is stilldone by hand in Hadley. This time of year marks the high asparagus
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.
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.