San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Craig W. Anderson


Nine year old Tino Bruno proudly displays the 29 pound cabbage he grew for the Bonnie Plants contest. Photo by Chris Bruno 

Third-graders experiencing AgVenture always have fun but only a few pursue the annual national cabbage growing contest to its conclusion.

In fact, growing a colossal cabbage is difficult in an urban environment but, fortunately for nine-year-old Tino Bruno, his family packs and sells the famous Bruno’s Peppers along with other items. There is room on the company’s property to grow things, in this case a monumental cabbage plant courtesy of Bonnie Plants, the company that provided tiny seedlings to third-graders attending San Joaquin County’s AgVenture in 2017.

This cabbage is worth $1,000

The cabbage growing contest is to determine who can grow the largest cabbage in the state. Bruno’s was the largest in California and he won a $1,000 scholarship from Bonnie Plants for his efforts. Cabbage farmers in 48 states were entered in the contest.

“My dad and I planted the little cabbage plant Jan. 11, 2017, and harvested it May 15 last year,” said Tino. “We had to harvest it early so I could take it to school.”

Colossal Cabbage

By May the cabbage had grown to hefty proportions but despite its resemblance to Audrey, the carnivorous man-eating plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” it was nearing the dimensions of a $1,000 prize winner: a weight of more than 29 pounds, a head eight inches larger than a basketball with a 38-inch circumference and more than a foot across.

Big Win for Third-Grader

Tino was a third-grader at Annunciation School in Stockton last year and during the cabbage’s growth on Bruno Pepper Co. LLC’s business property he had the plant surrounded by a chicken wire-based anti-rabbit pen – “The area’s rife with rabbits,” Chris said, “so we had to build a rabbit-proof fence around it.” It was grown on the business property because, Chris said, “We live in town without the room to grow it there so we grew it at the business.”

Every third-grade student attending an AgVenture day receives a small cabbage plant in an equally small Dixie cup and is encouraged to plant it and do what’s necessary to make it “really big!” according to Tino. He’s had some experience with growing titanic pumpkins – 200 pounds – and very large watermelons, some checking in at 75 pounds.

Labor intensive crop

Tino and his dad visited the plant twice weekly to check the rabbit barrier, water it if necessary. “The cabbage wasn’t sprayed for bugs and Tino plucked the bugs and snails and worms off the cabbage,” said dad Chris. “Mother Nature took care of the irrigation that wet winter and spring we had last year.”

He said that the cabbage was fertilized rather extensively and as a result humans didn’t consume much of it after it was harvested and taken onto the Annunciation campus on a wagon. Tino said, “My teacher Mrs. Bonnie Bloom was surprised and happy and it was fun and exciting to take the cabbage to school.” 

Chris said, “The kids were awed, the parents scratched their heads, it was a good time.”

Tino’s No. 1

“The cabbage contest has been held and sponsored by Bonnie Plants for more than a decade,” she said. “And Tino is the first California winner from this area in at least 10 years.”

The effort to keep AgVenture viable and getting the word out about county agriculture takes many forms, McCoon said. “An adult AgVenture is being considered, parents come and chaperone and this year we’ve had 1,000 to 1,500 parents helping out. Plus, we have a completely new group of third-graders rolling through every year.”

AgVenture’s working

Krista McCoon, AgVenture coordinator, said AgVenture went “very well with more than 3,000 third-graders roaming the county fairgrounds petting animals, in some cases riding on them and generally having a great time learning about animals, crops and agriculture in general.

She added, “AgVenture is really working to ingrain a passion for agriculture in these third-graders and their parents. Its influence is long-lasting. We have people participating in AgVenture this year who’ve told us their interest in ag was triggered when they participated when they were in the third grade.”

Tino’s interest in agriculture has been grabbed at least to the extent that he “would like to grow different produce and more giant stuff.” This added interest might arise from the answer to their question, “What the heck is that thing?” which quickly segued into “wishing their cabbages were as big as mine,” Tino said.

He said his mom, Ester, was “super happy and proud of me” and “I think my brother [eight year old Lorenzo] was jealous.” A voice from another room countered with, “No, I wasn’t!” But Lorenzo will get his chance when he receives his cabbage plant during his AgVenture.

That’s one big check

In the near future there will be a rally at Annunciation and the scholarship presentation, Tino says, “One of those giant checks.” 

Good goat food

Tino said, “It tasted OK. But we decided to take it to my friend Lily’s place in Morada to see if her pet goats, Sugar and Cinnamon, would like it. We were swimming while the goats ate the cabbage. They absolutely loved it! And their lab dog loved it too.”

While Chris didn’t think gigantic peppers were in his company’s future he said, “There are scholarship funds in our son’s college account and he was able to buy a 1,416 piece Lego Star Wars Command Ship.”

Let’s face it: you have to spend some of the Big Bucks on fun stuff.