I’ve been fortunate to meet some interesting and prominent people in the food world, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as impressive as Katie Stagliano. Katie is a 13-year-old vegetable gardener who lives near Charleston, South Carolina. She first shared her story with me during a workshop I held for members of the Three-Dot-Dash "Just Peace" Global Teen Leaders Summit in New York. Katie was one of 30 teen leaders chosen to attend the summit who are actively working on projects that promote a more peaceful society by addressing issues related to basic human needs: food, water, health, shelter, safety, education and the environment.
When it comes to food, Katie has remarkable intuition and insight. With nothing more than seeds, water, sunshine and love Katie is nurturing a movement to abolish hunger one garden at a time.
It all began with a giant cabbage. In 2008 at the age of 9, Katie brought home a cabbage seedling and planted it in her garden. With constant care, Katie’s cabbage grew until it weighed in at a whopping 40 pounds.
“I didn’t think a tiny seedling would grow into a 40-pound cabbage in a million years,” Katie tells me. But, when the colossal cabbage needed to be harvested, Katie had a decision to make.
“Obviously, it would feed a lot more people than us,” Katie recalls. “My Dad always told us there were people who went to bed hungry, and I thought what better thing to do with my cabbage than donate it to those people who don’t have enough food to eat?” Katie donated the cabbage to a local soup kitchen and it helped to feed 275 people.
“I thought, that’s incredible that one cabbage could feed that many people,” Katie remembers. “Now, imagine how many people a garden could feed?”
She set out to create Katie’s Krops, neighborhood gardens like her own, tended by young people across the country. She is Founder and Chief Executive Gardener of the movement. The mission of Katie’s Krops is simple. The garden fresh produce is donated to feed people in need throughout the community. “My goal is to have at least one garden in each of the 50 states,” she says. “I am very proud to say that this spring there will be 49 Katie's Krops gardens growing in 22 states.”
Katie’s Krops are seeded in individual communities through a grant program. By reaching out to her peers, Katie has established a network of young gardeners seeking to end hunger.
“It was very important that the grants go to kids,” says Katie. “So many people believed in me and my efforts despite that fact that I was so young. I wanted to pay it forward by empowering other kids. All of our grantees keep in touch with us, share photos and write blogs for Katie's Krops.”
She is proud of the work her colleagues are doing around the country. “Phoebe in Massachusetts helps to feed the senior citizens in her community by growing gardens in public senior housing and Ted in Wisconsin is an amazing gardener and grows the largest pumpkins I have ever seen,” says Katie. “They all have amazing stories and reasons for wanting to grow. They are empowered to grow their garden to fit their environment and donate their harvest to those individuals they choose in their community.”
Katie says what makes her program different is that it is designed as a sustainable solution to hunger. If a grantee is successful and wants to continue on with their efforts she will continue to fund their garden.
A favorite part of her program is the community dinners hosted monthly by Katie’s Krops. “I base the dinner on what is growing in the gardens,” she explains. “All of the dinners are fresh, hot and healthy. We always have a protein – usually chicken or pork – a tossed green salad loaded with garden fresh veggies, a vegetable dish, rice, and pasta or potatoes. After my friends and I cook the dinners we sit down and eat with the guests. It is so wonderful to get to know them, hear their stories and it is always nice to hear how grateful they are.”
Katie believes it’s important to share freshly grown food with others. “The vast majority of emergency food programs only offer packaged and processed food,” she says. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are the staple of a healthy diet but for families in need they are also largely out of reach. We always donate our produce within 24 hours of harvesting when it is highest in nutritional value. My gardens are a sustainable solution to hunger, and a healthy, fresh solution to hunger.”
It may be impossible to calculate how many people have been helped by Katie's Krops. Katie says that when the program reached over 2,000 people in her local area a few years back, she stopped counting, but that number has been multiplied dramatically by the work of the grantee gardens in other states. Still, she is gratified to know that the efforts of her network are generating daily results that are satisfying and delicious.
“It’s amazing to see what was once a tiny seed turn into something, with lots of love and care, that can provide a healthy meal for so many,” says Katie.
I asked Katie to share a recipe, and this Pear & Cabbage Salad from her website is a lovely symbol of how Katie’s Krops first began. Katie explains, “I am often called the cabbage girl in honor of my 40-pound cabbage. Last summer when my friends and I harvested over 400 pounds of pears, it only seemed right to come up with a recipe that paired the pears with the vegetable that started it all. It is fun, it is really different and it is delicious!”
Katie Stagliano’s Pear & Cabbage Salad
1 small red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
5 pears, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, shredded
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
Place the cabbage, carrot, pear and golden raisins in a bowl and toss together. Wisk vinegar, honey, salt and olive oil together and drizzle on top of the salad. Toss together and enjoy.
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