Disclosure: We attended courtesy of Australian Asparagus Council and Prahran Market.
In case you haven’t noticed, the days are getting longer, it’s getting warmer (FINALLY), and asparagus is back in season. And back when the season just opened, Alastair and I went to an asparagus farm to see how they’re grown and processed.
We all know that I love stuff like this, so despite the fact that it was an even earlier start than the mushroom farm visit, I was all enthusiasm.
The asparagus farm we visited was Motta Produce, which is located in Koo Wee Rup, about 75km south east of Melbourne. They started the farm in 1968, growing a variety of vegetables, and in 1984 made the decision to solely dedicate the land to growing asparagus.
The fields are sorted into single row beds, and the asparagus grows from a crown that develops under the ground. These crowns send up shoots – asparagus spears. I don’t know what I was expecting – I had never thought about it, to be honest – but I had no idea the spears grew straight up like this.
The spears continually grow during spring and can grow really quickly – to a marketable length in 24 hours if the conditions are right.
All the spears are harvested by hand using a long-handled knife.
We had a go at harvesting and came back with a big handful each. We got to take these home and I cooked some that evening – they were the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten.
This is the packing shed, where we saw the asparagus being prepared for market.
From the fields, the asparagus comes transported in these crates. As you can see, they still have dirt on them, and they’re all different widths.
To begin with, they’re taken out of the crates and placed neatly on the conveyor belt, all facing the same way.
Then they get washed.
They get separated.
So that the computer can measure the diameter of each spear.
And it automatically sorts them by sending them down the specific chutes for their size.
These are neatly packed into black crates.
And they’re then boxed up for market.
These boxes were destined for export to Japan – who, interestingly enough, won’t accept anything other than wooden boxes. Why? Who knows. Though they do look quite attractive like this.
The packing shed was great to see – it was a quiet hive of activity. Everyone had their specific tasks in different sections and fortunately it didn’t seem like we were terribly in the way.
I didn’t realise this, but more than 95% of the asparagus grown in Australia comes from Victoria, and the bulk of it (70%) is for the domestic market.
I really enjoyed the visit to the farm, and there’s been lots of asparagus in my kitchen since the visit. Mostly I just serve it blanched/boiled – it’s so tasty it doesn’t need much embellishment – but I also made a very delicious (and green) asparagus soup.
It’s given me a new-found appreciation for this humble vegetable.