Katie Stagliano was 9 years old when her third-grade teacher gave everyone in class a tiny cabbage seedling as part of the Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program.

Katie dutifully planted the seedling in her backyard where it grew and grew, finally reaching a “freaky” 40 pounds. She and her family were amazed, but agreed it was entirely too much cabbage for them to eat by themselves. They decided to donate the cabbage to a soup kitchen near their home in Summerville, South Carolina.

Katie was excited as they drove there, knowing the cabbage she’d so carefully tended would be helping others. But when she saw all the people waiting in line for what might be their only meal of the day, a bigger dream took hold. Katie decided she wanted to end hunger — not just near her home but everywhere.

“I realized that the faces I saw were families just like mine who had fallen on hard times,” she says. “I thought if my cabbage could help feed 275 people, then imagine how many people a garden could feed.” And with many gardens, she thought, we might even be able to feed the nearly 800 million people worldwide who go hungry every day.

Katie Stagliano inspires kids to tackle hunger Katie Stagliano, now 17, has inspired a growing army of kids around the U.S. to help tackle hunger. (Photo: Stacy Stagliano)

From impossible dream to reality

Today, Katie is 17 and well on her way to achieving that big dream. Shortly after donating her first cabbage, she asked her headmaster at Pinewood Preparatory School, where she’s now a senior, if she could start a vegetable garden and enlist the help of students to maintain it and donate all the produce to those in need. He gave her a plot the size of a football field.

Katie didn’t stop there. With her parents’ help, she founded Katie’s Krops and started accepting applications from 9- to 16-year-olds around the country who wanted to grow vegetables and donate the harvest to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and families.

Those who are selected each year receive funding from donations to start and maintain their garden, gardening supplies and support from a master gardener trained through the state Cooperative Extension system, and the Katie’s Krops team.

Since Katie began her hunger-fighting nonprofit seven years ago, 100 gardens have sprung up across 35 states.

“We have gardens of all different sizes at churches, Boys & Girls Clubs, schools, backyards, community centers and 4-H clubs,” Katie says. “It’s really incredible how the gardens continue growing year after year, and how they’re passed down to other kids when someone goes to college.”

And the impact has been been impressive: The flagship garden at Katie’s school, for instance, produced 1,106 pounds of fresh produce last year, and the top Katie’s Krops grower in 2015 — 12-year-old Madi Sutton from Henderson County, North Carolina — grew and donated more than 2,400 pounds.

You can learn more about Katie’s inspiring story in the video below.

Plan for a lifetime

Katie hopes to go to college next year, perhaps in nearby Charleston so she can continue her work with Katie’s Krops. “I’m interested in majoring in mass communications,” she says. “But whatever I end up majoring in, I know I’ll bring it back and tie it in with Katie’s Krops.”

In addition to maintaining her original backyard garden and the one at her school, Katie and a team of volunteers also host monthly Katie’s Krops Dinners at a local church, providing free garden-to-table meals to anyone in need in the community. Last year, Katie’s team served a total of 2,286 meals.

Katie's Krops Dinner For the past six years, Katie (third from left in back) and volunteers have prepared a free monthly Katie’s Krops Dinner at a local church for anyone seeking a meal. (Photo: Stacy Stagliano)

Katie also helps run Katie’s Krops Camp, which she founded four years ago. Each summer, 10 Katie’s Krops gardeners are invited to attend camp at the W.P. Rawl farm, a sustainable and organic vegetable grower headquartered in Pelion, South Carolina. Campers not only learn new growing techniques (including green methods like using ladybugs to control aphids), but, most importantly, they bond over their shared goals to wipe out hunger.

In 2014, Katie also published a children’s book called “Katie’s Cabbage,” which won the 2015 Carol D. Reiser Children’s Book Award given each year to children’s books that inspire kids to volunteer in their communities.

Her work was also recognized internationally in 2012 when at the age of 14 she became the youngest recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award.

Though proud of her new ventures and accolades, Katie’s focus has remained the same: to end hunger garden by garden.

“My vision is to have 500 gardens in all 50 states, and then I’d love to start Katie’s Krops internationally,” she says. “I know when you put all our growers together — no matter how large or small their efforts — we’re making a huge impact.”