Cassie ~ Massachusetts

Cassie Gordon is a 16-year-old Junior in Quincy, Massachusetts, growing at Houghs Neck Congregational Church. Her efforts to grow a healthy end to hunger began at age eleven. The garden initially started when a local teen, Alex Samsel, built raised garden beds for his Eagle Scout project. He was followed by another Eagle Scout candidate who added rain barrels to the garden. Cassie is now working on obtaining the Eagle Scout rank and the Girl Scout Gold Award herself, expanding the garden this year by adding potato bags to improve the variety of food grown and the overall yield. She also has created a whole curriculum and website, Healthy Home Gardening – Home (weebly.com), dedicated to teaching young folks about the benefits of healthy eating and growing their vegetables. 

This year, Cassie serves as the garden coordinator, developing a watering schedule for the 8-10 youth participating and ensuring the garden is tended. After Covid prevented group activities from taking place last year, the kids look forward to getting out in the garden as they complete planting and then weed, water, and harvest their crops. In addition to the potatoes, they grow cucumbers, carrots, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, onions, scallions, chives, green beans, and parsley. Their methods include growing the green beans up a triangular teepee shape formed by eight poles and growing onions in a separate planter. They also have help and support from the congregation, including obtaining tomato plants from a member who starts them in their basement under grow lights. This work produces hundreds of pounds of food for the Interfaith Social Services Food Pantry, where the food is distributed to those who need it. 

Planting starts at the end of May, but this year potatoes went in the ground on May 1. The first frost is typically in November, but most plants start dying before then. This is not altogether bad since the gardeners are caught up in their studies, school activities, and other obligations by then. It does mean, though, that Cassie no longer gets to enjoy seeing the things that her group grows; she takes a lot of pride and pleasure in being able to grow food from seed and from something that they see in the garden, such as a nursing mouse that had made her nest under a rubber tile this past April. After oohing and aahing over the sight, the gardeners gently put the pathway tile back in place to give them their privacy and keep them safe. Things like this make up for the not-so-nice things that happen, such as the destruction of growing trellises on Halloween night several years ago.

All told, this church Katie’s Krops garden is a team effort from start to finish. The garden is thriving with supportive church trustees, Eagle Scouts donating their efforts, youth group members doing a lot of physical labor, and, of course, support from Katie’s Krops.

Clayson ~ Nebraska

One thing you can say about the Katie’s Krops garden that Clayson Thayer, 9, of Champion, Nebraska, grew in 2021 is that it’s big – really big – 817 square feet big! The other thing you can say is that he grows a wide variety of vegetables and grows a lot of them, such as 25 pounds of squash.

After his dad learned about Katie’s Krops through the city of Imperial’s Facebook page, Clayson applied for and was selected as a 2021 Katie’s Krops Grower. Using knowledge and guidance from his father and grandfather and with help from the entire family (parents Chance and Chandra, seven-year-old brother Cryder and four-year-old sister Cayven, and even Grandpa on occasion), the garden was planted with acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squash, carrots, green beans, radishes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, and lettuce. The spring lettuce did exceptionally well, as did the tomatoes, although the latter were grown a bit too close together, making harvest a challenge.

Clayson had problems familiar to all gardeners. The cabbage did not do well at all due to bugs. A summer drought became another issue. Even though there was finally a downpour of 5 inches of rain, it was too late for the spinach at the end of the garden that unfortunately wasn’t getting watered. 

Even as a fourth-grader in the Chase County school system with school work to do, Clayson has shown a lot of dedication to his garden and maintaining it throughout the growing season. A 43 by 19-foot garden takes a lot of time, even when it’s located in your yard. However, he likes helping people and making them happy, and the abundant produce he’s grown does just that. In addition to giving food to family and friends, especially the elderly, both the Imperial Community Center and the Crossroads Wesleyan Church pantry have benefited. Most donations have gone to the community center, where they use the produce for daily meals. Any produce not used is set out for people to take as needed.

When his parents recently asked Clayson for thoughts on his garden, he responded with several lessons learned. The tomatoes need to be spread out more, so they are easier to pick. The corn needed to be planted at the same time for better pollination. The sunflowers were a big success, and he’s hoping to save some seeds for next year. The pumpkin pie pumpkins, and squash did great. He also experienced that feeling familiar to all gardeners: It’s so hard waiting for the plants to produce vegetables ready to pick!

Zion, Zielle, and Ziriah ~ South Carolina

Goose Creek, South Carolina, is a great place to grow a Katie’s Krops gardens. Just ask the Bryant sisters, Zion, Zielle, and Ziriah. The girls tried gardening last year with some success but have produced in 2021 after signing up for Katie’s Krops and receiving a starter kit with a soil testing kit, pots, a hose, shovels, gloves, seeds, and a gift card to buy anything else they needed to grow their garden.

Their front yard now includes a vegetable plot with multiple crops, including the three sisters of corn, squash, and beans, because three sisters pretty much need to grow the three sisters, wouldn’t you agree? They haven’t limited their garden to that, though. They also grew bumper crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and green beans along with basil. But, on the other hand, the watermelon did not do so well and never got bigger than a baby squash.

The girls first learned about gardening from their late grandfather, who taught them skills such as turning over the soil, checking the sun pattern in their garden, and how to grow tomatoes. Zion and Zielle also volunteer in the Green Heart Garden at their school, Meeting Street Academy in Charleston, where they are in the 4th and 2nd grades, respectively. 

The girls are supported in their efforts by their parents, Marcus and Brittany. Brittany is also on the board of Green Heart. They help them package their produce to deliver by hand to elderly neighbors within walking distance, just as their grandfather did, and for the sister of one of their teachers. Each of the girls has their own reasons for gardening. Nine-year-old Zion feels closer to her grandfather when she is in the garden and likes helping people and sharing, while Zielle, 7, likes getting dirty. Ziriah enjoys being outside with her siblings AND getting dirty. 

Gardening in South Carolina presents both challenges, such as the heat and advantages, including being able to raise very productive spring and fall gardens in addition to the usual summer garden. The Bryant family’s fall garden will include beets, carrots, broccoli, kale, peas, lettuce, spinach, and onions. In addition, they’ll be continuing their efforts battling destructive bugs, pests, and diseases without harming the beneficial bugs they’ve seen, such as ladybugs or dragonflies.

Plans are already in the works for next year. The family will be expanding with the addition of a baby boy, and the garden will be expanding from 36 to 72 square feet by increasing the plot from 12 x 3 to 12 x 6 feet. That garden might not include sunflowers, though. Dad was not impressed by them. Fortunately, he and the rest of the family do like the fresh produce. 

Aspen ~ Indiana

Aspen Anglemyer, nine, might be a new Katie’s Krops Grower, but he is certainly not inexperienced. Aspen started in the garden as a toddler, working with his grandfather. Grandpa still helps him grow vegetables and flowers by tending the garden when Aspen’s family is out of town. Aspen and his mom and dad, Valerie and Kelly, grow cucumbers, radishes, peas, green beans, carrots, and flowers in three raised garden beds, along with tomatoes in individual buckets. Even the family dog, Ruby, gets in the act by eating the weeds as they are picked and tossed in a corner.

Currently a third grader at Wakarusa Elementary School in Goshen, Indiana, Aspen first heard about Katie’s Krops from his mom, a middle school teacher. She read about the organization in an e-mail from Youth Service America (YSA) that featured the group’s work being done to help alleviate hunger through the growing efforts of children.

Not every crop has been a success. Aspen managed not to grow zucchini, which, as most vegetable gardeners know, is quite a feat. The blame for this can be laid squarely at the feet – or should we say roots – of the Cosmos flower plants. They love their raised bed spot so much that they are now over 5 feet tall and prolific enough that they blocked both the sun and water from reaching the zucchini plants. Making lemonade out of lemons, he and his mom cut the flowers and make bouquets for the other teachers at her middle school to brighten their days. Who doesn’t like to see some pretty flowers at their door when they get to work? To avoid this same thing happening next year, the family already has plans to add a fourth raised bed to give the zucchini a fighting chance. Fortunately, there have been very few other problems or pests other than some Japanese beetles.

Aspen has fun working in the gardens from May until the first frost in October or early November, and he also enjoys helping people save money. Besides providing food for his own family, he puts out produce for his neighbors to take and enjoy. He has given baskets of cucumbers and tomatoes to the Family Christian Development Center. This foodbank serves the families living in his school’s neighborhood. They are now working on harvesting radishes and green beans for the food bank.

Aspen also enjoys the light-hearted moments in the garden, such as the carrots that grew a little too close together and managed to wrap themselves around each other and the bees on the flowers that were so still that both he and his mother thought they might be dead. Of course, they weren’t a slight shake of the flowers, and they buzzed right off. Katie’s Krops looks forward to Aspen buzzing into his garden for many years to come to help feed his community.

Bradley – New Jersey

New Jersey resident Bradley Ferguson, 20, did not set out to be a gardener. When he was in the 7th grade in 2014, he helped renovate the 1950ies building that housed American Legion Post 295, providing a place for the members to hang out and rent out for events, providing some income post. Bradley looked at the vast expanse of land on the post’s grounds and realized it could be used to grow food for veterans.

Bradley applied to become a Katie’s Krops Grower in 2015 and attended one of the week-long camps, which was a tremendous help with learning how to grow. Fast forward a few years, and Bradley’s group, Post Crashers, now yields 1,000 pounds of vegetables per year in 26 raised beds. In addition to being used in advocacy meals at the post, the food is donated to Enphront to help veterans in transitional housing.

Several people from his middle and high schools volunteer to help with the gardening, and it takes quite a few of them. As with many other things last year, COVID presented challenges. While colleges and universities sent students like Bradley, who attends Harvard off-campus to learn remotely, changes also had to be made to keep volunteers safe. Outside the box, thinking provided the answer. Volunteers registered through Signup Genius and were assigned total responsibility for one of the raised beds. They prepare, plant, weed, water, and harvest their particular bed, which allows them to remain safely distanced from anyone else working in the garden at that time. The system worked so well in 2020 that it will be used again in 2021. Thirty-one people have signed up so far this year, including some who will work together on a bed because they are siblings or friends.

Using this system, the 2020 gardens were as productive as ever, with everyone remaining committed to their particular garden bed. As was done in prior years, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, lettuce, and kale were grown and donated. One change for this year will be an attempt at high-intensity gardening for spinach, lettuce, and kale by planting the seeds closer.

Rocky Branch Elementary – Georgia

So what do you do when you’ve spent the last eleven years as a teacher coordinating the Katie’s Krops garden at your elementary school, using it as a tool for STEM curriculum, but COVID shuts down the school? You start a summer camp program at your home on your farm, of course! That’s what Shawna McGrath, a 3rd-grade teacher at Rocky Branch Elementary in Georgia, did.

The Katie’s Krops garden at Rocky Branch Elementary started eleven years ago when Shawna applied to several organizations for grants to start a school garden. After not receiving a single grant, Shawna saw Katie Stagliano, the founder of Katie’s Krops, on a Disney Channel show. She immediately changed tactics. Her students wrote the grant request to Katie’s Krops. Their application was successful, and, yes, they did feel rather superior since their teacher had not been. The funds that the class received were used to build the first school garden at Rocky Branch. The students planned what to grow and did the planting. This was not only a new venture for Shawna and the school; it was a new venture for Katie’s Krops because this was the first school to receive funding to start a garden. The garden has been very successful, and Katie herself visited the school several years ago to see the students in action and share her book, Katie’s Cabbage. The students who were awarded that very first grant graduated high school last year, leaving behind a tremendous legacy.

As the years passed, the garden expanded using sustainable funding from Katie’s Krops. Members of the school’s gardening club tend to the garden, while the cooking club used the produce to prep meals for five families associated with the school.

Shawna’s classroom includes a grow light to grow seedlings while others are grown in the school greenhouse. A multitude of crops are grown year-round, and everything was going great until 2020, and COVID hit, and the school shut down on March 16, 2020.  Everyone thought it would be for just a week or two, but as we all know, it was not. The school remained closed until the start of the 2020-21 school year. Teachers were given a three-hour window to retrieve all the supplies they needed from their classrooms for remote learning. Shawna and other teachers used part of that time to plant the seedlings that had been started at the school. They were also allowed on campus in June to harvest the crops, including kale, snow peas, lettuce, and spinach. No other school gardening was permitted during the summer.

As in most, if not all, areas of the United States, the need for food exploded as businesses shut down and people were out of work. That’s when Shawna had the inspiration to start her summer camp focused on gardening. People were already seeking her out for advice on planting backyard gardens, but she wanted to do more than that. During the spring, she had her land rezoned and obtained a permit to run the camp. Parents were eager – okay, desperate – for some activity for their children, and there were no problems finding students in the 1st to 6th grades to attend. Each week of the five-week camp saw a different group of 8 to 10 attendees, with the older students helping the younger children as needed. They grew a “giving garden,” and the vegetables grown were combined with grocery store donations to help families in need via the local “Food for Kids” program.

In addition to the food grown at the school, the farm allowed them to grow crops that take up more space, including melons, corn, and sweet potatoes, the latter in towers made of old tires. Shawna taught other strategies, such as “Three Sisters Planting,” where corn, beans, and squash are grown together and benefit each other. 

In-person instruction resumed last fall, but things are not the same. School clubs are not permitted this year, so Shawna’s class and other interested students work in the garden during recess and incorporate this activity into their math and science curriculum. Their fall garden produced lettuce, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and radishes and the spring garden is well underway.

Mei-Yu~ Oregon

Someone stole the cabbage! Seriously, someone stole the giant cabbage, some smaller cabbages, and bok choy. That was what happened to Mei Yu Leung the first year that she started growing food in a community garden plot in Salem, Oregon, after becoming a Katie’s Krops Grower.

Fortunately, Mei Yu persevered. After all, she was the child who decided four years ago, when she was eight years old, to support her community by organizing two food drives at school. She followed that up by joining a community garden with her family, where they donated some of the produce they raised even before they read about Katie’s Krops online.

Those efforts, for now, 12-year-old Mei-Yu and her helping family, include growing more cabbage and bok choy as well as tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and even some carrots, although the latter has not been as successful as hoped. The majority of her crops are donated to Table of Plenty, a food pantry associated with the Marion Polk Food Share program. Additionally, she also makes direct donations to people in need. Mei Yu enjoys gardening for its own sake, saying it makes her happy; helping others is a bonus to her.

One of the community garden benefits is that the produce from some trees and garden plots is available for all gardeners to take as needed. By doing this, Mei Yu could have additional produce to share, including cucumbers, zucchini, cherries, grapes, blueberries, and apples.

Every gardener runs into problems, such as the slug infestation among the cabbages and bok choy one year. Unfortunately, Mei Yu ran into another crisis in 2020 that most never experience – wildfires. The fires that raged in much of Oregon made it virtually impossible to grow or pick anything starting in September because there was too much smoke to stay, let alone work, outside for more than a few minutes. This shortened harvest time by six to eight weeks.

As plans are made for 2021, it would appear that the days of cabbage theft are over. Mei Yu and her family, including her 4-year-old sister Lucida currently in training as a garden helper, now live in a house with a yard, complete with a fig tree. Again, this year’s gardens, supported by Katie’s Krops, will be an experiment on whether more is grown in the raised beds they are building or in a planned in-ground garden plot. In addition to growing the same items as they did at the community garden, mom Jackie is planning to add some hot peppers to the front garden beds. The family wants to try growing taro once they find enough information on how to do so. New beds might require more than the 10-15 hours that Mei-Yu spends setting up the garden each spring, but she won’t be traveling to the community garden to do so. She’ll also be able to keep a closer eye on the garden and get those slugs before too much damage is done.

Kaine~ Texas

We are thrilled to share that Kaine Gonzales has earned the title of “Katie’s Krops Volunteer of the Year” for 2020 for his dedication to the Katie’s Krops mission. Kaine has worked in more of the organization’s gardens in Summerville, South Carolina, than any other volunteer. Additionally, he has helped to prepare hundreds of Katie’s Krops garden-to-table meals. Kaine’s enthusiasm and desire to learn are truly contagious.

During his two and a half years of volunteering, Kaine found he enjoys gardening, seeing things grow, and being out in nature. He also finds that helping others is rewarding and he appreciates being able to do so through a well-organized group with friendly people. There was both a lot of work involved and fun times, including the vast, sweet potato harvest with one as big as a kid’s head.

Kaine is not the only one in his family who volunteers with Katie’s Krops, Sister Anaya, seven, and brother Manny, five, also helped with tasks such as picking ripe produce and planting seeds. At the same time, his parents provided that all necessary support and transportation. When his parents were not available to give rides to the garden workdays, Kaine was not detoured. He reached out to neighbors to find the lift he needed to help Katie’s Krops grow,

Kaine and his family moved to San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 2020 due to a new duty posting for his Air Force father. To say that we, as an organization, were heartbroken to see Kaine move is an understatement. We are thrilled to share that Katie is now starting a Katie’s Krops garden in his new home state!

It’s an ambitious effort for a 14-year-old. Still, Kaine will have help, first from his father and neighbor, who will help him build raised garden beds. The entire family will help with planting, weeding, and nurturing the garden until the produce is ready to be harvested.  Kaine will share his harvest with a church pantry. Long-distance support and garden advice will come from his maternal grandparents, who farm ten acres in Louisiana. The family sometimes travels to help with planting items such as potatoes, which is a good task for kids who like to dig and play in the dirt.

“Kaine’s enthusiasm for gardening and helping others is second to none. He arrived at every volunteer opportunity with a smile on his face and eager to take on any task. I love how executing the job at hand was never enough for Kaine. He wanted to learn what to do and why. Educating himself was always at the forefront of his efforts. I am so excited that he is taking what he learned in our South Carolina gardens and starting a Katie’s Krops garden in his new home of Texas,” Katie’s Krops President Stacy Stagliano shared.

Kaine has earned this well-deserved honor, including the trophy and $500 scholarship that accompanies it.

Rose ~ North Carolina

Katie’s Krops Growers begin with the organization for various reasons. In 15-year-old Rose Stoehr’s case, it has become a family tradition. Older siblings Jackie and John preceded her, and while both have moved on to college, the garden they helped tend for years at Hawk Ridge Elementary, a public school in Charlotte, North Carolina, is still growing. Mom Carrie is a teacher at the school as well as the garden coordinator, and Rose started participating in 1st grade; eight years later, she has moved on to high school but is still an active Katie’s Krops Grower and the youth lead responsible for the Hawk Ridge Garden.

The first Stoehr sibling to join Katie’s Krops was Jackie. She and some 4th-grade classmates at Hawk Ridge wrote the grant application, and she continued working in the garden for many years until she left for college. John then spearheaded the garden for a year until he left for college as well, leaving Rose to take charge. Both Jackie and John say they learned a lot about gardening, whether they were lugging bags of dirt, planting seeds, watering, weeding, picking produce, and performing all the tasks involved in maintaining a healthy garden. Both also learned a lot about their community, its needs, and that the fresh produce is very much appreciated at the food bank since most of the food they have is canned.

With her siblings off at school, Rose is now the lead Katie’s Krops Grower. From starting seeds in the wooden raised beds in March to the final harvest in November, the garden produces tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and various greens. These crops are donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank, whose recipients are thankful for and enjoy the 400 to 500 pounds of fresh produce grown annually. This bounty is produced in 9 raise garden beds totaling 336 feet; herbs grown in pots are also donated. Growing the food provides students with an opportunity to volunteer while working outside in the dirt, weeding, and planting. Rose enjoys that and feels good that these donations help others.

Volunteer gardeners are recruited from the student population each year. Carrie recently made a video to recruit volunteers this growing season and now has six students per day helping in the garden. Limiting the number of students is needed to ensure that they are socially distanced while they work. It’s a fun learning experience for those who participate each spring and fall; as with most school-based gardens, students do not participate when school is not in session, but Rose and her mom keep the garden going during the summer.

The Charlotte area has a relatively long growing season. The heat of summer definitely results in a bumper crop of bugs, too, which must be dealt with along with some damage to the garden in the form of trash and uprooted crops that is done by a few kids. Fortunately, those issues are not too frequent or harmful. The gardeners do have a source of water for their crops, making watering in the Charlotte heat a lot easier. Rose estimates that she personally spends 5 to 7 hours a week while the garden is being established in the spring and then 2 to 3 hours each week during the summer and fall growing and harvesting seasons.

Rose is the last in the line of the Stoehr siblings, but even when she graduates high school and heads off to college in a few years, she hopes to continue helping in the garden during the summer and to do her best to remain a part of the garden and work to engage future students in learning about gardening and continuing the work of Katie’s Krops.

West Carrollton High School~ Ohio

Not all Katie’s Krops gardens are grown in backyards. Sometimes they are community-based at a church or school. One such garden is the Pirate’s Patch; named after the school mascot, it’s located on the grounds of West Carrollton High School, just south of Dayton, Ohio, and is where students from the school raise food guided by Judi Brooks. Judi is officially the Computer Lab Coordinator but incorporates her love of gardening and love of students into teaching the students about growing vegetables and helping the community.

The garden got its start several years ago when Judi and Lori Balazs, a colleague at the school, were interested in creating a garden where students could experience growing vegetables and use the garden as a community service for the students to raise and donate to the homeless in Dayton. Science teacher Mike Newman was familiar with Katie’s Krops from his time in Summerville, SC, the organization’s hometown, joined in and challenged his students to write essays to use for applying for the first Katie’s Krops grant. Using the funds from the first grant, Mike and his students planted radish seeds in the classroom, experimenting with different growing methods, and later transplanted them in the Pirate’s Patch. A couple of years later, Judi assumed the leadership role and has worked with student and community members to continue the work in the garden through Katie’s Krops.

Various students are generally involved with the garden, including Environmental Science students, the National Honor Society (NHS), football and volleyball teams, and anyone interested in growing food. Unfortunately, this past growing season was not “normal” due to Covid19. All West Carrollton’s students had 100% remote/hybrid learning, so they were not able to help in the gardens. Darn Covid! That did not deter Judi and others. They continued growing to provide over 1,000 pounds (a garden record) of fresh vegetables to the St. Vincent de Paul shelter to feed their residents. This included pumpkins, squash, tomatoes (from plants provided by Proven Winner), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, kale, beans, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, celery, radishes, turnips, and various varieties of lettuce.

In addition to helping feed the community, an important goal of Katie’s Krops, the garden provides many educational opportunities while building unique relationships for both the students and adults. Students have an opportunity to learn how food is grown and how it tastes fresh from the plant/vine without the use of chemicals. Some are leery of digging in the dirt and getting their hands in the soil, especially when it gets under their nails, but when a student harvested a 5-pound sweet potato in 2018, it was “game on” to see what everyone else could find in hopes of topping that weight. They’ve learned that as the growing season ends, you can pick the green tomatoes and let them ripen indoors as well as make a cake with them, which Judi did. They enjoyed eating it and were a bit disbelieving when they found out what was in it after they finished and had requested another one.

The students learn other skills too. They are responsible for weighing and photographing the produce as it’s harvested, entering the amounts in a spreadsheet. By analyzing the results, they learn what was most and least productive, providing the information they need to decide what is best to plant during the next growing season.

Pirate’s Patch is a 24 by 78-foot area of raised beds constructed of cinder blocks, including footpaths to reach all crops. Trellises using PVC pipes allow for vertical gardening, and even the holes in the cinder blocks are used to grow root vegetables and lettuce. Many large pots lining the walkway provide more growing opportunities. A new high school will be built within the next few years, and plans are being developed for a new greenhouse and space for gardening. In the meantime, cold frames and adding more vertical growing areas are the immediate goals for the current garden.

The Connie Sue Parsons Memorial Butterfly Garden, located in the school’s courtyard and created in memory of a school secretary, provides additional learning opportunities as the students experience the life cycle of butterflies. The students are able to observe all four stages of the butterfly’s life, from an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis and finally to the emergence of the butterfly. Environmental Science students receive their own eggs to care for and observe. A butterfly cage in the school library’s media center provides an additional indoor opportunity for any student or staff member who is interested in observing the process.

The students are currently learning through a hybrid model of 2 days at school and three days remotely, so the hope and plan is that they will once again be involved in the garden this coming growing season.