By Craig W. Anderson

Third-grader Lorenzo Bruno entered Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program because, he explained, “My brother [Tino] entered [in 2018] and he won so it inspired me to enter the contest.” Lorenzo then proceeded to win his contest and the prize money of $1,000.

“No siblings have ever won the same competition,” Lorenzo explained; his mom Ester commented, “No one thought it possible for members of the same family to win, considering the odds.”

“I was surprised by the news that I won,” remarked Lorenzo.

“I was excited about it,” Tino said.

Exceptional Bruno brothers

The Bruno brothers have accomplished something that may never be equaled: Tino’s cabbage won the $1,000 first place prize two years ago when his 29 pound vegetable was chosen from “about 40,000 cabbages” said the duo’s dad, Chris Bruno (SJFB member), of Bruno Marketplace and the famous Bruno’s Wax Peppers. “Lorenzo’s was picked from about the same number of contestants.” Two members of the same family had winners picked from a combined 80,000-plus cabbages.

“We’re proud of our boys,” said mom Ester Bruno. “They put in a lot of effort. Lorenzo wanted a bigger cabbage than Tino.”

The Bruno’s excitement level “went through the roof when the phone call came through from Bonnie Plants with the news of Lorenzo’s win (on Jan. 6),” Chris said.

“I freaked out,” Lorenzo said.

The process

Lorenzo received his plant in January last year and it was harvested in late May, weighing 57 pounds.

“We started growing it with no fertilizer,” Lorenzo said. “But it wasn’t growing big enough so we added more fertilizer.”

A compost of vegetables, food and cow manure was used throughout the growing of the monster cabbage.

The giant was menaced by gophers and snails and, said Lorenzo, “We had to cage it to protect it from rabbits “on the small plot of Bruno Peppers land where the behemoth grew.

Honors received

Lorenzo will be presented with his $1,000 check in March; he was honored by Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and was interviewed by various media outlets.

Why cabbage

Bonnie Plants provided every contestant with an O.S. [oversized] Cross cabbage plant, a variety that can grow to basketball size and weigh more than 40 pounds. More than 18 million free cabbage plants are delivered annually to third grade classes across the country.

Why the cabbage? Because cabbages were the first profitable crop sold by Bonnie in 1918.

Cabbage fates

While Tino was able to take his cabbage to school, Lorenzo’s reached harvest too late in the school year to make the rounds. Tino’s cabbage went to the family goats and Lorenzo’s went to the Fork Lift Drop. “This is one time we encouraged the boys to play with their vegetables,” Ester said. “They came up with the cabbage drop. It was a perfect way to conclude the project.”

Lorenzo’s cabbage was wrestled into a company fork lift’s platform cage and raised 25-feet with Lorenzo and Chris aboard. “I could see all of Lodi from up there,” Lorenzo said. The mighty cabbage went over the side and thudded to the asphalt of the Bruno operation’s yard. Two drops later, the cabbage was “totally demolished and was a pile of goat food” explained Lorenzo.

According to Chris, the Bruno boys had some previous experience with big produce. “They grew a 200-pound pumpkin and a 75-pound watermelon with seeds as big as their thumbs.”

Awards, results

The program awards $1,000 to one student from each participating state. Teachers from each third-grade class select the student who’s grown the “best” cabbage based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online and the student is entered in a random statewide drawing.

“Bonnie hooks kids at a young age on the science of this,” Chris said. “This was an education in economics and didn’t stop with the cabbage but also how to manage time and resources and how to successfully grow a gigantic vegetable.”

Lorenzo said, “This got me more interested in agriculture and parts of ag.”

What to do with the $1,000? “I’m still thinking about it,” Lorenzo said. “Most of it will go toward college, probably.” However, the potential exists to spend some of it on fun stuff. Chris said, “We peeled off a hundred dollars of Tino’s winnings for Lego’s.”