A South Lincoln student is the state winner in the National Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program.
Lincoln County’s McKinnley Jeans was recently announced as the Tennessee winner. She was among more than a million third graders in the 48 contiguous states who have gotten hands-on gardening experience, growing colossal cabbages with high hopes to win “best in state” and receive a $1,000 scholarship towards education from Bonnie Plants.
Along with students from South Lincoln, third graders at other area schools — Unity, Ralph Askins, Riverside Christian Academy, Highland Rim and Flintville — also participated in the program.
Each year Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America, with 70-plus greenhouse facilities across the country, trucks free O.S. Cross, or “oversized”, cabbage plants to third grade classrooms whose teachers have signed up for the program online at www.bonnieplants.com. If nurtured and cared for, kids can cultivate, nurture and grow giant cabbages, some much bigger than a basketball, tipping the scales often over 40 pounds.
In 1996, Bonnie Plants initiated the Third Grade Cabbage Program in and around headquarters in Union Springs, Ala., with a mission to inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people and continue to grow the next generation of gardeners.
By 2002, the Cabbage Program became a national endeavor. The program awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state. At the end of the season, teachers from each third grade class select the student who has grown the “best” cabbage, based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online at www.bonnieplants.com. That student’s name is then entered in a statewide drawing. State winners are randomly selected by the office of the Commission of Agriculture in each of 48 participating states.
“The Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program is a wonderful way to engage children’s interest in agriculture, while teaching them not only the basics of gardening, but the importance of our food systems and growing our own”, said Stan Cope, CEO of Bonnie Plants. “This unique, innovative program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates, through hands-on experience, where food comes from. The program also affords our youth with some valuable life lessons in nurture, nature, responsibility, self-confidence and accomplishment.
“Over the course of the past 15 years, the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program has proved to be an exciting, successful and worth-while experience that children, teachers, parents and grandparents across the country have embraced. We’re certainly extremely proud of our Tennessee state winner McKinnley Jeans. We are grateful to have the opportunity to provide our youth with this enjoyable and enriching opportunity and engage their interest in the art and joy of gardening,” said Cope.
Growing a colossal cabbage may seem like a giant undertaking for young kids, but it’s easier than you think. All you need to do is:
· Let the Sunshine In: Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight, more if possible.
· Survey Your Space: Bonnie O.S. Cross cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out. If you don’t have that much space, use a large container.
· Supplement Soil: Work some compost into the soil – cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.
· Feed Your Food Plant: Start your cabbage off right with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, then fertilize it according to label directions to keep it growing strong.
· Water Wisely: Your cabbage needs at least one inch of rainfall each week. If it doesn’t rain, use a watering can or garden hose to gently water your plant at soil level.
· Tend To Trouble: Keep weeds out of the cabbage patch – they compete for the food and water your cabbage needs. Be on the lookout for brown or white moths – these come from worms that love to munch on cabbage. If you see any, get rid of them right away. Cold weather can damage your cabbage. If the weather gets below 32° F, cover your cabbage with a bucket or cloth covering.
· Hefty Harvest: In just 10 to 12 weeks, you should have a huge head of cabbage you can be proud of.
Green thumbs and perseverance can pay off, providing participating children with as great sense of pride and accomplishment, a humongous cabbage, and for the lucky state winner, the beginning of an educational fund for college.
Why a cabbage? Coincidentally, cabbages were the first profitable plant sold by Bonnie Plants in 1918 and are known to be a hearty vegetable. The cabbages provided to the third grade program are “O.S. Cross” cabbages; this variety is known for producing giant, oversized heads, making the process even more exciting for kids.