Hadley seeks to regain title as ‘asparagus capital of the world’

  • Eli Heath of Haydenville, left, Ramzy Lakos of Oberlin, Ohio, Cody Edgerly of Amherst and Alizah Simon of Oberlin, Ohio, look at how asparagus is grown on June 3, 2017, during the WGBY Asparagus Festival in Hadley. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/24/2020 12:31:13 PM
Modified: 4/24/2020 12:31:01 PM

HADLEY — By unofficial self-proclamation, Hadley was once considered the asparagus capital of the world, with large swaths of fields dedicated to producing the sweet green spears beginning in the 1930s.

For Tom Waskiewicz, a lifelong resident who continues to grow what is often referred to as “Hadley grass,” it is time to restore that title to the town. 

This week, he brought the idea of formally declaring Hadley the capital of asparagus to the Select Board. 

“It feels like a feel-good story,” Waskiewicz said. “Our heritage is incredible.”

While the title has waned since the fungus known as fusarium wiped out much of the Mary Washington asparagus in the 1970s, forcing farmers to begin production of other vegetables, the town’s heritage with Hadley grass has never been completely lost, and in recent years has rebounded both with fungus-resistant varieties grown by numerous farmers, and the establishment of the annual WGBY Asparagus Festival on the Town Common.

In the 1950s and 1960s, in fact, 80% of asparagus produced in the state was grown in Hadley, and many high schoolers, Waskiewicz included, would spend their spring mornings harvesting the crops before heading to class. An annual festival and parade – with the crowning of a queen – was held each year, and signs were set up so people entering town were reminded of Hadley’s claim to fame.

The Select Board was receptive to Waskiewicz’s appeal. Board member Joyce Chunglo said that she would like to see the board issue a proclamation and have the state House and Senate adopt language giving Hadley back its recognition in an official way. 

“We’ll go for it,” Chunglo said.

Board members, who voted 5-0 in favor of the effort, anticipate being in touch with state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, to file the legislation in their respective chambers and then have Gov. Charlie Baker sign it into law. 

With perfect soil and a temperate climate that provides excellent growing conditions, Waskiewicz said bundles of asparagus should begin showing up at roadside farmstands by the end of April. Many farmers see it as an important early season cash crop.

“I do believe we’re seeing a resurgence of acreage being put into asparagus,” Waskiewicz said.

Asparagus production in Hadley, though, is not quite as prevalent as it was decades ago when shipments were regularly made to supermarkets and vendors in Boston, with some of the locally grown asparagus being brought overseas.

“It’s been shipped to Paris, it’s been shipped to London, it’s had worldwide acclaim,” Waskiewicz said.

Waskiewicz said his research shows that Oceana County, Michigan, in the western part of the state near Lake Michigan, has also made a similar claim as the asparagus capital. He recently spoke to officials in the lightly populated county, which has fewer than 30,000 residents, learning that the designation isn’t official.

Other places have also made some sort of asparagus claims, such as Stockton, California, and the German town of Schwetzingen, which holds an annual Spargelfest in May and has a competition for who can grow the heaviest stalk.

Waskiewicz said as the local asparagus is picked and arrives for sale over the next week or so, it will bring some normalcy to peoples’ lives.

“It’s the one crop no one ever complains about,” Waskiewicz said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.



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