Photography by Robert Kanngiesser (stockfood.ca) Image by: Photography by Robert Kanngiesser (stockfood.ca)
Why? Parts of Canada are blessed with sandy soil and moderate temperatures that
are just right for growing asparagus. And because the stalks can go from ground to grocery stores within 24 hours, the flavour and freshness are unparalleled. Ontario produces 70 percent of Canadian asparagus, most of it grown along the northern shore of Lake Erie.
“Nothing tastes like fresh Ontario asparagus,” says Ken Wall, a grower in Norfolk County, Ont., home to the largest concentration of asparagus farmers in Canada. “It’s exciting to grow the first vegetable out of the gate in the spring.”
Wall, who’s the co-owner of Sandy Shore Farms, will soon see row upon row of spears shooting out of the ground of the farm’s nearly 500 hectares. He runs the farm with the Konrad family; together, they’ve been growing asparagus for more than 50 years. During the lightning-fast asparagus season (typically early May until end of June), the farm harvests 900 to 1,350 tonnes of the spring vegetable, which are then sold across the country and along the Eastern Seaboard.
Each spear is years in the making. Seeds germinate in a nursery for 12 months, and once the root system is established, the fledgling asparagus crowns are transplanted into mounds in the field. Finally, after three years of care and growth, the first crop of asparagus spears is ready for harvest. A single asparagus plant can go on to produce hundreds of spears, often for 15 to 20 years.
A combination of warm spring air and sun usually kick-starts the season. “When the spears come up, it is truly an amazing sight,” says Wall. And once the spears begin to grow, they don’t stop; it’s not uncommon for farms to harvest five or six times a week. “Harvest is labour intensive,” he continues. “A spear can grow six or seven inches in one day.” Farm workers go through the rows of bright green shoots, cutting each one just beneath the soil. The spears are then transported to a sorting facility, where they’re immediately washed, cooled, graded and bundled. Within a day, the delicious stalks can make their way to grocery stores, markets, restaurants and, ultimately, your kitchen table.
Looking for ways to enjoy fresh asparagus? Try our 10 asparagus recipes for pasta, salad and soups
This story was originally titled "Bundles of joy" in the May 2015 issue.