by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jan 02, 2013 - 12:07 PM

One of the oldest known vegetables, the cabbage seems to have been with us forever. It has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and domesticated for over 2,500 years. But it hasn’t always been the shape and size as we find it today. The firm head that we know was a later development. The early cabbage was a weedy, loose-leaved plant closely resembling kale, to which it is related.

Although we often connect cabbage with the Irish, it was the Celts who brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C. It grew well in cool climates, yielded large harvests, and stored well during winter, thus making it a major crop for Europe.

French navigator Jacques Cartier brought cabbage to the Americas in 1536. But it is Bonnie Plants, a plant business established in 1918 with headquarters in Alabama, which has sponsored the National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program since 2002.

This program is offered nationwide for third-grade students, awarding a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state. According to the company’s press release, in 2012 more than 1.5 million third graders in 48 states got hands-on gardening experience growing colossal cabbage with high hopes of winning the scholarship.

At the end of the growing season, teachers from each class selected the student who grew the "best" cabbage, based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student was submitted online. Then the student’s name was entered in a statewide drawing. As in all states the state winner was randomly selected by the Commissioner of Agriculture.