Summerville’s Katie’s Krops reflects on over a decade of national community garden work

By Jerrel Floyd from The Post and Courier | Sep 30, 2020

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SUMMERVILLE — Not many people can say they were internationally recognized for their service, created a program that spans across the United States or are a published author.

Summerville native Katie Stagliano did all three by the time she was 21.

“Age is just a number,” she said. “You will be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

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Katie Stagliano (left) and her mother, Stacy, remove tree roots from a tiller they were using to break up soil in a garden bed on Wednesday Sept. 23, 2020, at Crossroads Community Church in Summerville. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Stagliano is the founder of Katie’s Krops, a community garden organization with the goal of combating hunger by donating produce. She is also the organizer of Katie’s Krops’ Garden-To-Table Dinners, a program in which Stagliano and other volunteers serve fresh meals to local residents.

The organization started in 2008 with a garden in Stagliano’s backyard. It has since grown to more than 100 community gardens across the U.S. and over 38,000 pounds of donated produce. Its flagship garden is in Summerville at Crossroads Community Church.

The group also reached a milestone in September, serving more than 10,000 meals since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nobody is making any money off of what we are doing,” said Ryan Herrmann, Katie’s Krops’ head chef for the past three years. “I love it.” 

Stagliano has been recognized by Disney Channel, has had documentaries created about her and wrote a children’s book about the beginnings of Katie’s Krops titled “Katie’s Cabbage.”

Those closest to her say she is incredibly humble and doesn’t talk much about her accomplishments.

Stagliano said she’s just still surprised that all of this started with a single cabbage seedling.

Planting a seed

Thousands of residents have benefited from Katie Krop’s over the years. It all began when Stagliano was in the third grade at Pinewood Preparatory School.

She was asked to bring home and raise a cabbage seedling as part of the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. She planted it, watered it and even put a cage around it with her grandfather to protect it from deer.

As the cabbage grew, Stagliano eventually got the idea to donate it. It came from her father, John Stagliano, always telling her and her brother how blessed they were to have a meal every night.

Stagliano was advised to take the cabbage to a soup kitchen in North Charleston called Tri-County Family Ministries. The cabbage had grown so big, she couldn’t pick it up herself.

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Peppers grow on Wednesday Sept. 23, 2020, in a community garden started by Katie Stagliano at Crossroads Community Church in Summerville. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

“It was about the size of my 4-year-old brother,” she said.

The cabbage weighed in at 40 pounds at the soup kitchen. It would go on to feed 275 people, and Stagliano would go on to be inspired to expand her garden.

Stacy Stagliano said her daughter was always curious and interested child. She would always ask questions and wasn’t afraid to take the lead on things.

After donating her cabbage, the girl reached out to her school and told officials about her idea to start a community garden. The school ended up giving her a plot of land that was the size of a football field.

“There was really nothing that stopped her,” Stacy Stagliano said. “She just never saw the obstacles.”

At age 12, her daughter was donating produce to a soup kitchen called the Palmetto House through Katie’s Krops. One day they pulled up to the kitchen and saw a small crowd of people standing outside.

There was a handwritten sign on the front door of the kitchen detailing that it was permanently closed. Katie Stagliano took action immediately.

“She said we need to do something,” her mother said.

This led to the creation of Katie’s Krops Garden-To-Table Dinners. Every month at Summerville Baptist Church, a group of volunteers with Katie’s Krops serves a meal to Summerville residents.

The organization is youth-based, meaning young people are often the ones helping to cook the meals and work in the garden. They’ve implemented a seed program where thousands of seeds are shipped across the country to help other children start community gardens.

Camps have also been organized to teach children about community gardening. Herrmann, the head chef, said it’s crazy to think that Stagliano started doing all of this when she was 9.

“It’s inspiring,” he said. “She is something else.”

Filling a need

This year Stagliano was recognized by the National Geographic Society as a young explorer along with 21 other young people from six countries.

The recognition comes with funding and a connection to other community youth leaders across the world. Stagliano is hoping to use the opportunity as a way to expand Katie’s Krops to 500 gardens across all 50 states.

“I never ever imagined in my wildest dreams that any of this would’ve ever happened,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to South Carolina in March, Stagliano said she knew their dinner program would become even more of a necessity.

So instead of one in-person dinner a month, the group created a weekly to-go dinner program. They also went from seeing 250 meals a month to around 400 in a week.

“People were scared and we knew that we needed to be there,” she said.

Residents can come by Summerville Baptist Church every Thursday around 5 p.m. to pick up a meal. The organization is also always open to volunteers.

Scott Johnson and his daughter, Marley, have been volunteering with Katie’s Krops since the beginning of the summer. He sees it as an opportunity to help fellow citizens and teach his daughter about helping people in need.

“I think it’s very good to see someone at such a young age doing so much, especially in the community,” he said. 

Stagliano said the current flagship garden at Crossroads Community Church is a testament to how much she and others in the program have learned about gardening.

They have a compost program and a library where people can read in the garden. They’re also building an outdoor classroom. Stagliano said she wants the community to really use the garden and for it to be a place where everyone is welcome.

Now a College of Charleston student, she feels like everything up to this point, including the cabbage seedling, was meant to be. Stacy Stagliano said she’s incredibly proud of her daughter. She also gets emotional thinking about how the Summerville community allowed a child to lead.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she said.

Stagliano doesn’t get overwhelmed thinking about all that she has been able to accomplish at her age. She said she knows it wouldn’t have been possible without support from the community.

It can be easy for a young person to have a dream and get overwhelmed trying to complete, she said. That’s the reason it’s a youth-based organization.

She said wants to help and show kids they can make their dreams a reality.