Katie Stagliano, 13, gives new meaning to the word sharecropper.
The founder of Katie’s Krops oversees six gardens that have produced tons of vegetables for soup kitchens and other charitable organizations in and around her hometown of Summerville, S.C. (pop. 43,392).
Katie’s Krops took root in 2008 when Katie brought home a cabbage seedling for a third-grade science project at Pinewood Preparatory School. She planted the seedling in her family’s backyard garden, faithfully tended it and watched the leafy vegetable grow into a 40-pound giant. Katie hauled the colossal cabbage to a nearby soup kitchen where a long line of people waited for what might be their only meal of the day.
“She could barely carry it in,” recalls Sue Hanshaw, CEO of Tricounty Family Ministries in nearby North Charleston. “I asked her to prepare and serve it herself.”
Katie went to work. She chopped, cooked and served the cabbage over rice to help feed 275 hungry people.
Motivated by the bounty of a single cabbage, Katie decided she could feed even more people by planting more gardens and donating the harvest to the hungry. When Katie received permission from the Pinewood Prep principal to plant a garden on the school grounds, Katie’s Krops was born. “Something happens, sparks you, inspires you,” the enterprising gardener says.
The school garden’s first crop consisted of easy-to-grow tomatoes and peppers. Today, Katie’s gardens produce beans, carrots, corn, eggplant, herbs, lettuce, melons, okra, rutabagas, squash, strawberries and, of course, cabbage.
Her mother, Stacy, 42, says her daughter was divinely inspired to garden. “[God] let her know how to grow food,” she says.
Bob Baker, 65, a farmer in nearby Ridgeville (pop. 1,979), was so moved by Katie’s efforts that he offered some of his land for another garden. He also allows Katie to use his tractor and tiller and provides a home for her hens that lay protein-packed eggs for families in need of wholesome nutrition.
“You meet somebody at her age who’s interested in anything, it’s wonderful,” Baker says. “After the cabbage, the seed was planted and she saw a need.”
Students at Pinewood Prep love the school garden so much that some pull weeds during recess. Other partners in the growing endeavor include Katie’s friends who help tend the gardens; a master gardener who advises the novice green thumbs; and a volunteer driver who delivers produce directly to families in need.
Katie buys gardening supplies with money from fundraisers, grants, and private and corporate donations, and she encourages other people to plant gardens. In February, she awarded grants of up to $400 to 10 young gardeners in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin. “I wanted them to be really motivated, in their hearts,” she says.
Katie’s Krops has been a life-changing experience for Katie and her family. “I don’t think any of us imagined what this would be now, with that one cabbage, how attached she was to it,” her mother says.
And Katie says she’s just getting started.