12/08/17 — Heydon Hatcher

This week we are featuring Ian McKenna, a 13-year old kid gardener and hunger advocate, born and raised here in Austin. We first connected with him through Instagram, as he is very active on that social media platform and won one of our Market Bucks contests with his extensive knowledge of farming and vegetables. He works in conjunction with Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit started by another young gardener in South Carolina that has expanded to over 100 gardens in 33 states. Ian donates organic produce to local hunger relief organizations as well as to families at his school who could use the extra veggies. We are so inspired by all the work that Ian does, and the support that we in turn receive from him. He took time out of his busy school schedule to meet with us one afternoon this week. We toured his home garden and got to know a little more about this hard-working, community-conscious kid. Check it out below.

Ian McKenna with his home garden harvest.

How did you first hear about JBG?

I first heard about JBG through going to the farmers market! I saw your stand there.

You obviously have an interest in agriculture… do you have any ideas about your future career? Have you ever thought about farming?

Yes! Farming is one of the three careers I have in mind. The other two are meteorology and astronomical engineering.

If you were to encourage one of your friends to support a local farm, what would you say? Just do it. Support any organic local farm! Supporting local is supporting the community.

Why do you think that it’s important?

I think it’s important to support local farms so that you can get fresh organic produce instead of things that might be weeks old.

Where did your interest in all of this begin?

In my sister’s first grade class, they were talking about Christmas around the world and then one girl broke out in tears… and when the teacher asked what was wrong, she said, "Santa doesn't come for us because he hates poor people and we’re poor". My sister told me this story, then I immediately told my mom because I was so struck by it. I decided that we had to do something. So, Christmas morning, we brought a trunk load of presents and food to them. That’s really where this all started… that one family. It was a big family of three kids and they were living in trailer… after that morning, I thought to myself, that felt really good, what else can I do? Then I learned that most kids at my school got free or reduced lunches at school… so, that’s what got me started on growing food for people.

Ian getting his hands dirty at the community garden.

Who taught you to garden/farm?

My mom is the one who initially taught me to grow things.

How did you get your Instagram name, @wizardlizard2004?

I used to be really into magic and I love outdoors stuff especially catching lizards and studying them. We went to play MagiQuest and they asked me for a name so I told them "Wizard Lizard" because they were my two favorite things, plus I wanted something that rhymed and was catchy. I added 2004 because that's the year I was born.

If you had to explain to someone why joining the CSA is a good idea, what would you say?

I would say it’s a good idea because it’s an easy and convenient way to get fresh, healthy produce!

Can you tell us about your charitable work?

I’m part of a nonprofit called Katie’s Krops… it’s a national youth-based nonprofit. It started with a girl named Katie that grew a massive cabbage that fed over 250 people at the local soup kitchen. Since then she has wanted to contribute more, so she started this nonprofit! There are now over a 100 gardens in 33 states, I believe. She lives in South Carolina.

Are you a part of a community garden?

Yes, so, I have a garden in my backyard, and I also have a garden at Sunset Valley Elementary School. The food that I grow in my backyard garden I use to donate to the Central Texas Food Bank.  I bring the food that I grow at the community garden/school garden to food deserts, low income housing communities, or they get distributed to families in need at those schools where the food is grown.

How do you distribute the produce at school?

I have it set up so that kids that need and/or want the food can come by and grab some or they can harvest it themselves!

What’s your favorite veggie?

I don’t know! I like them all. Something that I’m really surprised that I can grow is the world’s second hottest pepper… the Carolina Reaper. I love spicy food. When I first got the seeds, it was the hottest. Now, it’s second. I also love tomatoes.

What’s your least favorite?

It’s not really my least favorite, but I don’t like cauliflower, because I always get my hopes up, and they always get eaten. More often than not, they are destroyed by pests. We are still trying to figure out a way to keep them out. Collards, cauliflower and broccoli are some of the pest-favorites. I like to eat them, but they are hard to grow.

Ian harvesting at his home garden.

What’s your favorite crop to grow?

ANYTHING. I really actually like cauliflower, it’s just been a frustrating process and it’s never worked out for me (at least yet).

Do you like to cook? What’s your favorite holiday meal?

Yes! If you count cookies, then that. I have a special, secret recipe that no one knows what the secret ingredient is. Even if someone tries really hard to figure it out, they still haven't. It's a really good recipe.

Yum... what’s your favorite veggie-centric meal?

I love brussel sprouts… most people are grossed out by it, but I think they are great. My mom makes a mean brussel sprout dish.

Do you have siblings? If so, do they help with your charitable work?

I have one sister. Sometimes, yes, most times, she’s just there being annoying like most little sisters are.

Ian and his sister.

Do you try and get your friends or schoolmates involved in your work?

I usually just try and spread the word. Most kids say that they don’t have time, but I tell them if they grow just one tomato plant it can make a difference. They are reluctant, but they usually get involved if I bother them enough.

Do you have any idea how to get more people involved in growing food or supporting local farms?

Posting on social media is helpful in getting the word out. Also, just getting out there talking to folks about what we're doing helps in interesting people.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you bring?
  • a mobile garden
  • a mobile kitchen
  • a genie lamp, so I can get three more wishes
A huge thanks to Ian and his family! If you want to follow along on Ian's ending hunger escapades in town, follow him on Instagram here.