‘Seeds of Change’ inspires new crop of young gardeners during coronavirus pandemic

Published on USA Today

When school went virtual in the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, Angie Ackerman had to find a creative way to make the sudden change in her children’s routine more engaging.

She learned that a local non-profit called Katie’s Krops near her home in Summerville, S.C., had started distributing seeds to children who were stuck at home when school buildings closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Within days, the Ackermans received a letter in the mail along with seed packages for sunflowers, cantaloupes, tomatoes and peppers.

Her youngest Bennett, 6, in particular, took to the garden. He would venture outside with his Batman watering can in hand to track the growth of the single sunflower they planted. He measured the growth of the flower standing back to back with it, his mother described.

“That shift to virtual schooling was a big change. I really wanted to do something extra for my kids to help them through it,” she said.

Evelyn, 9, and Bennett, 6, with the sunflower they planted through the Seeds of Change program at their home in Summerville, S.C.

Community garden non-profit grows

The Seeds of Change program is an offshoot of Katie’s Krops, a decade-old non-profit founded by Katie Stagliano when she was only 10 years old.

The young entrepreneur started the program as a community garden to provide fresh produce to local food banks. Using produce from the Summerville garden, the organization serves a free meal to up to 250 people a month.

When the pandemic hit, they changed course.

The newly implemented, drive-thru model has provided about 9,000 meals since March. They typically average 2,500 per year.”We’ve seen people come on foot, on bike from as far as 35 miles away for food. People are truly struggling right now,” Stagliano said.

In the last decade, the project has grown beyond South Carolina and provides financial support to growers in 31 states and around 100 gardens located in schools and run by youth organizations.

Planting gardens at home

Katie Stagliano, 22, the founder of Katie’s Krops, a Summerville, S.C. based non-profit distributes free meals using vegetables grown in her community garden.

Each garden was set up as a way to provide direct access to fresh produce for families in need within those communities. However, once schools and youth clubs closed due to COVID-19 protective measures, children could no longer gain access to the gardens, she said.

“We would have a single teacher manning a whole community garden,” Stagliano said. “Meanwhile, the need for fresh produce grew tenfold, especially among children who all of a sudden had limited access to the free meals they were typically provided at school.”

Katie’s Krops had amassed donated seed packages that could no longer be sent out to their wide network of traditional community gardens.

That was when Stagliano and her team began shipping seeds to families interested in starting their own backyard gardens as a way to help them feed themselves and their neighbors.

Since the start of the pandemic, they have shipped over 2,100 seed packets to more than 270 families across 23 states, including the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana.

‘It was like pulling up treasures’

The shift has also created a wave of generosity.

“It’s engaged people from all walks of life to grow some of their own food and share it with their neighbors,” Stagliano said.

Aeden May, 8, pulls up a batch of carrots he planted in a backyard garden at his home in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Aeden, 8, and his brother Maeson May, 10, have watched the garden they planted in their backyard grow since the spring. Maeson recently harvested a bundle of carrots he planted from seed.

“It was like pulling up treasures,” his mother Angela May said.

She wanted her sons to continue thriving and learning despite not being able to go to school in the traditional classroom setting.

The garden was an opportune learning tool.

“We had success. Especially with the kids home from school every day, they got to see the plants grow. I want them to continue feeling inspired,” May said.