Perhaps because winter is at its least beautiful, or perhaps because the sight of a child dwarfed by a cabbage he grew was so adorable, we were particularly taken by the story of Aidan Howe, the Maine winner for an annual nationwide cabbage growing contest. We called him up at his home in Eddington (near Holden) to get tips on the care and feeding of cabbages as well as his recommendations on encouraging vegetable consumption in his age group.

Aidan Howe, the cabbage king of Maine, with his massive brassica.

MR. MONEY: Although the prize-winning cabbage was harvested way back at the end of summer, Aidan Howe, 10 now, 9 when he planted it, just found out on Valentine’s Day that he was the Maine champion in a nationwide contest run by Bonnie Plants. His mother, Samantha Brady, called the school and asked to speak to him, interrupting a viewing of “Wonder.” The news made the afternoon announcements and because it comes with a $1,000 scholarship in form of savings bonds, earned Howe a new nickname from his teacher. “She called me Mr. Money.”

CABBAGE PATCH KIDS: How many other Maine-grown cabbages did Howe compete against? More than four thousand, 4,086 to be precise, all third graders, all growing the same variety of cabbage, an O.S. Cross (that stands for “oversized”) produced by Bonnie Plants. Was it the biggest in the state? The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry randomly selected the winner, so there’s no way of knowing. But Howe’s was 7 pounds and “a few ounces,” his mother said. Or as Howe put it, “almost as big as me.” It was selected by his teacher at Holden Elementary to be the school’s contender. (The Bonnie Plants company says that some cabbages in this competition have been known to reach 40 pounds.)

BLUE RIBBON: Bonnie Plants started this cabbage-growing program in 1996 in Alabama, where the company is headquartered, with the intention of inspiring a new generation of gardeners. By 2002 it had become a national program, with 48 states participating. One student in every state gets a $1,000 scholarship. Will Howe be using the prize money someday at say, the University of Maine, a school known for its sustainable agriculture program? He said he could see studying farming, although his long-term plans to become a race car driver might interfere. “I’d like knowing the different types of seeds and what you need to have to do to grow it.”

Aiden Howe of Eddington won a $1,000 scholarship in the contest run by Bonnie Plants.

SIZE SECRETS: How did Howe get it to grow so big? He started with a raised bed, leaving 3 feet open all around the plant, which arrived as a small sprout in May and was handed out by Howe’s teacher. Did he use compost on it? “We used mulch,” which also helped keep down the weeds. What kind of mulch? “Brown.” So no weeding? “I still had to do a little weeding.” Ugh, isn’t that the worst? “I feel like I am good at it, and I like doing it because it helps the plants, and if you don’t weed it will die.” The family also grows pumpkins for Halloween, and had some tomatoes, carrots and green beans in the garden alongside that cabbage.

EXTRA EXTRA: The tougher outside leaves from the prize winner went to feed the pigs and goats at nearby Triple D Stables, where Howe has been known to do some horseback riding.

PLAYING FAVORITES: The rest went into the crock pot for something called “unstuffed cabbage.” Which is? According to his mother Samantha Brady, hamburger meat, tomatoes and the cabbage leaves, cooked in the Crock-Pot. “I love it. This is the best way to eat cabbage.” He has also tried it “with vinegar.” What’s his favorite vegetable? “I would say cabbage.”

WHO ARE YOU, AIDAN HOWE? Does he have any advice for parents who might like to get their children to enjoy eating vegetables? “I’d say, trying to help them grow it, because that worked for me. Before I didn’t even know what cabbage tasted like, and I didn’t even know that I liked it.”

 

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