Nine-year-old Jackson Brown weighs about 60 pounds, so the 46-pound cabbage he grew was emotionally, mentally and physically overwhelming.
"I've never grown anything as big as that," said Jackson, now a fourth-grader at Wacoochee Elementary School in Salem, Ala. "I was just so excited. It just looked incredible."
Jackson was selected the Alabama winner in the 2013 National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program. He was one of more than 1.5 million third-graders in 48 states in the U.S., including 33,055 in Alabama, to enter this year's competition.
Bonnie Plants, based in Union Springs, Ala., calls itself the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America. The company supplies the O.S. Cross cabbage plants to third-graders whose teacher has registered for the 11-year-old program.
Teachers from each class select the best cabbage, based on size and appearance, to vie for the state title. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online. The Commission of Agriculture in each state randomly selects the state winner.
Although luck was a factor in winning the state championship, Jackson's cabbage was among the largest, said Bonnie Plants spokeswoman Joan Casanova.
"Forty-six pounds is pretty far up the ladder," she said. "The kids that are selected winners have similar cabbages, but 46 pounds brings it up a notch. Typically, they're between 30 and 40 pounds."
The program's record is the 65-pounder a Montana girl grew in 2011. But the focus is on what the students put into the project and the lessons they get out of it.
"The Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program is a wonderful way to engage children's interest in agriculture, while teaching them not only the basics of gardening, but the importance of our food systems and growing our own", Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, said in a news release. "This unique, innovative program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates, through hands-on experience, where food comes from. The program also affords our youth with some valuable life lessons in nurture, nature, responsibility, self-confidence and accomplishment".
Jackson put it this way:
"Even if I didn't win, I would have just had fun doing it," he said. "Doing it with a little help from my dad and taking care of it, I felt responsible about it."
Jackson is the son of Amy and Tommy Brown. Amy is a music teacher at Smiths Station Junior High; Tommy is an archivist at Auburn University.
Tommy helped Jackson put a wire fence around the 2-inch cabbage plant when they planted it in February, so their chickens wouldn't eat it while it was growing. But those chickens were rewarded for their patience in June, when the 4-foot-wide cabbage was harvested. After they photographed the cabbage, Tommy convinced Jackson that consuming it would be foul because of the pesticides they applied, so the fowl had the feast.
The key to growing such a large cabbage, Jackson said, is properly watering it once or twice per week. And that proved to be the most challenging part of the project for him, considering the weight of the watering can.
"It was pretty tough to hold it up," Jackson said.
For growing a bunch of green, Jackson earned a bunch of green -- in the form of a $1,000 savings bond from Bonnie Plants -- as the state's winner.
That money will help him achieve his career goal.
"I wish I could be a doctor when I grow up and have many adventures to find out more diseases," Jackson said. "Or maybe I'll be a farmer."ONLINE ONLY
For a link to information about how to apply for next year's competition, click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com.