Ian McKenna Goncalo
Ian McKenna Goncalo, 14, of Austin, Texas, a member of Travis County 4-H and a sophomore at Liberal Arts and Science Academy, planted vegetable and fruit gardens at four schools and in his backyard that have yielded more than nine tons of fresh produce for families in need over the past six years. When Ian was 8 years old, he helped deliver Christmas gifts and food to the family of a girl in his younger sister’s class. “She had never gotten a visit from Santa, nor had a meal outside of the school breakfast and lunch program,” Ian said. “She believed the reason Santa had never come was because he hated poor people. I learned the true meaning of Christmas that day.” Ian soon realized there were a lot more children facing hunger in his community, and felt called to do something about it. But when he tried to volunteer at a food bank, he was told he was too young. Then it came to him: He liked gardening. Why not grow food for hungry people?
Ian proposed creating a “Giving Garden” to his gardening club advisor, who loved the idea. He then got permission to build the garden at an elementary school, developed a design, recruited volunteers, sought donations and reached out to Home Depot for help. By the end of construction day, Ian’s team had built nine raised beds and planted 15 fruit trees that would help feed 54 families that year. In the following years, Ian built gardens at three more schools, as well as one in his own backyard. He estimates his “Giving Gardens” have provided more than 18,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to a local food bank, hunger relief organizations and directly to families. He also has set up a farm stand to distribute his produce in a low-income area, and hosted community dinners that have served 1,750 nutritious meals. In addition to speaking about hunger issues at school, business and community events, Ian has raised more than $60,000 to create his gardens and to support an organization that encourages young people to fight hunger with gardens in their own communities.