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From Seedlings to Servings: 11-Year-Old Grows Tons of Veggies for the Homeless

Ananta F. Benvenuto Tuesday, July 27, 2010
When third-grader Katie Stagliano inadvertently grew a 40-pound cabbage in her back yard, she decided to donate it to a local soup kitchen — feeding 275 homeless people in the process. Three years later, the inspired 11-year-old has grown more than 4,000 pounds of veggies for the needy.


It sounds like a sub-plot from Jack and the Beanstalk. When Katie Stagliano brought a single cabbage seedling home from school as part of a third-grade class project, the 9-year-old planted it in the soil in a tiny plot in her family's back yard. She watered and weeded appropriately. Next thing she knew, that seedling grew into a monster-sized, 40-pound cabbage.

None of her classmates' cabbages grew so large. Katie didn't even add any sort of magic fertilizers, or receive any special gardening tips from adults. "Absolutely not," her mom, Stacy, tells Tonic. The biggest known OS Cross cabbage ever — the "OS" in the name stands for "oversize" — was 55 pounds, according to Bonnie Plants (the company that provided free seedlings to Stagliano's class as part of a nationwide school gardening initiative). So this wasn't a record, but it certainly was something.

Some might call it beginner's luck, yet others might call it fate—because what Katie did next turned her story into a heartwarming tale that's touching people all over the world. Katie decided that her green-leafy pride and joy should be donated to a local soup kitchen, where it was made into meals for 275 people (with the help of some ham and rice). "I thought, 'Wow, with that one cabbage I helped feed that many people?'" says Katie, now entering sixth grade. "I could do much more than that."

So with the help of her parents, Katie started her own nonprofit, Katie's Krops, and began planting vegetable gardens specifically to feed the needy. She has six right now, including one the length of a football field at her school in her hometown of Summerville, S.C. Classmates, her family and other people in the community help plant and water, and Bonnie Plants donates seedlings. This past year, Katie took her commitment to a new level, providing soup kitchens with over 2,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. Katie and her helpers are now harvesting the spring planting, and another 1,200 pounds will be donated by October.

"She just walks in like a proud little girl with her treasures in her arm," says Sue Hanshaw, CEO of Tricounty Family Ministries, the soup kitchen in Charleston, S.C., where Katie first brought her 40-pound crucifer. "I love what she exudes, caring for others. It's made a big impact on a lot of people."

Says Elois Mackey, 49, a formerly homeless mother of two who has received a weekly vegetable delivery from Katie since September: "She is showing that you can help other people no matter how young you are. I love the vegetables she brings."


Katie is a well-spoken 11-year-old who juggles the life of a school child with that of a world-changer. Swim practice, tennis matches, and studying (she has had the highest GPA of her class for the last four years) are sandwiched between daily waterings and tending.  "It makes me feel good," says Katie. "I feel bad for those people who have to go to Palmetto house [a homeless shelter where she and residents recently planted a garden], but I feel good that I'm helping people."

Katie's desire to help as well as create sprouted early. "She's always been very inquisitive and wants to go above and beyond," says her mom, Stacy, 41. "It's like, 'What about this and why aren't we doing this?"

Since the age of four, Katie has placed first in competitions that include inventing a toothbrush now on sale that teaches water conservation, for the Dr. Fresh company. "When you put the toothbrush in your mouth to brush," says Katie, "it plays a rap song that says, 'Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, and you can save eight gallons of water.'"
As a third grader, upset about a local drought, Katie decided her school, Pinewood Prep, needed to conserve water. Katie wrote the headmaster over Christmas break, suggesting how the school could better conserve. Soon after, the high school's advanced placement environmental studies teacher called to meet with her and work on a water conservation project. Katie's suggestions for rain barrels to catch water and other ideas were soon implemented throughout the school. "As a parent, I am so moved," says Stacy. "I say to her, 'I hope some day when you are a parent, you have a kid who is as amazing as you so you can see it from a mom's perspective.'"

Much of the thanks goes to Stacy and Katie's devoted group of helpers, including her 7-year-old brother, John Michael, who has toiled in two of the gardens to plan pumpkin patches.

Since February of last year, master gardener Lisa Turocy has not only sat shoulder to shoulder with Katie planting and giving advice, she's transformed her entire front yard into a garden with 600 seedlings. "If I can help her change the world," says Turocy, "that's awesome."

Locals Linda and Bob Baker, golf professionals with 41 acres of farmland set along a rutted dirt road on the outskirts of Summerville, gave Katie some acreage for a garden. Bob lugged his John Deer tractor to Katie's school to till the soil, and taught Katie how to drive the machine. Says Bob: "It makes you feel so good to see someone that young with that amount of compassion, step in there and really make a difference."

Since she started, Katie has been contacted by schools and parents as far away as South Africa looking for advice on planting gardens of their own, specifically to help needy individuals in their communities. And Katie’s story has inspired supporters to donate to Katie’s Krops to help her buy irrigation equipment, fertilizer and other supplies for her six gardens.

As one of Katie's best friends told Tonic, most kids their age mainly like to watch TV and play on computers; they don't like to do what Katie does. Another friend, Anna Semar, 11, who was inspired by Katie to grow her own vegetable garden, says: "If there were more people like Katie the world would be a better place."

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