Did you know that the biggest cabbage grown in the state of Idaho last year weighed in at over 20 pounds, and it was grown by a third grader!

It was all part of a nationwide school program to teach children the importance of agriculture.

Today on You Can Grow It, garden master Jim Duthie introduces us to the cabbage-growing champ, and explains how this program helps kids develop a love of gardening.

Hayden Pena is a typical fourth grader. He likes to play soccer and go to birthday parties, and he likes to grow things. Big things.

You see, last year Hayden grew the biggest cabbage in the state of Idaho.

That’s 23.6 pounds of cabbage. The ones you buy in the store usually weigh two or three pounds.

“Well, I couldn’t carry it, but I would need a little help,” said Hayden.

You might call him the real cabbage patch kid.

“When I first planted it, it was about this high, but now when I started growing it, probably maybe this high,” said Hayden.

Each spring, third-graders at participating schools across the country, including nearly 150 schools here in Idaho, receive free cabbage plants along with growing instructions and tips.

At the end of the season, winners are selected from each state based on the size and appearance of their cabbage. And Hayden’s won for Idaho!

“I felt amazed!” he said.

And the top prize? A whole lot of cabbage. No, not that kind. We’re talking cash!

Like this winner from Utah, Hayden was also awarded a $1,000 savings bond for his future education.

“I put it in my college fund.”

Hayden’s third grade teacher signed their class up in the cabbage program.

“She just said you will get one cabbage plant and see if you can grow it to be the biggest cabbage, the heaviest, too, in Idaho.”

But did he ever really think he would win?

“No, I didn’t think so. Well, kind of. I guess a little bit.”

So what does it take to grow a prize-winning giant cabbage?

“Well, every day, I would water it, and the sun was just always right here and it just keeps on aiming for this direct spot.”

Through the summer, he’d touch base with a couple of his classmates to see how their cabbages were doing.

“Yeah. A couple of them said they forgot where it was. Their cabbage died already. Mine, it’s huge now. A couple of guys got it big, but a lot of them were very, very small, or died.”

But Hayden checked on his every single day.

“Yep, every single day. And every single day I had to water it.”

The goal of the Bonnie Cabbage Program is to teach kids about the importance of agriculture and help them develop a love of growing things.

“I learned that it’s important that you do a lot of stuff. If you don’t do these things, you’re not gonna, it doesn’t grow!”

So what about growing another one this year?

“Maybe. I’m not sure. But maybe a pumpkin would be better. Because I’ve heard of giant pumpkins and they’re huge, huge, amazingly. And probably one would be bigger than me right now.”

And whatever became of that giant cabbage?

“Well, we just ate it. And, well, we just ate it, I guess,” said Hayden. “I had a little bit, but i didn’t have all of it.”

So with all of this gardening success, is farming in Hayden’s future?

“I’m thinking of being a scientist.”

“I learn a lot of stuff. I know a lot of stuff. And I just love science, math, engineering, technology. I just love all those things. I like STEM.”

But he’s still keeping his green thumb in shape.

“And now I have this little pine I got for Arbor Day.”

Hayden says his grandma has a big garden.

“So, I think it’s already with me in my blood, I guess….gardening.”

Well, Hayden, you’re probably right.

So why cabbage instead of another vegetable? It’s because cabbages were the first profitable crops sold by bonnie plants when they started business in 1918. This variety of giant, over-sized cabbages can grow to weigh as much as 75 pounds, so that makes it even more exciting for kids to grow them.

If you’re a third grade teacher, or if you have a third grader in your home, you can find out how your school can participate in the Bonnie Cabbage Plant Program by going to their website. The website also has a list of participating Idaho schools.