By Cheryl Lange
February is known for being the month of love, and through the Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program we’ve heard some incredible love stories. Each year, Bonnie Plants donates over a million free cabbage plants to 3rd graders in 48 states. The students take the seedlings home, grow them, then submit a photo of themselves with their full-grown cabbage for a chance to receive a $1,000 scholarship. And while our goal is to inspire kids to fall in love with gardening, we often fall in love with the personal stories and photos we receive through their submissions.
Take, for example, Kelly from Florida (see photo above). Kelly is a 3rd grader who loves life, her dog, Summer — and her cabbage, Joey! Who knew a cabbage could become such a cool part of the family? Here’s what Kelly had to say about the experience:
“We grew Joey in a pot [on] our screened-in pool deck. We transplanted her a few times because she grew very quickly! We were afraid to keep her outside because we live in an area with very crafty deer, rabbits, gophers, tortoises, bears, and raccoons (not to mention bugs), who have taught us to be careful what we plant! By the look on [Joey’s] face, you can tell she enjoyed a life of leisure lounging by the pool, becoming one of the family!”
There’s just something about dogs and cabbages. Another 3rd grader, Stella from Colorado, didn’t realize her Great Dane, Chloe, was planning to photo bomb the picture being taken of her and her cabbage for the Cabbage Program. It should’ve come as no surprise, though — Stella’s dad confided that Chloe loves to garden as much as the rest of the family does. Stella sent us this note:
“[We had] lots of fun…. We named the cabbage ‘Bob’.”
While many entries make us laugh, we also occasionally get one that makes us cry. Taylor of Oklahoma will never forget growing her Bonnie Plants cabbage, Charlie, with her grandfather. Here’s her story:
“At the end of my 3rd grade year, my teacher, Mrs. Griffin, gave everyone a small cabbage plant and told us there was a big competition with all of Oklahoma’s 3rd graders to see who could grow the biggest cabbage. I was very excited, and later that day my mommy and I planted that cabbage in a big pot on the front porch. I watered it every day and it began to grow….
“My [grandfather, who I call] Papa, is a farmer and wanted to help me grow my cabbage as big as we could. My Papa was also sick. He had cancer in his pancreas. I didn’t know what that was, but Mommy said it was really bad.
“We decided the best way to grow that cabbage was for my Papa to take it back to the farm and plant it. He put it in his backyard and built a big fence around it to keep the rabbits out. Mema, [my grandmother,] said that every day Papa would water and feed that cabbage and try to protect it from the sun. His tough but gentle hands knew just what to do….
“My mommy and I visited Mema, Papa and Charlie a lot [that] summer. Every time I went there, Charlie was getting bigger and bigger! Papa really loved taking care of Charlie, but just as Charlie was getting bigger and stronger, I noticed my Papa was getting thinner and weaker….
“One of the last times we were there, we noticed that Charlie had stopped growing and was becoming infested with little worms. Charlie was so pale — he had lost the brightness I remembered from before. Papa was also very, very sick. It was like Charlie felt Papa’s pain and was suffering along with him
“On the fourth day of my 4th grade year, my daddy picked me up from cheerleading practice. I’ve never seen my daddy cry, so I knew something bad had happened. My daddy told me that my Papa had died earlier that day….
“So many people from the town came by Mema’s house that day to give her hugs and food. I’d never seen so many pies! Bright tablecloths were covered with apple, cherry and coconut pies. But what was even crazier was that nearly everyone who came over that day asked about Charlie! He was [a] celebrity…. And I don’t understand why, but after my Papa passed away Charlie began to grow again. His color brightened and the bugs were gone!
“[We] decided it was time to harvest Charlie. I cradled him in my lap while my Mema cut it off at the stem…. We hoisted Charlie onto the scale to weigh him. He was just over four and a half pounds!
“I don’t know if ours was the biggest cabbage in the 3rd grade contest, but I bet none of the others became famous like Charlie! I had a lot of happy memories [that] summer with my Papa, watching Charlie grow so big because of Papa’s love. I believe that I’ll grow and become stronger because my Papa loved me, too.”
As you can see, gardening is a wonderful way create memories that will last a lifetime. We love hearing about the cabbages grown as part of the Cabbage Program, and kids love growing those cabbages. (If we haven’t convinced you yet, take a moment to browse through the photos in the slide show below.) We think it’s true: Gardening = love!