When Alabama nursery wholesaler Bonnie Plants began its Third Grade Cabbage Program in 1996, the company simply gave seedlings to a few local elementary schools. Today, the program distributes free cabbage plants to more than 1.5 million budding farmers in classrooms throughout all 48 contiguous states. The appeal for cash-strapped educators is clear. As for the students, Bonnie Plants wisely appeals to an 8-year-old’s need for instant gratification with the supersize ‘O.S. Cross’ variety, which can top 40 pounds in under 12 weeks.
In this case, size does matter. The top cabbage from each school – teachers typically choose the biggest – is entered in a statewide drawing. The children whose names are selected win a $1,000 savings bond, plus bragging rights. (Kit Fox, Utah’s 2013 winner, holds the record for the weightiest submission ever: 75 pounds, heavier than the average third-grader.)
Bonnie Plants’ Joan Casanova says the kids often write letters about their veggies’ final destination. “Mostly coleslaw,” she explains. “Sometimes cabbage soup.” Of course, the true end-goal involves sparking a lifelong love of gardening. Last year, Pennsylvania’s 2005 winner, Nora Palmer, cashed in her savings bond and headed to Delaware Valley University as a horticulture major.