Updated: January 6, 2013 9:55AM
Hail to Illinois’ little queen of cabbage.
Jenna Wiltjer, of Tinley Park, grew the most colossal cabbage amid the agricultural richness of our state (junior division). She’s 9.
Her horticultural achievement is a 20-pound cabbage that even Jenna admits wasn’t tasty, and she acknowledges that there comes a point at which an oversized vegetable passes the threshold from amazing into grotesque.
But Jenna can afford generosity toward an unloved garden varietal. She has the $1,000 savings bond from national food producer Bonnie Plants for its big-veggies contest. Her cabbage was bigger than those from roughly 20,000 other Illinois school kids.
And uglier, too. But that didn’t matter. Jenna says she learned two lessons from the experience: First, hard work pays off. And second, the size of the cabbage is what counts, not its appearance.
Winning the state contest makes up for Jenna’s general distaste for cabbage. “She’s not much of a cabbage-eater,” her dad said. As for her humongous entry, Jenna told a reporter that it was “very, very bitter. I think it got too big.”
When it grew to be topped by a three-foot-wide head, everyone in Jenna’s home figured it was time for harvest. It was so big that it was driving out the tomatoes and peppers in the corner of her family’s backyard garden.
In the realm of corpulent cabbages, Jenna’s effort, while impressive, does not come close to the world record. Scott Robb, of Palmer, Alaska, grew one that weighed in at 138.25 pounds at the Alaska State Fair this summer.
Jenna did not contribute any esoteric chemicals or innovative processes to her winner. Just clean, basic farming. She weeded and watered every day after planting the 6-inch sprout she received in her third-grade class at Rogus Elementary School.
Having taken the state title, Jenna plans to retire from competitive cabbage cultivation. She plans to grow a giant watermelon next year. Jenna figures if she doesn’t win, at least it will taste much better than her cabbage.