Cabbage Contest Helps Kids Learn to Grow Their Own Food

CabbageBoy webIt may surprise you to know that more than 1.5 million third graders in forty-five states got hands-on gardening experience growing gigantic cabbages – including here in Maryland.  



This exciting national program that encourages kids to get their hands dirty in the garden in order to find their green thumbs wouldn’t be possible without the support of Bonnie Plants.  “Bonnie Plants is the largest producer of vegetables in North America and they started the program fifteen years ago in an effort to engage children in gardening,” said Joan Casanova of Green Earth Media Group.  In the safety and comfort of their own backyards, kids are able to form a bond with a cabbage plant, explore the environment and witness the benefits of growing their own healthy food.  
While taking on the educational and fun task, local kids aspire to win best in state and receive a $1,000 scholarship towards education from Bonnie Plants.

Getting Started

Teachers are asked to sign up at www.bonnieplants.com to have free O.S. Cross, or oversized, cabbage plants delivered to their classroom.  “They choose these two inch cabbage plants because they grow so fast and huge to be forty pounds and bigger than a basketball,” said Casanova.  The commitment is simply to watch after a cabbage plant for between ten to twelve weeks.  To add a little extra vigor, you may choose to take your child to the local farmer’s market to see cabbage first-hand.  Kids often take for granted that we are able to walk into the grocery store and purchase whatever we would like.  
Be sure to give your child a pep talk and let him know the goal of successfully caring for a cabbage plant and winning a scholarship is within reach.  “Sometimes if you show a picture of a local child that won, your child will understand that it can happen to him too,” said Deidre Bildstein, teacher at Sudlersville Elementary School in Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  One of Bildstein’s students, Thomas Luke Schauber, won this past year.  “The winner was excited and was presented with an award in front of his peers at a school assembly, which was really fun,” said Bildstein.


Caring for Cabbage

Tending to a cabbage plant is sure to be one of your child’s favorite responsibilities.  Cabbage requires at least six hours of full sunlight.  They need at least three feet on each side to spread out.  Families work compost into the soil so the cabbage is rich with nutrients.  You can begin using an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer and fertilize the cabbage every ten days to make sure it grows appropriately.  If you do not get at least an inch of rainfall each week, you need to water the plant with a watering can or hose.  Extra care such as looking out for brown spots or white moths is helpful.  If the weather gets chilly and reaches below thirty-two degrees, you will want to cover the cabbage with a bucket.

Benefits of Cabbage Program

The experience of helping to grow a cabbage plant can enrich a child without him even knowing it.  “Nine year-olds love to be able to do something and be successful which breeds confidence and independence,” said Casanova.  The reward is intrinsic.  “Knowing that they can plant a teeny tiny two inch plant and if they take care of it, it will grow into a forty pound cabbage just astounds them,” said Casanova.  The whole family can be involved in this productive activity by taking turns watering, weeding and measuring.  
Teachers can plan mini-science lessons around the program such as talking about plants, nutrition and where food comes from.  Parents can also offer mini-lessons at home.  “I think it is important because with the way the economy is rolling right now, there are a lot of people going back to growing gardens,” said Thomas Schauber, father of the Maryland state winner.  You can also help your child realize that putting some effort forward can go a long way.  “It is a good source of food and teaches you to do a little bit of work,” said Schauber.  
Certainly, there is the potential for a monetary award.  Parents take pictures of the enormous cabbage and the teacher picks best in class.  Often it is hard to single someone out so the photos are numbered in the order they are received.  This way every child is included.  “The state agricultural commissioner picks a number between one and four hundred and whatever that number is, the corresponding child wins,” said Casanova.  The drawing is done randomly.  
It may be a good idea to share this article with your child’s teacher.  “In Maryland there were 8,620 children that participated in 400 classes but in some states there are over 100,000 children that participate,” said Casanova.  Together, we just may be able to set a record for 2011.

Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (getpinkpower.com) is dedicated to providing health information to families.