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Asparagus Valley

Written, produced and edited by Nina Akerley '04 and Stevie Converse FP

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Hadley Queen Asparagus
On the cool mornings of May and June, farmers in Hadley, MA are up at 5:30a.m. to cut the day’s crop of asparagus. While some farmers may use new technology to harvest their asparagus, asparagus cutting, sorting, and
bunching is stilldone by hand in Hadley. This time of year marks the high asparagus season, when roadside stands and local stores are stocked with bunches of the green stalks and kitchen tables are graced with steaming platters full of asparagus.

Asparagus was first introduced to eastern Massachusetts in the late 1700's and became well established in towns near Boston and Cape Cod. In the 1920's, several men from Hadley traveled to Lexington and Concord to see how it was grown and brought seeds back to the Valley. The asparagus thrived in the fertile remains of a huge glacial lake that once covered the Pioneer Valley during the Ice Age. Hadley quickly established itself as the "Asparagus Capital of the World."

Thirty years ago, the entire community centered on asparagus. Families and neighbors picked, bunched, and ate asparagus together. About 50 tons of the "grass" passed through their hands each day.

Regional schools used to accommodate students who helped harvest the crop by opening schools late in season. An area shipping service, run by Barney Barstow, would collect boxed asparagus from Hadley farmers and drive it to Boston markets where it would be shipped as far away as California.

In the early 1970's, a fungus attacked the asparagus plants of Hadley and many farmers plowed their fields under and began growing other crops. Today, less than 200 acres of working asparagus beds remain in Hadley. A few committed farmers continue to grow the crop, switching to hardier strains such as the Jersey Supreme.

Significant factors contend with the legacy of asparagus farming in Hadley, including higher prices for supplies and labor. Drastically rising prices in fertilizers, insurance, shipping, and labor are causing many farmers to abandon the crop. Many long time residents who recall the glory days of Hadley asparagus see it as a sad change of times. In the meantime, old families maintain great pride in their asparagus and will continue their picking and bunching.

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 Copyright © 2004 Mount Holyoke College, 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA 01075, Phone: 413-538-2564.
This page is created by Mallika Aryal '05, Natalia Stefanova '05 and Eleanor S. Choo '06. Last modified on September 22, 2004 .