Ian's Giving Garden

Providing a solution to hunger through gardening

Photo of Ian McKenna
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Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Instagram: @Garden_for_Hunger Twitter: @ianmckenna2004 iansgivinggarden.weebly.com

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Prior to the pandemic, hunger affected 1 in 4 kids in our region saw some of the highest food insecurity rates in the county. I saw classmates going hungry so I had to help. Hunger negatively impacts a child's behavior, ability to focus and do well in school and health. Last month our food bank saw an increase of 207%. Hunger is a rapidly growing issue given the current pandemic. I hope to grow beyond my community to state and national levels.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

For the past 7 years, I have been growing and donating produce in the Austin community. I began with growing food at my elementary school with the hopes of providing food access to families who were in need. The program has expanded to five area schools in addition to my backyard and a local farm that donates space to me. To date, my gardens have provided 19,325lbs of organic produce to families in Austin. To give an idea of how much food that is- That’s just over 9.5 tons of food. 1 ton of food would feed about 1550 for a day, 200 people for a week or 50 people for an entire month. Food banks estimate the amount donated to equal 23,190 meals provided to people. Since my growing space is limited and social distancing prohibits us from going to the schools, I've activated neighbors to help grow in their yards and providing seeds to kids in other regions to they can help grow veggies to donate to fight hunger during this pandemic. I'm offering online and text gardening advice to to those reaching out to me. Together we are going to help provide food during these uncertain times though victory style gardens.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

STEM and gardening occur naturally for me. Planting gardens is more than just aesthetics, it’s an important source of food for many. Growing your own food saves money- you have the cost of maintaining the garden, but you’re not having to buy produce from the grocery store or farmers market. It saves you time- you don’t have to drive to the store, wait in lines, bag your food, drive home, and all. If you need tomatoes for your salad, you walk out back and pick it off the vine. Not traveling to the store reduces the use of fossil fuels and lowers our carbon footprint. When I work with classes, I not only taught the students how to grow, but we took the time to learn about plant life cycles, photosynthesis, about the effects of weather; looking at engineering and design when planning the gardens as well as location to make sure the garden gets enough sun; math when planting and spacing or planning square foot gardens. All of these areas are important to ensure we maximize space, light, etc to ensure we don't lose crops to pests or disease. As a result of the recent COVID-19 crisis, I am looking to find new ways to connect with families who are in need of assistance using technology.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

When I was 8 years old, a classroom discussion about holiday traditions led to the realization that a classmate had never had a visit from Santa or meal outside of school. My family and her teacher arranged a surprise Christmas for her family. Witnessing the events really made an impact and made me ask deeper questions about hunger in my community. After being turned away from volunteering because I didn't meet the age requirements, I decided I wasn't going to let that stop my and developed my own a solution- a garden where students at my school could have free access to the food they needed. I was fortunate to have the support of adults who believed in me and encouraged me to make the garden happen. It helped me build my confidence and follow my dream to help others.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

Ian’s Giving Garden is designed to produce food for anyone facing hunger or food insecurity. But, my gardens are more than just giving people a helping hand, I’m constantly exploring new ways to educate people so they learn how to grow their own food and cook the donations they receive. I’m stepping up to be a Changemaker because I’ve seen the impact I’ve been able to make and I realize that by igniting a community, we can tackle issues like hunger.

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

In the beginning, planning, designing and soliciting community support made the biggest impact on bringing my project to life. Having the community vested in the project helped ensure the success of the program. At the schools where I've turned the gardens over to the school, they are vested in caring for the gardens and continue to grow the programs. When there is ownership, there is much higher success. Students are excited to learn, eat healthy and teachers are excited to teach.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

One main difference about my program is that it's 100% youth led. All activities are led by youth and works from a peer to peer model. I believe in providing service opportunity to youth of all ages, demographics and abilities. Anyone who wants to help is invited to help! Studies show that if youth are engaged in volunteering, they're more likely to vote an be involved in civic engagement as an adult. We try to foster service learning and develop volunteer opportunities for youth. When we find similar projects, we look to collaborate to have a broader reach rather than duplicate services.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

I had already been making plans for this summer's garden, but when COVID-19 shuttered our city, I immediately started identifying needs and began scaling plans to increase growing. That first week we were sheltered in place, I have donated over 100 lbs of fresh produce to 15 families in need. After learning that food banks were not providing fresh food, I immediately got creative to expand my gardens. I began using grow bags on the patio and solicited help from neighbors who had space to plant in their yards. We have 23 families in the neighborhood growing food in their yards and another 43 households helping in our city on patios of their apartments, yards and on windowsills. We've sent seeds out to 67 children across the US and are still shipping out seeds. While we're having to shift gears to adapt, we are working hard to meet the growing demand for food.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are continuously looking for ways to improve our project and address community need. Earlier this year, we began adding a component teaching cooking lessons so those receiving donated produce could learn to prepare the foods. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are looking to bring those lessons to social media platforms to help people learn from home. We are planning to work with an app developer to help connect people with locally sourced produce to keep food local. As part of this project, we'll be working to help farmers donate unsold produce to those facing hunger. We're planning to sell boxes of produce with a buy one, give one model as well as selling my famous salsa when we have extra ingredients to help keep the project sustainable.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

I've not only worked to show other youth that you can come up innovative solutions to address community issues despite obstacles. Our fun peer to peer education model has impactful for students and they'e eager to learn. Changing my model from strictly donating to food banks to hosting pop-up farmers market to get the food into food deserts and hard hit neighborhoods has allowed volunteers to have a first hand experience of seeing the impact they are making by growing and donating our produce.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Supporting each other and collaborating is a great way to increase the reach our individual projects can have on the environment. We recently met a Changemaker who has a Monarch butterfly project. While I have a few butterfly plants near my garden, I know that increasing the amount of native plants that pollinators love would also benefit my vegetable plants. Supporting this other project will likely increase harvest yields in my project, which will help feed more people and save Monarchs.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

I've found that the best ways to engage others are to share the story of how and why I got started or to invite them to a distribution event so they can see first hand the impact we are making. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, once people hear about my project, they immediate ask how they can help. Gardening is a great way to be physically active and people feel like they are serving a purpose while in quarantine. People I've never met are sharing pictures of their garden progress and donations.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Probably - 16.7%

Maybe - 16.7%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 33.3%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 50%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 16.7%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 100%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 16.7%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 80%

4- Yes, I think so - 0%

3- Maybe - 0%

2- Probably not - 20%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 80%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 20%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 80%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 60%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 60%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 33.3%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 66.7%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 33.3%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 33.3%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jeff Thorsen

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