11/12/2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Ever since she was a little girl, Katie Stagliano
knew how to make things grow.
Four years ago, Katie planted the seedling for a 40-pound cabbage that would end up making meals for hundreds of hungry people in her Summerville, S.C., community.
Now 14, she's been growing and feeding people ever since, with her nonprofit Katie's Krops
that now seeds 55 kid-grown gardens in 21 states and produces thousands of pounds of vegetables.
In September, the cabbage that started her crusade landed the Pinewood Prep 8th grader in New York City – and in the company of President Bill Clinton, as one of six recipients of this year's Clinton Global Citizen Awards. "He's really into science," says Katie. "He talked to me about photosynthesis."
Katie works with groups addressing childhood health and nutrition issues and is part of an upcoming documentary Give Me Your Hungry
. She's also been featured on the Great American Country cable network's Great American Heroes with Trace Adkins
"He's a country boy," says Katie of Adkins. "He makes fun of me and my mom for wearing gardening gloves."
Her now-famous cabbage seedling that she planted in her family's backyard made 275 meals (supplemented with ham and rice) at a homeless shelter in Katie's community.
Says Katie, "I thought, 'Wow, with one cabbage I helped feed that many people? I could do much more.' "
She started other gardens – in her subdivision, on donated land and on a field at school – seeded with donated plants and tended by school and community volunteers Katie recruited.
Those vegetables and volunteer networks have sprouted, feeding growing numbers of the needy. Her nonprofit, started in 2010, offers grants of garden center gift cards to fledgling gardeners ages 9-16 to start their own gardens, with a new grant application cycle that goes through Feb. 12. Katie hopes to eventually have gardens in all 50 states.
Katie is active in monthly suppers in Summerville, where kids cook vegetables from their gardens and feed anywhere from 50-150 people. A November dinner in a neighboring community transformed an elementary school into a restaurant for several hundred students and their families.
"A lot of these kids have never been to a real restaurant before and they're not really eating as healthy as they should be," she says.
Despite being thankful for the oversized vegetable that started it all, Katie offers a tiny admission: "I don't really eat cabbage that much. I know I'm supposed to probably love it but it's not one of my favorite vegetables," she says. "But I mean, it's not that
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