When Katie Stagliano, from South Carolina, was just nine years old, she planted a cabbage seedling that grew to change her life. In fact, when it weighed an astounding two-and-a-half stone, she knew it was destined for greater things than her own kitchen.
So, the cabbage was harvested, hoisted onto her father’s truck and delivered to a nearby soup kitchen, where it fed 275 people. “If one cabbage can feed that many,” Katie thought, “imagine how many people a whole garden could feed.”
Saddened by seeing families having to queue for their only meal of the day, she set up Katie’s Krops. Run as a non-profit organisation and supported by donations and grants, its aim is to create as many vegetable plots as possible and yield enough food to regularly feed hundreds of people, as well as inspire others to set up similar schemes. Her approach is proven: “we can all help because it only takes a seedling!”
Palmetto House, a shelter that offers living space to 30 residents – including 12 children – and three meals a day, was already on Katie’s delivery route. However, staff realised they had enough land to grow produce onsite. A plot was marked out, residents helped till the soil, and a professional gardener volunteered her expertise to advise Katie on how to make the space most productive.
Meanwhile, golf professionals Linda and Bob Baker, who own 41 acres, were so inspired by Katie’s efforts that they also donated a chunk of their land for another plot. “It makes you feel so good to see someone that young, with that amount of compassion, step in and really make a difference,” Bob says.
Katie currently oversees six working gardens, including one the length of a football pitch donated by her school. Classmates, family and other volunteers help plant and water the sites, including her 8 year-old brother, John Michael, who is head of pumpkin production.
Now 12 years old, Katie has donated around 2,000kg of fresh food since her operation started. “I love what she exudes: caring for others,” says Sue Hanshaw from the shelter that received the very first cabbage. “It’s made a big impact on a lot of people.”
One former homeless mother, who gets a weekly supply of vegetables from Katie’s Krops, adds: “She’s showing that you can help other people no matter how young you are.”
Although her free time is limited, Katie is still keen to expand her involvement. “Once a month I go to Palmetto House with my friends and teachers,” she says, “and we cook a delicious, healthy, hot meal for the guests, based on what’s available in the gardens.
“I love creating new recipes and being able to sit down and share a healthy dinner with the people who benefit from Katie’s Krops. It brings the project full circle and we compost all the scraps and turn them back into the garden to add nutrients.”
Meanwhile, Katie has even found time to write an illustrated children’s book, Katie’s Cabbage. She is also hosting a competition for other philanthropic gardeners. “I dream of having gardens in all 50 states,” she reveals. “I’m working to make this dream a reality by offering children a grant to start their own vegetable plots … I hope Katie’s Krops will inspire lots of others to help in the fight against hunger.”