Smith grows colossal cabbage, wins $1,000 savings bond
by: Amy Davis, HERALD-CITIZEN
Good thing young Mark Smith likes cabbage.
The Pickett K-8 fourth-grader had plenty of it this past summer when it came harvest time.
A 30-pound head of cabbage goes a long way.
Grilled, baked, boiled, or chopped up into coleslaw... he's not picky.
And if massive amounts of cabbage wasn't prize enough, Mark was even recently chosen by Tennessee's agriculture commissioner as the state's winner of a $1,000 savings bond for education from Bonnie Plants, sponsor of the contest that started Mark on the path to growing the most colossal cabbage he'd ever seen.
When compared to all the others in his grandparents' garden, his was truly a green giant.
Mark's mother, Joanna, said, "Their cabbages looked like dwarfs compared to Mark's."
The whole thing started near the end of last school year when Mark and his classmates, third graders at the time, were each given tiny cabbage seedlings with instructions to take them home and nurture them as they grew bigger and bigger -- and bigger -- over the next three months.
It was all part of the National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, which this season had 1.5 million third graders in 48 states participating. The program awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state.
Unlike ordinary cabbage plants, those used in the program are OS Cross, which are known for producing giant, oversized heads, making the process even more exciting for students. The program was first launched in 2002, but 2011 was the first year Pickett K-8 got involved.
Mark's third grade teacher, Robin Storie, said the school project came about "by accident."
"Bonnie Plants didn't know our school was here," Storie said. "They just happened to see the sign one day and pulled in and asked if the third grade wanted to participate."
And so it began.
"They dropped off cabbage plants for each student," Storie said. "They were just little bitty plants, about three inches tall maybe."
When Mark first saw them, he was skeptical -- never dreamed his seedling would amount to prize-winning colossal cabbage.
"I thought it was going to die," he said of the then-tiny, limp specimen.
But Mark took it home, set it in the window, and, when it was big enough, took it to his grandparents' house and planted it in his little garden there.
"I was just going to put it in the ground and let it grow until it got big," he said.
His mother said, "He pretty much stayed at my mom's and dad's for the summer."
Mark worked hard to maintain his crop, making sure it had enough space to grow, a good amount of fertilizer and plenty of sunshine and water.
And cow manure. Lots of cow manure.
Turns out, that may have been the secret ingredient that set his colossal cabbage apart from the rest.
Even the teacher's.
"Mine did not look anything like that," Storie said, referring to Mark's leafy 30-pounder.
Mark's mother said, "We were afraid it was going to bust open because a lot of times they will. When they get so big, the top will crack. But it didn't. We were very, very lucky."
Mark said, "It was the best cabbage I ever grew."
Pickett County K-8 School thought so too. After viewing photos of all the students' colossal cabbages, which were harvest around the end of July, Mark's was chosen as the winner in his classroom.
Afterward, Mark's name was entered in a state-wide random drawing for the big prize -- a $1,000 savings bond from Bonnie Plants.
His principal, Kenny Tompkins, was the one to share the good news with Mark recently that he was the winner. When called to the principal's office, Mark wondered what he'd done wrong.
"I asked if I was in trouble, and he said, 'Should you be?'" Mark said. "I said no, and then he told me I won!"
He also received an iPod touch from his school for his achievement.
What did he learn from this experience?
"How to grow a cabbage!" Mark said. "I had a little help but not much."
His mother, along with the rest of the family, was glad to help Mark reap the rewards of his labor by enjoying heaping helpings of the bountiful crop. It was cut it up and stored it in the refrigerator in gallon Zip-Lock bags.
"We grilled a lot of it and put cheese, seasons and mushrooms in it," Joanna said.
As for Mark -- who was already a farm boy before the colossal cabbage experience -- he plans to continue in his green-thumb ways.
He looks forward to next season's garden, which will abound in carrots, tomatoes, corn and potatoes.
And cabbage, of course. "It's good," he said.