The Department of Environmental Management (DEM), in partnership with Bonnie Plants and Dunn's Corners Elementary School, today announced Westerly third grader, Boone Bessette, is the Rhode Island winner of the National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program's "Best-In-State" Challenge. Bessette, who grew a 26-pound cabbage, received a $1,000 education savings bond from Bonnie Plants.
Bessette joined more than 2,500 third graders from across Rhode Island to participate in the challenge. His cabbage, voted best cabbage for its overall size and appearance by his teacher at Dunn's Corners Elementary, was entered into a statewide drawing and selected for the prize by DEM. Ken Ayars, chief of DEM's Division of Agriculture, joined Bonnie Plants representatives today at the Westerly elementary school to present Bessette with his award.
"This program has been such a fantastic learning experience for the thousands of students across Rhode Island who planted, watered, fed and nurtured their plants from seedlings to large heads of cabbage," said Ayars. "Engaging children in these types of hands-on activities is one of the best ways for kids to learn about agriculture and where their food comes from. We are proud to be a partner in this effort - and in so many others that literally bring the farm into the classroom and help preserve the vitality of local agriculture well into the future."
Rhode Island continues to be a leader in the farm-to-school movement. According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, Rhode Island ranks number one nationally in farm-to-school participation - with more than 90 percent of the state's school districts engaged in one or more programs; this includes serving local produce, dairy, and meats and/or growing gardens.
Increasingly, local food and agriculture are hotbeds for innovation and entrepreneurship in Rhode Island - spurred on by a growing demand for fresh, locally grown food. The state's food system supports 60,000 jobs, and it is home to more than 1,200 farms. Rhode Island is also home to a thriving young farmer network, with the number of farmers increasing by more than 40 percent since 2002. And the state ranks second nationally in percent of farms owned by beginning farmers.
The popularity of farmer's markets and the direct marketing of local agricultural products in general in Rhode Island continues to climb - with more than 50 markets across the state. Rhode Island now ranks third nationally in the percentage of farms that sell directly to the public.
This year, more than one million third graders participated in the nationwide Bonnie Plants program. Bonnie Plants provided the cabbage seedlings to all participants at the start of the growing season. For more information about the program, visit www.bonniecabbageprogram.com.
For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.