Ian's Giving Garden & Frutas Frescas Orchard

I created, designed and implemented a project addressing hunger in my community by providing healthy food to families facing food insecurity

Photo of Ian McKenna
10 23

Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Education

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Twitter: @ianmckenna2004 Instagram: @garden_for_hunger

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?

Texas has one of the highest food insecurity rates for children in the country. 1 in 4 children in Texas struggle with hunger. Children facing hunger have increased risk of health issues, higher risk of anxiety and depression, and an increased chance of having behavioral problems or lack of focus in school. Every child should have equal access to education and shouldn't have to worry about where their next meal will be coming from.

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

By utilizing my gardening knowledge, I have implemented a gardening program that encourages youth to volunteer in the building and maintenance of edible gardens which have become a food source for families struggling with food insecurity. At 15 years old, I have completed our county master gardener program and volunteer to introduce outdoor education and edible gardening to underserved children. I believe in the saying;"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." The children at the school tend to the gardens, assist in harvesting, help prepare a dish that class shares and produce is sent home with those identified by the school counselor. We've developed a 'Pop-up Farmers Market' model to provide a food distribution process for produce grown at my home garden. This model both serves food deserts in high need areas as well as adds dignity to the food distribution process. Our customers are able to shop at our farm stand and choose the amount and type of produce they receive. Additionally, we provide healthy recipes and do cooking demos to help educate people on how to prepare the food they are receiving.

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

Nearly 7 years ago, a classroom discussion about holiday traditions led to a conversation about hunger and poverty. While children chattered about Santa, 6 year old Selena burst into tears sharing that Santa had never visited her house because she believed Santa hated poor people and never had a meal outside of school. I helped organize a surprise visit from Santa to give the girl the Christmas she never had. Although there was a language barrier, I saw the impact that act of kindness made and was inspired to do more. My age prevented me from volunteering at local non-profits, but I was determined to help my classmates who were hungry. I submitted my garden idea to a contest held by a children's author. He sent me a $50 check for 'seed money' along with an inspiring note and it was at that moment I knew I could achieve my goal because people believed in me and my idea.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

Through garden education and awareness about childhood hunger, we will be the generation to end hunger. Using organic gardening practices to protect the environment and promote local ecosystems we provide children with healthy food options without exposure to chemicals or pesticides. Beyond nourishing bodies, we are nourishing mind by teaching food literacy and encourage youth leadership and engagement.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

When a volunteer or group get involved in my project, they have the opportunity to see the entire process from start to finish. They can come out for garden work days where we prep the gardens or plant seeds and transplants, participate in planning and hosting a cooking demo or coming out to a pop-up farmers market produce distribution. They get to see how their work impacts the others from seed to plate. We used to donate directly to a food pantry, but my volunteers never got to see how the donations benefitted the people who receive it. The model we created allows volunteers to see the direct impact and hear the stories from the people receiving the donations. In between work days, youth gather for planning and collaboration to select recipes, cooking demos, garden lessons, etc. We encourage and foster leadership and offer opportunities to youth who don't usually get invited to lead.

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

While there are other school gardens and food distribution programs, in our area none are 100% youth led. We focus on a comprehensive approach. We don't just garden, we provide gardening education by teaching how to grow their own food. We teach people ideas on how to prepare or cook the food and emphasize that healthy food can taste good. We target produce distribution in food deserts and high need communities using a model that provides meaningful engagement. We also engage volunteers from all walks inviting underrepresented populations to participate in hopes of creating youth leadership.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Over the past 7 years, we have grown and donated over 18,500 lbs of organically grown produce to families in need. This has directly helped 774 families in our community facing hunger and feed insecurity. Over 1,500 volunteers have participated in the project and I have educated over 4,500 people through gardening lessons, cooking demos and speaking engagements. My sister and I have put in over 5,000 service hours.

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

Over this next year, we plan to expand our education activities to a local farmers market to offer monthly opportunities to the community. Each month will have a different focus including teaching seed starting clinics, offering cooking demos with seasonal produce and doing community outreach. Additionally, I plan to create a YouTube channel to share recipes and cooking ideas while bringing attention to the issue of childhood hunger. I also plan to create a cookbook using recipes contributed by our youth volunteers to provide an additional resource to those receiving our donations. I hope to include more youth in middle and high school from underserved communities to inspire leadership and encouraging civic engagement.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Web/Mobile Development

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

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

35 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 77.1%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 11.4%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 11.4%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 80%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 14.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 2.9%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 2.9%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 77.1%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 8.6%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 11.4%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 2.9%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 14.8%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 7.4%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 3.7%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 79.4%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 14.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 2.9%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 2.9%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


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Photo of Senior Centers Feedback

We have enjoyed meeting Ian and learning about to grow our own food on a budget. He has done so much for the senior citizens and families in our community who struggle daily. This young man is a blessing!

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