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STANSBURY PARK — It was a beautiful spring day, and Stansbury Park Elementary third-grader Claire Mansell walked home from school carrying a tiny cabbage plant her teacher gave her. Fast forward to Jan. 13 of this year, and Claire, now in fourth grade, was presented with a $1,000 education scholarship for helping that plant grow to a whopping 15 pounds, 2 ounces.
According to Claire, however, it wasn't as easy or fast as it sounds.
"My teacher gave us each a plant that we could grow, and on the way home from school mine broke," she said. "I had to go back to school to get another one from my teacher."
The plants that each child in Claire's class were provided with were part of a nationwide program by Bonnie Plants to teach children about gardening and inspire the future generation of gardeners. The program has been going on since 1996 and, according to spokesperson Joan Casanova, it has provided plants to millions of children like Claire.
"Each year, Bonnie Plants gives over 1 million cabbage plants to third graders in participating classes in each of the 48 states for the chance to win a $1,000 scholarship," she said. "The cabbage plant variety we give the kids is actually known to grow large, but it is still fun for the kids to watch them grow. We decided on third graders because they are still young enough to be enamored by it, but old enough to be involved in the process."
The process for young Claire had rather rough beginnings. Aside from the first plant breaking, the new one soon experienced a freeze that required protective insulation to keep it alive. After that, Claire said, things got easier.
"I just kept watering it and looking after it," Claire said. "It was really fun to watch it grow. I didn't know cabbage could grow that big."
When all was said and done, and it came time to harvest the cabbage and present a picture of it to submit for the contest, Claire wanted to put things in perspective.
"I looked at pictures from the other year's winners, and most of them showed the cabbage next to something to show how big it was," she said. "I decided to lay down next to mine to show how big mine really was."
While the 15-pound plant posed for a pretty amazing picture, according to Claire, it wasn’t just cool to look at, but also very tasty.
"My mom steamed it up for us to eat, and it was really good," she said. "There was some left over that we fed to our chickens."
When asked what made the cabbage taste so good, Claire said that it was probably because she grew it herself.
As for any future farming plans go, Claire is still unsure but said she had a really good time growing her prize-winning vegetable.
To know more about the Bonnie Plants cabbage program, go to bonniecabbageprogram.com.