"Growing our next generation of gardeners" is the inspiration behind Bonnie Plants' 3rd Grade Cabbage Program, a nationwide contest that invites third-graders to learn about gardening by growing their own cabbage plants.
Started in 1996 near the plant wholesaler's headquarters in Union Springs, Ala., the Bonnie Plants cabbage program went national in 2002, with the 48 contiguous states participating. Today, more than a million cabbage plants are shipped out across the country to third-grade classrooms and/or students who have signed up to participate.
Bonnie Plants chose cabbages because that is where the company started — growing cabbage plants in 1918. The variety the contest sends across the country is O.S. Cross, aka "The School Cabbage," an All-American selection from 1951 known for producing giant cabbages.
According to the website, O.S. is a bolt-resistant hybrid that produces slightly flattened heads ranging from 30 to 50 pounds and matures in 82 days. Plants should be spaced 36 to 48 inches apart.
To date, the largest cabbage grown by a third-grader weighed 75 pounds — that's a lot of coleslaw!
Before the pandemic, the program was marketed to schools across the country; teachers went online to register their classrooms, telling Bonnie Plants how many pupils they had. Covid shut the program down in 2020, but in 2021, Bonnie relaunched the Cabbage Program as a remote-friendly learning activity to safely take education outdoors.
Today, teachers and/or parents or youth-group leaders with third-graders can register their pupils online. Individual cabbage plants are shipped to the school and/or home. Bonnie sends out the plants at different times of the year based on the ideal growing season for cabbages in each state. When you register online, you pick the date you would like your plants to arrive.
Registration for the spring growing season will open in January. Here is a link to the site: bonniecabbageprogram.com. This is a free program for any third-grader in the country who is interested.
MORE THAN SLAW
Students in the program are learning a lot more than how to grow a cabbage.
A complete lesson plan is included with the plants, with tips on gardening and specific instructions on how to plant and care for a cabbage plant.
Pupils also will learn about measuring, predicting outcomes and other critical thinking skills, as well as cooking.
The cabbage plants can be grown in a regular in-ground garden, a raised bed or even a container.
The program shares recipes, including ideas that might make cabbage a bit more palatable to young people — Cabbage Patch Cupcakes and Angel Hair Cabbage With Spaghetti Sauce.
Bonnie Plants worked with a third-grade teacher to develop the lesson plans, taking into consideration typical educational standards in math, science, health and social studies.
At the end of the growing season, the program shares information about how to harvest the cabbage plants.
Students are asked to take a digital photograph of their plants, each child posing with their mature cabbage.
Teachers (or parents) submit the pictures of the cabbages and the pupils who grew them through an online submission form. Each submission goes into a pool for that state. In collaboration with state agriculture departments, Bonnie Plants selects a winner for each state from the state's pool.
The winner from each state receives a $1,000 scholarship, and their picture is on the winners' page on the Bonnie Plants website. Look them up and you will be suitably impressed by the size and quality of the cabbages pictured on these pages.
The most recent Arkansas Cabbage champion is Marshall Furqueron of Ridge Road Elementary in North Little Rock. Bonnie Plants gave Marshall a $1,000 scholarship as well as "Best in State" bragging rights for growing a 14-pound cabbage.
Downloadable certificates are also on the Bonnie Plants website for all students who participate.
Getting young people interested in growing their own food is an ideal way to create lifelong gardeners. To find out more about the Bonnie Plant program, visit the website at bonniecabbageprogram.com.
Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.