CHARLESTON - Anna Belan's favorite garden vegetable is the cucumber, but it was the cabbage that earned her a $1,000 scholarship.
Anna, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Midland Elementary School in Randolph County, is the state winner of the National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program. She grew a 13-pound cabbage while a third grader at the school, and was recently notified she had been selected as the state champion.
"I didn't think that would happen but I was really happy," Anna said of the honor.
Her cabbage was randomly selected by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. As a result, she will receive a $1,000 savings bond toward education from Bonnie Plants, touted as the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America.
Anna enjoys gardening and cucumbers, but does not eat cabbage. In fact, her plant was nearly forgotten as it wilted on a windowsill.
"It almost died," she said.
However, with assistance from her grandparents and a lot of patience she nurtured the plant until it grew strong and produced a hearty cabbage.
"I learned that when you do it you have to have patience," she said. "It won't always work the way you think."
She and her parents, Mandy and Steve Belan, have a small garden each year with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, Anna's favorite. Her grandparents, John and Corina Belan, live nearby and have a larger garden.
When her cabbage plant looked a bit sad, Anna called upon her grandparents for advice. They invited her to put the plant in their spacious garden.
Anna made sure it got enough water and adequate sunshine, but not too much. A bucket with holes in it served as a shelter when the sun was too hot.
"It survived, apparently," she said.
Since her family does not eat cabbage, she gave half of the 13-pound beauty to her grandparents and the other half to her aunt and uncle.
Anna was among 3,832 kids in West Virginia schools to take part in the program last growing season.
"Kids Grow Green: Cashing in Cabbage" is a national event sponsored by Bonnie Plants. Trucks deliver cabbage plants to third-graders throughout the country with one student in each state randomly selected for the scholarship money.
More than 1.5 million third graders in 48 states took part in the latest event. The national program was launched in 2002.
It is now time to register for the upcoming growing season. Go to www.bonnieplants.com for more information on the program.
At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the best cabbage, based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online and the student's name is placed in a statewide drawing. State winners are randomly selected by officials from the Department of Agriculture in each of the 48 participating states.
"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 Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants.
The cabbage was selected for the program because it was the first plant sold by the company in 1918.
Anna's winnings will be safely tucked away for when she starts college. She wants to be a professional soccer player or a photographer.
She likes dressing up her siblings and taking their pictures. Her sister, 6-year-old Maddie doesn't mind. However, her brother, 2-year-old Samuel, isn't thrilled about the photo sessions.
Anna is glad she participated in the cabbage-growing project.
"It was fun but a lot of work," she said.