Interview: Katie Stagliano Is Planting Seeds Of Hope With "Katie's Krops"
We had the privilege of speaking with Katie Stagliano - founder and executive chief gardener of Katie's Krops - an organization dedicated to setting up gardens and providing produce for those in need.
Can you start off by telling us the inspiration behind Katie’s Krops?
When I was nine-years-old I received a cabbage seedling as part of a school program. I remember planting the seedling in my backyard, and then coming out every day to water it, fertilize it, and weed around it. I remember watching as the cabbage grew and grew in size. My grandfather and I even built a cage to keep the cabbage safe from deer.
And when my cabbage was fully grown it weighed in at an amazing 40 pounds! So my mom and I contacted Fields to Families, a local organization that helps farmers get crops to organizations that feed the hungry, to see where I could donate my cabbage. They recommended we share my cabbage with a local church. So my family and I brought my cabbage to Tri-County Family Ministries.
When I walked in, I remember seeing this huge line of people waiting for what might be the only meal they would have that day. The guests greeted me and asked if it was me that grew the giant cabbage. And when it was time to eat, everyone thanked me for helping to feed them.
By the way, that one cabbage helped to feed 275 people. And so I thought to myself if a single cabbage could feed 275, how many more could a whole garden feed?
And that was the inspiration for me to start Katie’s Krops.
I started with a garden at my home, and then I eventually went on to start one at school. It wasn’t before long that I realized that the larger and the more gardens one has, the bigger the impact one could have on hunger.
When I started hearing from kids across the country asking how they could help, I decided to start giving grants to other kids to start their own Katie's Krops garden. That was eight years ago. I have built on the model over the past ten years growing to 100 gardens in 30 states.
During the Great Depression, a lot of people began to grow their own crops as a way of sustaining themselves and their families in the face of financial hardship. One can’t help but wonder, in the face of the kinds of climate-related agricultural disasters we’re likely to experience in the near future, if there won’t be a greater focus on local, sustainable crops and “home farming.” From what you have read and seen, how likely is this?
During peak COVID – with stay at home mandates in place – it was often difficult for growers to gain access to their gardens if they weren’t located in their own backyards, so we switched our Katie’s Krops Grower model (which offered funding in the form of gift cards) to all-inclusive Grow At Home kits. This helped to ensure that our younger growers had access to everything they needed to plant gardens in their own backyards. Subsequently, we have decided to keep this model, making it more accessible for young people to start their own gardens and provide for those in need in their communities.
We also launched our Seeds for Change Program in April of 2020, where we ship seeds across the United States to individuals and families free of charge to allow them to plant the seeds of change in their communities. It has been a great way to introduce younger kids and families to gardening while providing fresh vegetables for themselves, their neighbors, and those in need in their communities!
Recently, we have seen a large increase in young people and families who are interested in gardening and it has been so wonderful. We have also seen a large increase in volunteers, many of them young people. I am a firm believer in the power of youth, and I love seeing volunteers as young as 2 coming out to work in the garden and developing a love for gardening.
With rising gas prices, food shortages, and supply-chain issues I believe that there will be an increase in home and community gardens. There is truly nothing better than harvesting produce from your own backyard! There are so many incredible benefits to gardening: it’s good for the environment; it teaches young people how to be good stewards to the Earth; it lets people see where their food comes from; it allows individuals and families to provide for themselves; and eating fresh produce has so many health benefits.
Can you talk a little bit about the therapeutic benefits of gardening and growing your own crops?
There are many therapeutic benefits to gardening! One of our projects is working with a local school for autistic children to create a sensory garden. A sensory garden allows these children to explore sight, touch, taste, and sound in a peaceful environment that does not allow for overstimulation. We also have several Katie’s Krops Growers with special needs who use their gardens as a therapy tool. We had an autistic Katie’s Krops Grower who loved gardening so much he chose it as his vocation!
We are working hard to make our flagship garden handicap accessible and welcome to everyone to come volunteer. The garden is such a magical place and there are so many lessons to be learned there. I firmly believe that there is nothing better than being outside and embracing nature. Far too much of our time is spent behind a screen. We need to break away and get back to our roots, both metaphorically and literally. Digging in the dirt and reconnecting with the earth can be so beneficial for mental health, not to mention you get delicious food in the process.
To date, you’ve managed to set up over one hundred gardens across the U.S. – an astonishing achievement, but one that must have come with a lot of challenges. If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice – knowing all that you know now – what would it be?
If I could go back in time and give myself a piece of advice, it would be to remember that everything happens for a reason. This is something I’ve believed for a long time, but often when we’re faced with challenges, it can be a hard thing to remember.
Over the past fourteen years, I’ve been faced with a tremendous number of obstacles, but I’ve also seen and experienced so many incredible and amazing things.
Ten years ago, I remember walking up to the doors of a local soup kitchen with my mom, a basket of vegetables in hand, and there was a sign that read, “Due to lack of funding, we’ve had to close our doors.” I remember that came as such a shock. Only three days earlier, the soup kitchen had been bustling with activity and now it was closed. And it was at that moment that I knew what I needed to do: I needed to be there for the people who had, just three days earlier, relied on the soup kitchen for food. And that is how I turned one of my greatest obstacles into an opportunity to create positive change: from it, Katie’s Krops Dinners were born.
My friends and I came together, and with the head of food services from my school, we used the vegetables from my garden to create hot, healthy, and free meals for anyone in the community to avail of. The dinners were held at a local church once a month and served anywhere from 150 to 200 guests!
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I felt an urge to do more, and so we transitioned Katie’s Krops Dinners from a sit-down meal services to Katie’s Krops Meal Distribution, a drive-thru style meal service where individuals received meals in to-go boxes through their car windows.
Finally, how can those reading this article support your work?
There are several ways that those reading this article can support us!
We have an Amazon wish list on our website, https://katieskrops.com/the-wish-list/, and we greatly appreciate monetary donations to support our meal distributions and our gardens.
Finally, if you have any extra produce in your gardens, please donate them to a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen or individuals and families struggling with food insecurity in your community.