Katie Stagliano,is from Summerville, South Carolina and is the founder of Katie’s Krops, a not-for-profit with the mission to empower youth to start and maintain vegetable gardens of all sizes and donate the harvest to help feed people in need, as well as to assist and inspire others to do the same.
The idea for Katie’s Krops began when Katie was in the 3rd grade. In 2008 Katie brought home a tiny cabbage seedling from school as part of the Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. She tended to her cabbage and cared for it until it grew to an amazing 40 pounds. Knowing her cabbage was special she donated to Tri-County Family Ministries a local soup kitchen where she served her cabbage to 275 guests of the soup kitchen. Katie decided that day to start a vegetable garden and donate the harvest to those in need.
To date, Katie has donated thousands and thousands of pounds of healthy food to those in need.
You can learn more about Katie by visiting her at https://katieskrops.com
Transcription of Today's show is below!
Maria Fuller Well welcome Katie, I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today! When I heard about your story, and I started researching you and diving into the work that you started, goodness, like 12 years ago already, I was just so amazed and impressed on how this one little idea that you had when you were younger, has sparked into this amazing mission and nonprofit that you're running. I'd love for you to start out by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself, your age, if you're comfortable sharing your age, and the amazing work that you're doing.
Katie Stagliano Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here today. So I am actually 21 years old, and I'm a senior at the College of Charleston. I'm majoring in communications and a minor in leadership change and social responsibility. I will be graduating in May and then going back to my not for profit, Katie's Krops to work full time and take over as the president, so I'm really excited about that, and I'm just really excited about what the future holds.
Maria Fuller Awesome. So, Katie's Krops, this is an idea that sparked in 2008. Can you talk a little about that?
Katie Stagliano So in 2008, I was in the third grade, and my school did something called the Bonnie Plants third grade cabbage program, and third graders would get tiny cabbage seedlings. My teacher told us to go home, plant the cabbage seedling in our backyard, and just to see what we could grow. So I did just that. My little brother and I found a corner of our backyard. I planted my cabbage seedling in it and then every day I would come home from school and I would water and weed around it. I live on a golf course so there had been deer that had been spotted on the golf course and in the neighborhood that were actually eating my neighbors shrubs. One of my neighbors came to me and was like, hey, we've had deer in our yard, I don't want them to touch your cabbage. So I actually built a cabbage cage around it, which was essentially four wooden posts with chicken wire wrapped around it. And it did the trick and protected my cabbage from being anyones late night snack. My cabbage just continued to grow and grow and grow. It was about the size of my four year old brother and I was like this cabbage is far too big for my family! Every night before I sat down to dinner, my dad would always tell us just how lucky we were to sit down to a nice healthy meal, and how there were some families who weren't as fortunate as us, who would either go to bed hungry or rely on soup kitchens for what might be their only meal of the day. That's when I got the idea that quite literally changed my life forever. I decided that I wanted to donate my cabbage to a soup kitchen to help feed families in need. So I asked my mom if she can help me find the perfect home for my cabbage and we found a soup kitchen called tri-county family ministries, which was about 30 minutes away from my house. One Wednesday morning in May of 2008, my entire family loaded up the cabbage in the back of our SUV, and we drove down to Tri County. This whole day and this whole experience was just something that changed my life in so many ways. When I was nine, I didn't really understand how big of an issue hunger was, and how it affected people just like my family, and just like my brother and I. People who had fallen down on hard times, whether they had gotten sick, they had lost their jobs, their homes had burned down in a fire. There was just so many different things that a lot of times were out of their control, but it made it difficult for them to put food on the table every night. So after seeing all of those people in line at the soup kitchen as soon as I got there, all the people in line began giving me hugs and saying thank you and just how grateful that they were for me to be bringing this cabbage to them. Then I was introduced to the director of Tri-County Miss Sue. And she welcomed me with open arms. She gave me a tour of Tri-County and introduced me to all the volunteers. Then we weighed my cabbage, which turned out to weigh 40 pounds, oh my gosh, which was insane! I did not know that vegetables could get to be that big.
And so Miss Sue actually invited me back to serve my cabbage to all the guests the soup kitchen. So I went back that Friday, and was actually able to serve my cabbage to 275 guests at the soup kitchen.
Being able to see everybody that came through the line made me want to do more to help these people and I thought if one cabbage can help to feed 275 people, then imagine how many people a garden could feed. So I asked my mom, I said I want to do more. I want to grow more vegetables and I want to give them to the people at Tri County. So I started with a vegetable garden in my backyard. And then I approached my school. I was in the fourth grade at this time, and I told them about how I was really passionate about donating food to Tri County and helping to feed people that were in need. My school gave me a plot of land the size of a football field, gosh, and said, this is your land, like you can do whatever you want with it. We're fully supportive of you. And so that was just incredible. And then we just started more and more gardens and Katie's Krops basically just grew from there.
Maria Fuller I'm tearing up jus listening to this and like all of these stories that I hear when I talk with girls just like you that are doing these things, It is so amazing to me.
You know looking at what girls are going through today in terms of mental health crisis and not feeling good about themselves, their self esteem and their confidence. I can only imagine what that must have felt like for you in the third grade. To see how this little seedling, this tiny little thing, first of all grew to be a 40 pound cabbage. I can't even imagine what that looks like. But then to go and see the impact that you at nine years old, created for other people, how did that feel for you?
Katie Stagliano It was honestly, just the most incredible feeling. I think people always talk about how giving back gives you just the best feeling. But it really does and especially being so young when it all happened. I had so many people and so many adults who were like, are you sure like this is really what you want to do? And I was like, Yes, like I'm really passionate about it. Once they saw the difference that I was making and what I was doing, I was just amazed by the amount of people that were standing behind me and supporting me and supporting my dreams at such a young age. They were like, wow, you're actually making such a big impact, like what can we do to help? For me being nine years old at the time, it was it was an incredible feeling. And I just knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Maria Fuller That's incredible.
So one of the things I talk a lot about is about finding purpose, how it's really important for girls, as young as we can, to find purpose in their life. Purpose is not necessarily the thing that you're going to do for the rest of your life, but an activity or something that you're doing in which you realize that you can create impact and change and feel a sense of power in yourself. Like acknowledging that I have the potential because of what I'm doing to impact others and how that can help them through areas of their life as they grow up as they start dealing with peer issues. Or, you know, the drama, the girl drama that we talk about all day long.
And how as they get older in those tween and teen years, how holding on to that sense of purpose and coming back to it helps girls push through those hard times because they know that they are more than just those small circles and those small situations. Do you find that that impacted you?
Because I mean, this happened when you were nine, you're 21 years old now. So you went through middle school, you went through high school, and you're finishing up with college.
Katie Stagliano I think I definitely had a bit of a different experience in school because of Katie's Krops. I was constantly either going out to the garden to work, traveling for Katie's Krops and things like that. I think it really shaped me to be the person that I was today. There was definitely times, I'm not going to lie where I was involved with the drama, everyone's involved with the drama, but I think that having Katie's Krops and something that I was so passionate about, and that I felt like I was really making a difference and making an impact, made me realize that yes, this drama is unfortunate and things like this, like you can't stop them from happening. It's just a part of growing up.
Going through all these awkward phases and everything. I think it just put everything into perspective for me and helped me to realize that, yes, this is the not fun part of growing up and there's some things that you don't want to deal with, but you have to, but then having something to fall back on and realizing that yes, I might have drama with this person but also after school today, I'm going to harvest vegetables and provide someone who may not otherwise have a meal with something to eat. That's just something that's the most amazing feeling a it really makes you grateful for everything that you have in your life and that you have going on. Just being able to be there for somebody else kind of puts all of the things into perspective and all of the drama and the things that I might be going through in my life into perspective.
Maria Fuller I love that.
That's so incredible. So how so you go through this experience and you do this and you love it and you want to do more? How do you jump to the idea of creating a nonprofit? Like, where did that idea come from? And how did you at a young age, obviously you had parents and people around you that were helping you, how did you get around to doing that? Because I think for a lot of people, it sounds so overwhelming and scary, right? Like to take something and say now I'm going to turn this into something bigger. It becomes like, almost paralyzing. How did that happen for you?
Katie Stagliano So I can definitely say it is kind of scary to look at something and then say, Okay, I want to make this into a not for profit. But I think for us, what we did is my parents and I are big proponents on taking baby steps, because not everything has to be one giant leap. Like you can start with something as small as literally planting a cabbage seedling and just like watch it grow from from there, so I think just taking everything one step at a time and looking at it like that. I had actually been to a lot of different events with other youth and other kids who are doing things to make a difference in their community. I was talking to this other girl who had an organization and she was telling me about how she had become a not for profit, and how down the line, they thought that that would be something that would be beneficial to Katie's Krops, to help us be able to help more people. So they kind of took us under their wing, and helped us out and walked us through all the steps. So definitely just receiving support from so many people was so helpful, that and we really did take it one step at a time and go towards the smaller things and focus on one goal at a time. I was only 10 or 11 at this time, so I wasn't so much involved in putting it into a not for profit and making that transition as my parents were, but they were incredibly supportive. We had so many people that were just incredibly supportive and helped us make that step. I think one of the key things that was just amazing was the support that I actually received from youth and kids all across the country telling me that they thought what I was doing was amazing that they also had dreams to end hunger. That was one of the big reasons why I wanted to become a not for profit was because I wanted to be able to provide funding and actually help these kids across the country, follow their dreams and also be able to start gardens and help feed people in need in their community. I knew that I wouldn't be where I was today without their support, their encouraging words, them saying what can I do to help and I wanted to pay it forward and help them as well.
Maria Fuller Yeah, that's so amazing. So I really hear that that because you started doing this work and you started being recognized as a youth that was doing life changing work that it opened up a whole world, a different community for you, right? Because of all these other kids that were also doing really cool stuff. Then from there, the collaboration and then the mentorship just kind of came together. So it was that baby step forward. It's awesome that you're surrounded by people that took you under their wing and helped you to do that. So you talked about how Katie's Krops was set up to be a nonprofit so that you could help other kids. So how does that work? What are you guys doing? What's this nonprofit all about?
Katie Stagliano So we started Katie's Krops and originally, the goal was just to work with the gardens and start vegetable gardens and then donate the produce to those in need. We've kind of grown to include some other things as well. Primarily we focus on growing vegetable gardens and helping others to follow their dreams and grow vegetable gardens as well and donate the produce to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, anyone in need in the community. After I had started several gardens in Sumerville, which is my hometown, I had heard from so many kids across the country who shared the same dream as me. They were like, we think what you're doing is amazing, is there anything we can do to help? So I talked to my dad and I said, I really want to be able to give out money and help other kids to be able to start gardens in their community. So we started the grant program over nine years ago, and that I still remember the first grant application I ever got from a girl who was in Massachusetts, and she was talking about how she really wanted to start a garden in her community, and involve the senior citizens and involve youth and involve everyone in planting the garden, harvesting and just feeding people in need. She was like, when I was younger, I was definitely I was on emergency food programs and things like that. And now I want to give back and so the first grant cycle I ended up giving 10 grants to kids so that they could start gardens in their community. So we would give them money to a home improvement store, a garden store, something like that. They could go in and purchase the supplies to build the garden and then they would send us pictures of their garden and kind of keep us updated, tell us where their produce is being donated and things like that. Throughout the years, our program has evolved. Now we are a family of Katies Krops growers. We have so many gardens in 33 states across the United States and right now we have 100 vegetable gardens, which is incredible. All of the kids are just so passionate and they do the most amazing things. We have kids that are growing on acres of land, we have kids growing on rooftops in New York City. We have a garden where every year it transitions from this third grade class and they add something new to the garden. So it's incredible. Just to see All these different kids doing amazing things in their community and then putting their spin on it. It really did just start from me growing that one cabbage seedling, and approaching my school, to then hearing from other kids and wanting to give back to them. Now we're at 100 Gardens in 33 states and I could have never imagined that any of that would ever happen.
Maria Fuller All from one little seedling Isn't that incredible?
Katie Stagliano It is. It's amazing. People always talk about the ripple effect, and how you never know how your one small action can affect other people. I think this is so true because there's so many instances where you really never know how far the impact is going. We'll give vegetables to a family that's in need and then they will in turn, go and share some of the vegetables that we gave to them with their friends. Even though they're really in need. They know their friends are in need as well, and they'll pay it forward and share with them. So it's amazing because you never know You're one small action, it could be donating extra canned goods from your pantry. It could be giving someone that's homeless on the street, a blanket or something like that, you could change their life forever, you never know. And so I think that's just amazing to think about how one small action can really make a huge impact.
Maria Fuller Yeah, that's so amazing. So you're giving out grants to kids to start Gardens, so part of this must be fundraising, you must be fundraising for money for the nonprofit to be able to give those grants out. So are you working with larger corporations? Are you raising your funds through events? How are you putting all of that together?
Katie Stagliano So we apply for a lot of grants for our funding through other organizations. We also have companies that have sponsored us, whether they're in the fresh produce industry, grocery stores, Garden Supply companies, just all sorts of different companies that believe in Katie's Krops and believe in our mission and want to help other youth. Fundraising is something that I'm not going to lie, it can be a little bit difficult. It can be kind of out of your comfort zone to reach out to people. But I found that all the people that I've reached out to and ask for support have been so willing to help and have thought what we're doing is amazing and really believe in the power of youth, and how we are the next generation, and we are the future leaders and future philanthropists of this country. It's so important to just empower youth and show them the amazing difference that they can make, and how starting one vegetable garden can lead to so much more. I love how, especially when I was younger, I never saw the obstacles in things. I never thought I can't do this because of xy and z. I was always like, Well, why can't we do that? And I think that's amazing because you don't see the obstacles. We're not like, why can't we do this? And so we're just focused on the difference that we're able to make and things like that, and I think that's something that makes it so amazing to empower youth and see just the difference that they can really make.
Maria Fuller Absolutely, I agree 100% and that's why I'm bringing on amazing girls like you to share these stories. Because, you know, as the younger generation, you don't have in your head, what unfortunately for many of us, as adults have experienced or have felt pressured by society. Some things that go thorugh our head is who are you to do that, you don't have the education to do that, you don't have the resources to do that. But when you're younger, you don't see that, you see an idea, you have a vision, you have a hope and you have courage. You know you still have magic. So I think that's why it's so important that we encourage girls to go after those things that they want and to think about how they want to serve their communities or what are the changes that they'd like to see in the world and then have them go after it because people are more willing to help youth. I think, you know, the fact that you went and you did make those baby steps to create that nonprofit and now you have that organization, right? That gives you a little bit of credibility. That's your credibility and standing right there. Then having your age I think is an asset to come after these companies and say, Hey, this is what we're doing. Can you help us? I think they're almost more willing to jump in and help someone that's younger, and doing the work. And I think that's why I've seen so many youth be able to be impactful faster than if it were to be an adult actually trying to start that off and you guys have less, less head trash, less stuff in there telling, you know, you can't you know.. I've got two young girls and they're always like, Well, why not? Why can't we do that? And I'm always like, I'm like, I guess I can't really give you good reason. Why not? Other than gravity doesn't work that way because I do get those questions sometimes. (laugh)
So Katie Krops also I hear you have a camp.
Katie Stagliano Yes. So we had a Katie's Krops camp for several years. It was the WP raw farms in Peele in South Carolina. It was amazing, I would love to be able to meet all of the Katie's Krops growers, because we are a family and they all have incredible stories and are making incredible impacts in their community. But unfortunately, we don't have the funding for me to be able to fly out to all these different states and things like that. So it was a great opportunity to bring all of the youth together, we would have 15 or so campers come every year. We would bring them out to these farms and spend several days together and we would get to bond with one another and just create these lasting friendships. And also we would teach them new and different gardening techniques and things like that they can bring back to their gardens and help feed even more people in the community. So overall, it was an incredible experience because it brought everybody closer together and just created these friendships and also help them to make an even bigger impact in their community.
Maria Fuller That's awesome. So amazing. So what's incredible is this idea has kind of sparked this trajectory for you for your life and the work that you're doing. So I'm really interested in the degree that you're pursuing right now. At the University, can you talk a little bit about it and why you decided to pursue that and how you see that impacting the work that you continue to do with Katie's Krops moving forward.
Katie Stagliano So I decided that I was going to study Communications at the College of Charleston, and that I was going to minor in Leadership change and social responsibility. I think communications is something that I've always been passionate about. I found especially not for profits and work like this it's so important to be a good communicator and to be able to get your message across to the people that you're helping in the community, and then also to people that will support you. So I'm really excited to be able to bring back what I learned to Katie's Krops and kind of help spread the word more about what we're doing, get more people involved, get more people supporting us as well, because that is really the key to success. Then also, I thought that leadership changes, social responsibility was such a great fit. There's so many things that I'm learning through my minor, kind of how to be a good leader, how to get people involved, to engage people that are following you and how to make an even bigger impact. So I think the two of them just go hand in hand super well together, and it'll just make it so much easier to step into a leadership position, kind of with all of this in my back pocket that I've been learning. It's also helped me in college, like putting everything into perspective because of my experiences with Katie's Krops, what I learned, things about leadership, or when I learned certain aspects of communication, I can kind of reference my Katie's Krops experience as well. It helps me to better understand what we're learning and how is really used in the real world.
Maria Fuller Yeah, I love that so amazing that you've picked up on something that for so many girls and boys, it's so hard when you're in high school and all of a sudden, it's like you've been told like all your life, what to study, how to study, how to take a test, how to repeat it back, right? And then all of a sudden, junior year like it, like the light switches and all of a sudden, they're like, Okay, what do you want to go? What do you want to be when you grow up? Right? What do you want to study? And you're like, I don't know the way life has always gone, you've guys have kind of told me that right? But this experience you had probably made it so much easier because you now have that purpose behind you as well, this is what I want to do. What are the action steps I need to get there or to grow or to be better, so You making that selection was probably much easier for you and trying to figure that out.
Katie Stagliano Definitely, I kind of knew, through just my experience with Katie's Krops, I was really interested in communications, because I had experienced it from almost all sides. I had been interviewed before, I had been to different marketing firms. I'd actually seen them, talk to and interview people and then especially just seeing how important it was to get our message out there and to engage other people. I was like, this is something that I really want to work on and want to be able to bring back to Katie's Krops and kind of put our best foot forward because we really don't have like huge staff or anything like that. We have just people that are volunteering and helping us out. My mom is the president while I've been in school and haven't been able to dedicate as much time to Katie's Krops as I would like because I'm also focusing on my education. My dad works on our finances. And then we have a master gardener who helps us out and we have other volunteers as well who are incredible. But it's really, we're not a huge team. We don't have all these people with tons of experience from different things. So that's why I was like, I want to make sure that I can bring as much back to Katie's Krops and really help us as much as I possibly can.
Maria Fuller Yeah, it's amazing and you are an excellent communicator. I've been just marveling the entire time how your language, the way you present is so great. You have like little to no speech, crutches. It's amazing when you talk. I'm sure you've taken a public speaking course or two with that. If not, if it's just natural, then like, that's such an amazing gift. But you know, those are the skills like you've gotten, you're able to apply those skills right away to your work, which will be so rewarding for you to do. What do you see going forward with Katie's Krops? What's your big vision? What would you love to see it turn into?
Katie Stagliano I would love for Katie's Krops to expand to all 50 states, and then even expand to be International. Ultimately, the goal for Katie's Krops is to help be a part of ending hunger, to help be a part of the solution. Because I know it is something that can seem so daunting and like such a big issue. But working together, I think that we can make a dent and we can really work towards ending hunger and ending poverty and things like that. So ultimately, that is our goal. And I would love to start by just having gardens in all 50 states and then having gardens internationally, and just empowering more kids and having them be able to follow their dreams and help end hunger in their community. I think along the way, things have also come up we started our Katie's Krops dinners. We've been doing those we're going on 10 years with those. It's a essentially like a soup kitchen dinner, a garden to table dinner where we take the produce from our gardens, and then whatever we can't grow we purchase and it's for anyone in need in the community here. We do those once a month and we feed anywhere from 150 to 250 people per dinner. And that's something that grew out of the only soup kitchen in the Sumerville area, shutting their doors. I was like, Where are these people going to go? Where are they going to get their food from? And so things like that happen along the way and create these incredible opportunities for us to help make an impact. So I'm sure we'll run into more things like that and more amazing opportunities, like the Katie's Krop centers will come up. I'm excited to see what the future holds with that. But overall, we're just working towards being at all 50 states across the US.
Maria Fuller That's amazing. And can I just commend you on the fact that I want to point this out to our listeners, that you took something that you use the word opportunity, in a situation where other people might have seen it as a problem, and that simple switch of language that you use is so so powerful in creating change. I challenge our listeners to think about how the language that we use can impact the way you see things. You said that the soup kitchen shut down and instead of you saying this was this giant problem, you said, this was an opportunity for us to help even more. That right there to me is so powerful and such a healthy mindset that you have, and is so relevant to why you're so successful in the work that you're doing. Because you're taking that and you're seeing it as this is a place where I can now help even more and I would love for people to think about, you know the girls listening, how you can see things and switching it. This being a horrible thing, but how can we spin this to be positive? How can we use this experience? Cultivate change, to make things better for someone else? Like when you said that I was like, that is so amazing that you have grasped onto that concept at your age where so many adults go on living their lives and never seeing that, you know, focusing on the negative. You, don't, you look for the beautiful light and the positive. And that's so special that you do that.
Katie Stagliano I've really learned through I think my work with Katie's Krops and just growing up that if you do focus on the negatives, then it just, it just puts a dark cloud over everything and it makes it when you could be focusing on the positive focusing on the difference that you're making, opportunities that are coming up from things that might not work out. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And starting with just there's a reason that I picked the cabbage seedling that I did, and that it grew to be 40 pounds, and just everything. I believe that was meant to happen. And so all these things with the soup kitchen, shutting their doors, it was something that was so unfortunate but it led us to starting the Katie's Krop centers, which are probably my favorite part of Katie's Krops because I get to connect hand in hand with the individuals that we're helping. They've become like a second family to me. They've quite literally watched me grow up, they watched me in middle school, they watched me graduate high school, and now I'm about to graduate college, and just them being there for that entire experience and just growing so close with these individuals... There's some of them that we've been helping for the past nine years and I think just the bond, that is something that I'm so grateful for. I'm just so happy that I'm able to have these people in my life. Even though it was something unfortunate that brought us together, I'm so glad that it did and that it created this opportunity because it's amazing. Just see everything go full circle from actually planting the seedlings, harvesting them, preparing them into a meal and then seeing the people that they're helping.