Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program Teaches Third-Graders About Gardening

Children across the United States are growing, and some are earning, a lot of “green” as they participate in the national Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. Last year, more than 1.5 million third-graders in 45 states gained hands-on gardening experience growing colossal cabbages with hopes of winning “best in state” and receiving a scholarship from Bonnie Plants and the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program.

Each year Bonnie Plants delivers free O.S. Cross, or “oversized,” cabbage plants to third-grade classrooms when the teacher has signed up for the program. Teachers can register their classes for the 2011 program now at the Bonnie Plants website. The deadline is March 1 for southern states, and April 15 for northern states. When nurtured, the cabbages can grow bigger than a basketball and tip the scales at nearly 40 pounds!

First launched in 1995, the program awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state. At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the “best” cabbage, based on size and appearance. An entry photograph of the cabbage and the student is submitted to Bonnie Plants by mail or online, and that student’s name is then entered into a statewide drawing. The winners of each state’s drawing are randomly selected by the Commission of Agriculture, state by state.

“The Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program is our way of engaging children in the joy of gardening,” says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants. “Gardening provides children with a safe place to experience nature, discover the cycles of life, and develop an understanding of our environment. It also exposes children, firsthand, to the benefits of growing your own nutritious food, and it’s a great source of physical activity. The cabbage program, over the past 15 years, has proved to be an enriching hands-on experience that kids and teachers across America have embraced. Seeing students excited about learning and the art of gardening is what we strive for.”

Getting it growing

Growing a colossal cabbage may seem like a giant undertaking for little ones, but it’s easier than you think. All you need is:

  • Sunshine: Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight, more if possible.
  • Space: Bonnie O.S. cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out. If you don’t have that much space, use a large container.
  • Soil: Work some compost into the soil – cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.
  • Food: Start your cabbage off right with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer. To keep it growing strong, fertilize it every 10 days.
  • Water: Your cabbage needs at least one inch of rainfall each week. If you don’t get rain, use a watering can or a garden hose to gently water your plant.
  • TLC: 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, which 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, so if the weather is forecast to get below 32°F, cover your cabbage with a bucket.
  • Time: In just 10 to 12 weeks, you could have a huge head of cabbage of which you should be proud.

Green thumbs and perseverance can pay off, providing participating students with a great sense of pride and accomplishment, a humongous cabbage, and, for the lucky state winner, the beginning of an educational fund for college.

To see the 2010 winners and learn more about the 2011 contest, visit the website at

Rave reviews

“The Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program is a wonderful way to engage children’s interest in agriculture, while teaching them not only the basics of biology, but the importance of our food and fiber systems. This innovative program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates, through hands-on experience, where their food comes from. We’re grateful to the people at Bonnie Plants for continuing to provide this program, nationwide, and successfully connecting our youth to agriculture.”
— Alabama Commissioner
of Agriculture Ron Sparks 

“It’s good for the students to get out there and grow their own plants. It helps them learn about nature, soil composition and the parts of plants, but it also shows them where things come from. So many young people take for granted the fact that we can walk into the store and buy whatever we want. It’s a good history lesson for them to learn that it wasn’t always like that, even in this country.”
— Melody Witt, principal,
Alto (Texas) Elementary School 

“The 3rd-Grade Cabbage Program provides valuable lessons to students about agriculture and the way it touches everyone’s life every day. I commend Bonnie Plants for this program.”
— Kentucky Agriculture
Commissioner Richie Farmer

“This kind of activity is great because it teaches our students about the natural growth process. This year, we’re going to encourage even more teachers to participate.”
— Lenora Richardson,
science and social studies supervisor, Cabell County Schools, West Virginia 

“It’s really important that our youth understand where our food comes from. I’m glad that Bonnie Plant Farm expanded its cabbage-growing program to include Kansas schools, so our students can learn about growing food while competing for scholarship money.”
— Kansas Secretary
of Agriculture Adrian Polansky

  • Published on Feb 8, 2011
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