ELTOPIA, Wash. — Still reigning as the nation’s top producer, Washington State’s quality fresh asparagus crop is significant in both quality and quantity. Each April to June, Washington’s family farmers and packers work quickly to get the fresh, vibrant asparagus harvest to regional supermarkets, farmer’s markets and onto restaurant menus. In 2020, approximately 19.3 million pounds of asparagus were harvested, with an economic impact of roughly $52 million for growers and packers. This is comparable to 2019 season revenues, despite a reduction in yield due to an extended period of cool weather; last season saw excellent quality and a price increase that kept revenues on par.
“In the upcoming 2021 season, we expect fresh asparagus production to come in at around 22 million pounds,” said Washington Asparagus Commission Executive Director Alan Schreiber. “Our farmers work hard year around for an excellent crop, and they’ve become increasingly savvy at maximizing yields with the use of drip irrigation, direct-seed varieties, and intensive farm management and monitoring.”
Not only have conventional yields edged up over the years; Washington’s organic production of fresh asparagus continues to grow, accounting for approximately eight percent of its annual crop, Schreiber noted.
In early 2020, local politicians pushed national trade policy leaders to help boost Washington State asparagus, in an effort to curb unfair trade practices around increased import competition from Mexico and Peru, rising labor costs, and escalating overall production costs. Consumers also have the ability to positively impact Washington’s fresh asparagus industry when April brings the first shipments to market: look for the blue rubber band that says “Washington” around asparagus bundles, or if unsure, ask produce managers if their store’s asparagus is from Washington State. Also, purchasing just one more Washington asparagus bundle than usual can make a big difference in total sales for the local industry.
Local produce means fresher, more vibrant produce since it’s much quicker to get from farm to market. Washington asparagus not only exceeds USDA standards with its “Extra Fancy” designation (meaning more tightly and evenly packed bundles); with a far smaller carbon footprint for transport, freshness translates to superior flavors, juiciness and quality over its imported counterparts.
From a dietary standpoint, asparagus is good for digestive and cardiovascular health; it has nutrients that help protect the body from chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Asparagus is rich in Vitamins A, C, K, E, folate (a prenatal staple), and glutathione (an anti-carcinogen and antioxidant). It has no fat, no cholesterol, and is very high in fiber. Its amino acid called asparagine helps to cleanse the body of toxins.
When shopping for asparagus, choose odorless, green (or purple) firm stalks with dry, compact or barely-opened tips. Store these asparagus by wrapping the ends of the stalks in a wet paper towel, placed inside a plastic bag; think of the stalks as a perpetually thirsty grass. Refrigerate immediately and use as soon as possible. To prepare, rinse the spears under cool water and snap off or cut the white end of the stalk, approximately the bottom half-inch. Those cut ends can be frozen and later added to soup stock.
Enjoy asparagus at any meal time in quiches, as an appetizer, tossed in pastas, salads and soups, or as a sumptuous side dish that’s grilled, baked, steamed, roasted, or sautéed. For more advice and recipe ideas from Northwest chefs and Washington asparagus growers, visit waasparagus.com.
About the Washington Asparagus Commission
Established in 1991, The Washington Asparagus Commission promotes Washington asparagus domestically, monitors and addresses trade issues, and advances environmentally sound production practices through research. The Washington Asparagus Commission represents the growers’ interest in areas and issues relating to the asparagus industry. The Commission invites the public, retailers and restaurateurs to share their Washington fresh asparagus enthusiasm via social media with the hashtags #stalkup and #WAfreshasparagus. Learn more at waasparagus.com.
— Washington Asparagus Commission
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