Empowered Woman Wednesday: How Katie Stagliano is Fighting Hunger in the U.S. (And How You Can Help!)
For South Carolina native, Katie Stagliano, giving back to her community started early. At the age of nine, she became keenly aware of how many Americans are affected by food insecurity–and her dream “to grow a healthy end to hunger” was born.
Stagliano founded Katie’s Krops, an organization that empowers young people around the country to start vegetable gardens in their communities and donate the harvests to the needy. Now, over 10 years later, Katie’s Krops funds gardens in 30 states–and counting. We spoke to this inspiring woman about the power of youth, the lessons that can be learned from a garden, and how you can join her in ending food insecurity and hunger.
Lulus: Tell us about Katies Krops–what is it and how did it start?
Katie Stagliano: In 2008, when I was just nine years old, I received a cabbage seedling from the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. I planted my seedling in my backyard and every day I would water it. I would fertilize the cabbage and weed around it. My family and I watched it grow and grow and grow in size…when my cabbage was fully grown it weighed in at an amazing 40 pounds!
I knew my cabbage was special and it needed to find a special home. My mom contacted Fields to Families, a local organization that helps farmers get crops to organizations that feed the hungry. They recommended we share it with Tricounty Family Ministries.
In May of 2008, my family and I brought my cabbage to Tri-County Family Ministries. When I walked in, I saw a huge line of people waiting for what might be the only meal they would have that day. When it was time to serve my cabbage to the guests, they thanked me for helping to feed them. My one cabbage helped to feed 275 people. After seeing how many people my one cabbage helped to feed, I thought, “how many people can a garden feed?” And that was the inspiration for me to start Katie’s Krops.
I started with a garden at my home, then school, but I quickly realized that the larger the gardens, and the more gardens, the bigger the impact I could have on hunger. When I start hearing from kids across the country asking how they could help. I decided to start giving grants to other kids to start their own Katie’s Krops garden–[that was] eight years ago. I have built on the model over the past eight years growing to 100 gardens in 30 states.
Lulus: How did you get into gardening? Did you learn from your family?
KS: My family has always had a small vegetable garden in our backyard, and both my grandfather and my great-grandmother were avid gardeners. I remember whenever I went over to my great-grandparent’s house, she would always have fresh berries growing and would pick them to share with us.
After I brought my cabbage home is when I truly became an avid gardener. I believe everything happens for a reason. There was a reason I picked the cabbage seedling I did because it was meant to lead me down a path and change my life. I was blessed to be connected with Ms. Lisa, my master gardener, who has truly taught me so many things about gardening and has been an integral part of Katie’s Krops for the past 10 years.
Lulus: What does “food insecurity” mean exactly? How common is it?
KS: Many take for granted that they will always have access to food–and be able to afford food. Sadly, that is not the case for many. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food insecurity” as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity and hunger are similar but different, as hunger is a physical issue, and food insecurity is the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources.
Food insecurity may be long term or temporary and can be influenced by many factors such as income, unemployment or underemployment, food deserts, illness, or disability. The risk for food insecurity increases when money to buy food is limited or unavailable. One in nine Americans is affected by food insecurity– (it) affects all states.
Lulus: Are you surprised by how much Katie’s Krops has “grown?”
KS: Youth are a very powerful resource and are often turned away from volunteer opportunities because of their age. [Young people] have the best ideas and are so passionate, I wanted to ensure that with Katie’s Krops, youth would never be turned away from helping to end hunger in their community due to their age.
Never in a million years did I ever expect Katie’s Krops to grow to over 30 states across the U.S. I am so grateful for the support of so many incredible people across the United States, and the world, for believing in the power of youth to end hunger one vegetable garden at a time. I’m so excited to see what the future holds!
Lulus: Is that why your community krops are all youth-led?
KS: I believe the power of youth is something that needs to be tapped into more. Youth have incredible ideas and are not discouraged by obstacles, they believe in endless possibilities. When I first began Katie’s Krops, I was only nine years old and had a big dream to end hunger. I was amazed by the support I received from youth across the country and how many kids wanted to get involved. I wanted to pay it forward to other youth and help them follow their dreams. That’s why I decided to give grants to other youth to help them start vegetable gardens and donate the produce to feed those in need in their community.
I am continually amazed by youth across the country and the incredible difference that they are making in their community. These youth are the future farmers and future philanthropists of our country. I believe it is so important to invest and support the future leaders of our country. There are so many lessons that can be learned from a garden.
Lulus: How can someone get involved with helping feed food-insecure people in their community?
KS: There are lots of different ways to get involved in your community. Most emergency food programs rarely receive donations of fresh vegetables, which are vital to a healthy diet, especially for young children as they’re growing. You can donate fresh produce, whether you have excess from your backyard or you pick up some extra while you are at the grocery store. Canned goods and nonperishables are great items to donate, as well.
If youth between the ages of 9-16 are interested, they can apply to become Katie’s Krops Growers, start a garden in their community, and donate the produce to feed those in need. The application can be found on our website, www.KatiesKrops.com. To help fund a Katie’s Krops garden, a donation of any amount can help empower youth to grow a healthy end to hunger and can be made on our website. We are so grateful for any amount that can be donated to help youth follow their dreams.
Lulus: What’s your goal for the next year? And beyond?
KS: Next year, I am happy to say that I will be returning to Katie’s Krops full time after graduating from The College of Charleston in three years. I’m excited about this transition and to see what the future holds. I want to expand Katie’s Krops to have gardens in all 50 states–and empower even more youth to grow a healthy end to hunger.
Overall, the goal of Katie’s Krops is to end hunger. I know that seems like a lofty goal. But working together we can make a difference, one vegetable garden at a time.