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Valley Bounty: ‘Hadley grass’

For the Gazette
Published: 5/10/2019 3:25:13 PM
Modified: 5/10/2019 3:24:57 PM

Our local asparagus, often called “Hadley grass,” is considered some of the best in the country. I recently spoke with Donna Calabrese, who runs Calabrese Farms in Southwick with her husband, Tom. Calabrese explained that the sandy, well-drained soil found throughout the Valley combined with our cool spring temperatures create the perfect conditions for asparagus to thrive. That means that throughout May and June, asparagus spears will be shooting up through the soil in farmers’ fields across the region.

Asparagus is a perennial and can produce for up to 20 years. On Calabrese Farms, their four-acre patch is 15 years old and still going strong. Since the harvest began at the end of April, Calabrese’s team has been walking through their beds of asparagus each day with a specialized harvest tool shaped like a grooved-out chisel, cutting any ready stalks at their base. After the harvest finishes up in late June, the stalks will grow woody at the base and fern out into foliage. This allows the asparagus to photosynthesize, creating the energy that the plant uses to expand its root system during the off-season.

Calabrese says that once May hits, her farm stand is packed with customers looking for fresh asparagus. “Everybody’s looking for it because it’s a much better quality and taste than what you might find in the grocery store shipped in from other regions or countries.” Asparagus purchased during the off-season might have a hard or stringy texture. To Calabrese, fresh, local asparagus is a completely different product. “It has a meatier texture and when you cook it, it just melts in your mouth.”

We’re lucky to live in an asparagus oasis, so pick up some fresh spears while the season lasts. Calabrese suggests a simple recipe: Throw some fresh asparagus in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in the oven. Sprinkle on some parmesan for some added flavor or toss it on the grill if the weather’s nice.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)

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