed 275 people. My hope for Katie’s Cabbage is that it will inspire other youth to follow their dreams and find their 40lb cabbage that will change their life!
How has this pandemic impacted you? Has your reach and growth remained the same or has it been affected?
Katie: The pandemic has affected Katie’s Krops in many ways, but despite the challenges going on in the world right now, I am a firm believer that we have come out the other side stronger than ever. As an organization, we have grown tremendously, and we have grown our efforts to reach the growing number of individuals and families who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. In April of 2020, we launched our Seeds for Change program, where we mailed seeds to individuals and families across the United States to give them a fun and impactful project while they were in quarantine and encouraged them to share the produce with their friends and neighbors, as well as those in need in their community. The program was incredibly popular, and the first year we were able to share over 2,250 seed packets and engage over 300 families! We continued our seeds of change program for 2021 as well due to its popularity. We also moved our flagship garden to the campus of a local church, Crossroads Community Church. Our flagship garden is now over the size of a football field and continues to grow! The garden produces over 3,500 lbs of produce annually for those in need in the community. In March of 2021, we opened our outdoor classroom on the campus of our flagship garden. The outdoor classroom gives us a way to engage youth and families in a beautiful, safe, outdoor setting and use the garden as a classroom. Our outdoor classroom has been a huge success! We offer storytime, gardening classes, arts and crafts, cooking, science classes and many more exciting programs! Finally, we switched the Katie’s Krops Dinners, which were monthly garden to table dinners that served anywhere from 150-250 individuals a hot, healthy and free sit down meal to our Katie’s Krops Meal Distributions. These distributions are open to anyone in need in the community, no questions asked. We take produce from the garden, like we did with our sit down dinners, and prepare hot, healthy and free meals. We then take the meals and box them up, passing them out through car windows like a drive-thru. In 2020, we served our meals every week and distributed over 18,000 meals to the community. In 2021, we do our distributions every other week, serving anywhere from 400-650 meals a distribution!
Can you elaborate on what Katie's Krops offer during summer camps to Katie’s Krops Growers. What happens during the course of the camp and how is it beneficial to the young growers?
Katie: Katie’s Krops held summer camps for our youth growers for 5 years. The camps were so much fun and a wonderful experience to bring together our youth growers from across the United States, who have not had the opportunity to connect with one another. We learned new and different gardening techniques, had a mock Katie’s Krops Dinners, learned photography for the garden and did many fun bonding activities! The camp was such an amazing and fun experience and it is our hope to bring the camp back in the future. We found that growers who attended the camp increased their yield from their gardens dramatically.
We are really excited to know more about your flagship garden. Can you tell us what it is like? Did you navigate all the land concerns, finances, communication and marketing on your own or have some people helped you too? If yes, who?
Katie: Our flagship garden is over the size of a football field, complete with our outdoor classroom and a fruit orchard, as we all compost bins! We grow produce year around, due to the wonderful South Carolina weather. We were blessed to find a church who welcomed us with open arms and allows us to use the land free of charge, and is incredibly supportive. We built out most of the garden during the pandemic, so we did it with a small crew of about 10 individuals. We rely heavily on volunteers and have an amazing core group that has been so influential in getting our flagship garden to where it is today!
Katie’s Krops started in your backyard and now has over 100 gardens in the USA. How does it feel when there are people contributing to the same cause as yours? What future vision of Katie’s Krops do you have in mind?
Katie: It is such a wonderful feeling to have created an amazing family of Katie’s Krops Growers across the United States. These youth growers are so incredibly passionate and dedicated to fighting hunger in their communities, and have made such an incredible impact in their communities. Together, they have collectively grown and donated over 450,000 lbs of produce to feed those struggling with hunger and food insecurity in their communities. I feel so blessed to have connected with so many like minded individuals, and it makes me so excited for the future of our world! When I think of the future of Katie’s Krops, I would love to expand to all 50 states in the United States and then move to having more international gardens! We currently have 2 gardens in Africa, but I would love to expand our efforts outside of the United States, because I know how big of a problem global hunger is. Ultimately, the goal of Katie’s Krops is to end hunger. I know that is a large goal, but I am a firm believer that working together, we can make a huge impact in the fight against hunger.
What was the one thing that helped the nine year old Katie to start the phenomenal Katie’s Krops ?
Katie: I think the support I received from my family, classmates and community was such a big part of how I was able to start Katie’s Krops at age nine. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and there was a reason that I was able to grow my 40 lb cabbage, a reason I chose to donate it to Try County Family Ministries and a reason that I started down the path of ending hunger, one vegetable garden at a time.
How can people find / connect with you?
Katie: You can find us on Facebook at Katie’s Krops, Instagram at Katie's Krops, Twitter at KatiesKrops and via our website, www.KatiesKrops.com! On our website you can find more information such as our wishlist, how to support us, how to start a garden (if you are located in the United States) and how to contact us!