From Farm to Table: How One Teen’s Garden Is Feeding Hundreds of Hungry Families
Katie Stagliano never imagined that the 40-pound cabbage she grew for a school contest would have planted the start of an inspiring non-profit that’s stamping out hunger one vegetable garden at a time.
By Sharon Tanenbaum
Katie Stagliano caught the gardening bug early, thanks to her family’s garden in their backyard of their Summerville, S.C., home.
"It wasn’t that much. It was like a few tomato plants, a pepper plant, and a lettuce," Katie says of her "salad garden."
Of course it may not seem like much now to this ambitious seventh grader, who turned her passion for planting and picking into a thriving non-profit organization that manages nearly 20 gardens to help to feed the homeless and hungry through local shelters and soup kitchens. The group, Katie’s Krops is featured on the next episode of Everyday Health airing October 1 or 2 on your local ABC station.
And it all got started with a not-so-small cabbage.
Planting the Seed of Change — Literally
When Katie, now 13, was in third grade, her school participated in the Bonnie Plants’ Third Grade Cabbage Program, which provides students with cabbage plants to grow to win a $1,000 scholarship (and bragging rights, natch).
"We planted it and treated it like every other plant in the garden," Katie recalls. "But it ended up growing to be so much bigger than every other plant."
In fact, the cabbage (an O.S. Cross variety, known for producing giant heads) ultimately weighed in at a staggering 40 pounds — and won Katie the contest.
But after the initial cheers and congratulations, there was the question of what exactly to do with a 40-pound cabbage plant. After all, serving it to Katie’s own family of four — or even her classroom — would result in a waste of perfectly good and wholesome food.
That’s when Katie had her light bulb moment.
"My dad had always told us not to waste because there are people out there that weren’t fortunate enough to have a hot meal on their table every night," Katie says. "So I thought, why not donate my cabbage to those people."
For her mom, Stacy Stagliano, the moment was a proud one. "She grew so attached to that cabbage," Stacy remembers. "As it grew bigger and bigger it was like her little baby almost."
To find the perfect home for her cabbage, Stacy searched online for "vegetable donation" and discovered Tri-County Family Ministries in North Charleston, S.C. Katie vividly remembers the day she and her mom went to deliver the massive vegetable. When they pulled up to the kitchen at the shelter, hundreds of people stood in line waiting to get in.
"Katie’s jaw just dropped and she was asking a million questions like, ‘Is this really the only meal they get?’" Stacy says. "When we took the cabbage out, all these people came over asking where it came from and if Katie really grew it."
After the pair brought the cabbage inside to the kitchen, Sue Hanshaw, the CEO of the shelter, insisted that Katie help cook up her bounty. "She told Katie that it wasn’t enough to just donate it. She had to help cook and serve it," Stacy says.
And so Katie did. She stood on a wooden stool for more than two hours as 275 people enjoyed the, uh, vegetable of her labor.
And that night, the idea for Katie’s Krops was born. "Katie said to me, "Mommy, if one cabbage could do this, imagine what an entire garden could do," Stacy says.
Nurturing Katie’s Krops
To help cultivate her vision, Katie convinced her school to donate a plot of land for the garden, which the entire student body helped tend. Now Katie helps manage six gardens in South Carolina. They have delivered more than a ton of produce to shelters, soup kitchens, and families in need. Katie’s Krops also has 11 grant-funded gardens in other states, including New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia.
"Looking back on that now, never ever did I imagine that this is where I would be," Stacy says. "That’s the thing with kids. They see the possibilities, they don’t see the obstacles. If there’s good reason to do it, that’s enough."
Watch this video about Katie’s cabbage.
A Budding Chef
Katie not only grows vegetables, she loves to cook them too. "We base my menus for the shelters on what’s growing in the garden," Katie says. For St. Patrick’s Day, she and her family made corned beef and fresh-from-the-garden cabbage. One of her favorite new finds from the garden is the Japanese eggplant, which Katie describes as a "purple banana."
"We just bread it and fry it," Katie says. "It’s super simple to make." Find more of Katie’s favorite veggie-packed recipes on KatiesKrops.com.
Katie demonstrated her culinary skills in the Everyday Health episode, in which she teamed up with chef and nutritionist Ellie Krieger, RD, to cook a dinner of healthy food for local families in need. Using plenty of the garden’s colorful bounty, Katie, Krieger and team whipped up a pot of ratatouille. "This is one of those recipes that anyone can make and make on a busy weeknight for that matter," Krieger says.
Helping Other Kids Get Growing
Katie hopes to inspire as many of her peers to play outside in the dirt and grow their own gardens.
For beginners, it’s important to not get too ahead of themselves. "Start small especially if you haven’t gardened before," Katie advises. She recommends beginning with easy-to-grow plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
"Once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier," she insists.
The bigger goal, however, is to inspire kids to feed families in need in their communities, and Katie created a grant program to help other kids achieve that mission. Winners receive a gift card to a local garden center along with support from Katie’s Krops and a digital camera to follow their progress. Find out more and fill out an application on KatiesKrops.com.
To see Katie in action in the garden and the kitchen, tune in to Everyday Health, hosted by Laila Ali, on October 1 or 2 on your local ABC station.