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North Allegheny student grows massive cabbage, earns $1,000 scholarship

Patrick Varine
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Photo courtesy of Bonnie Plants
Lily Ries of Peebles Elementary School shows off the giant cabbage she grew as part of the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, earning her a $1,000 scholarship.
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Submitted photo
Lily Ries of Peebles Elementary School shows off the giant cabbage she grew as part of the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, earning her a $1,000 scholarship.

If she were so inclined, Lily Ries could probably use the cabbage she grew in 2018 to make a life-sized version of pigs-in-a-blanket — with actual pigs.

Ries, 9, now a fourth-grader at Peebles Elementary School in the North Allegheny School District, earned a $1,000 scholarship as the Pennsylvania winner in Bonnie Plants’ Cabbage Program.

Ries was one of nearly 32,000 Pennsylvania children to participate in the program in which third-grade students are provided with seeds for the O.S. Cross variety of cabbage, which is known to produce massive plants.

“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,” said Bonnie Plants President Stan Cope. “This program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates, through hands-on experience, where food comes from.”

Lily’s mother Megan said her daughter got involved in the competition because “she loves to garden.”

“We have a small one on our deck every year that she helps maintain,” Ries said. “The cabbage took us by surprise because we’ve never grown one and were amazed by how large it got.”

The cabbage grew to 8 pounds 12.5 ounces in a large pot. The family used some of the cabbage to make coleslaw and put the rest out as a feast for the rabbits who live in the family’s backyard.

Ries said Lilly didn’t have a secret formula for growing her winning cabbage.

“She didn’t do anything special,” Megan Ries said. “Just potting soil and the fertilizer that Bonnie recommend on the handout sheet Lilly received with the plant.”

Ries said the project was “a truly a wonderful experience for Lilly and all the kids who participated.”

“As a parent, am so grateful for Bonnie and the investment they are making in our children by giving them a chance to try something new,” she said. “All the kids took such pride in their plants big and small.

Lilly said the size of the cabbage took her by surprise.

“I never thought my cabbage would win,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool all the attention the cabbage and I have received.”

Cabbages were the first profitable plant sold by Bonnie Plants when the company started in the early 1900s.

In 2018, more than a million third graders in the 48 contiguous states got hands-on gardening experience, growing colossal cabbages with high hopes to win “best in state” and, like Ries, receive a $1,000 scholarship.

“We are grateful to have the opportunity to provide our youth with this enjoyable and enriching opportunity and engage their interest in the art and joy of gardening,” Cope said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar. Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.