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How the seed Katie Stagliano planted when she was in third grade has grown to help feed hungry people across the country

How the seed Katie Stagliano planted when she was in third grade has grown to help feed hungry people across the country
February 2022
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Catching up with Katie’s Krops



Katie Stagliano, Katie’s Krops founder

When nine-year-old Katie Stagliano of Summerville planted a cabbage seed for a third-grade project, she never imagined it would grow to giant proportions. Nor did she expect the idea it sowed would eventually become a nonprofit with a network of 100 youth-run vegetable gardens in 30 states that has distributed more than 500,000 pounds of produce to those in need.

“Every day, I would come home from school and water and weed around my seedling,” Stagliano recalls. “I was afraid the deer would get it, so I built a cage out of wooden posts and chicken wire. It grew into a 40-pound cabbage.”

When her family sat down for dinner, Stagliano says her father reminded them how lucky they were to have food on the table because others went to bed hungry. With that lesson in mind, Stagliano donated her cabbage to Tricounty Family Ministries (now Neighbors Together) in North Charleston, where it was put into a soup along with ham and rice. “That cabbage fed 275 people,” Stagliano says. “I decided if one cabbage could feed that many, imagine what a whole garden could do.”

In 2009, Stagliano started a garden at her school raising produce to feed people struggling with hunger and a year later expanded to include 21 student-planted gardens in the tricounty area and more around the country.

Katie’s Krops founder Katie Stagliano with volunteers at the Crossroads Community Church. 

The organization also began serving garden-to-table dinners after the only full-time soup kitchen in Summerville closed. “My friends and I came together and made meals based on what was growing in the garden. The head of food services in my middle school guided us in the kitchen, and what we couldn’t grow, we would purchase,” Stagliano says. “Guests came through the line for food and would sit down and become friends.”

In 2020 after COVID began to spread, Katie’s Krops transitioned from sit-down dinners to drive-through distribution. It went from offering about 200 dinners a month to 600 a week. “So many people come through crying and saying, ‘If not for this meal distribution, I don’t know how I could feed my family.’ We have so many people whose kids were not receiving the free or reduced-price breakfast at school with the COVID shutdowns.” In 2021, she offered the meals every other week.

Just before the pandemic, in 2019, Katie’s Krops had expanded to 17,000 square feet of raised beds and fruit trees behind Crossroads Community Church in Summerville. Walking through the garden, Stagliano, now 23, points out the fall crops that were planted and are already flourishing, including collards, snow peas, swiss chard, beets, celery, Brussels sprouts, and green beans, as well as fruit trees that will bear apples, peaches, pears, and figs. “We stick to things that will be high yield,” explains Stagliano, who graduated from College of Charleston in 2020.

Katie’s Krops was certified as a nonprofit in 2021. These days, the organization uses a volunteer force of youth around the country to plant and tend gardens. Children ages seven to 16 apply by sharing where they’ll build their gardens, what they’ll grow, who will help them, and to which organization they’ll donate the produce. The nonprofit sends selected growers kits including seeds, gift cards to purchase soil, gardening gloves, plant markers, and a watering can or hose, as well as books and other resources. In 2020, with assistance from a National Geographic grant, it selected 75 new gardeners and added 12 more growers last year.

A nine-year-old Katie with the 40-pound cabbage that sprouted the idea for the nonprofit.

In addition to serving meals and recruiting student farmers, Katie Krop’s offers a variety of outdoor classes at the Summerville garden, allowing her to spread the mission of Katie’s Krops. About 70 percent of families who participate become volunteers for the nonprofit.

Fourteen years after planting that first seed, Stagliano is still cultivating the lesson she learned around the family dinner table. “The cool thing is it’s multi-faceted. I work in the gardens, teach classes in the outdoor classroom, work on the administrative side, and provide hot, healthy, and free meals to the community,” she says. “I’m so blessed that I get to do what I love every day. No day is ever the same!”

Learn more about Katie's Krops