Kristen Stryker has been gardening ever since she could walk. She'd follow her mother, Patti, around the garden, helping and munching on vegetables. Little did she know that gardening would be the conduit to her winning national awards from a major gardening company, the State of Ohio, and the President of the United States.
At 9 years old, Kristen, like many kids in Canton, Ohio, joined 4-H and became involved in a gardening project. By the time she was 13 she was involved in the Garden Writers Association's Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) program, in which produce is donated to local food shelves. She coordinated a 40- by 60-foot garden and donated all the produce to the Allegheny Indian Center.
"My grandmother is one-half Native American, so I wanted to share the extra produce with folks at the center," says Kristen. The center staff was thrilled since they rarely received donations of fresh produce.
Her "Help Others to Help Yourself'" program has been so popular at the local level that the State of Ohio has initiated the gardening program in all 12 state youth detention centers. Kristen couldn't personally visit all the facilities to help set up the programs so she designed and wrote a how-to gardening manual for each facility. In 2002 the gardens donated more than 2500 pounds of produce to local food shelves.
Kristen's good works have not gone unnoticed. She was a finalist in the Scotts' "Give Back to Grow" Young Gardener of the Year Award, has received many local awards, and in 2001 she was chosen a winner of President Bush's Community Volunteer Service Award. In 2003 she received the Garden Writer's Plant-A-Row Star Gardener award.
At the young age of 17, Kristen is just getting started. She has been encouraged by the President to spread her prison gardening program nationally. She is in the process of contacting each state's correctional facility to get the programs going. Although college is in her plans for next year, and her interest is in forensic science, you get the feeling Kristen will always be a gardener and will continue helping others.