Farm Visit to Asparagus Grower Coastal View Produce
Beautiful green stalks of asparagus can grow an amazing 6 to 10 inches in a day. A small group from Earl’s Purchasing, Sales, Marketing and Quality Control departments visited Coastal View Produce to see exactly what an asparagus farm looks like. CVP is located in Gonzales, CA about 2 hours south of San Francisco.
Brian Violini, a third generation farmer has been growing delicious organic asparagus in the Salinas Valley for over 40 years. His grandfather, a Swiss Immigrant, worked on a dairy farm in Salinas valley back in 1918 when he was just 20 years old. “I can remember being 10 years old and pulling weeds and moving sprinklers for my grandfather,” says Violini, who now runs Coastal View Produce with his brother. “The main thing we’re known for is asparagus,” says Violini. “We started with organic asparagus, when I was in high school.” Violini attributes the consistent high quality of his crop to the mild Salinas weather in the winter and spring. “It’s not too hot, not too cold—it stays around 65–75 degrees.
Our tour started off as we piled into Brian’s truck and headed out to the fields for a look. As far as the eye could see were rows of asparagus. These particular fields were at least 6 years old which means that the plants can be harvested multiply times during the season which runs from March to June. A younger plant will be harvested a shorter time so the plant can store energy from the sun and have a better production the following year. A plant is never harvested from the same cut. A new stalk will grow from a new “eye” of the crown.
The lifecycle of an asparagus plant starts from the crown that is planted a few inches deep in the ground. The crown can grow up to a few feet long over the life of the plant, which can last up to 12 years in a commercial farm setting. The first year is a waiting game as the crown establishes itself in the ground. The second year the plants may be harvested only once or twice. Then they will be allowed to go to fern to produce chlorophyll to grow the crown. The older the plants are the longer the crowns become and the wider the rows of dirt are in the field. At the end of each season the plants go to fern to replenish the nutrients for the following year’s production.
Workers will strap baskets to their waist and using a sharp knife cut asparagus from the base of the stalk. Once the baskets are filled they will empty them and start over. From the field the asparagus is brought in bins to the packing shed where they are rinsed, trimmed, sorted by size and then packed in neat bundles. The size of the spears comes from the age of the plant and is a personal preference. The youngest plants produce the skinny stalks. The thicker spears from older plants are said to be more succulent because they contain higher levels of carbohydrates. You decide, but make sure to look for blemish free asparagus with tightly closed tips and avoid wilted looking stalks.
Try to eat them as soon as you buy them but you can store them upright in the refrigerator in a dish of water or wrap a damp towel over the ends and store in a plastic bag. When you’re ready to eat them, snap or cut off the white portion of the butt end of the asparagus. They’re perfect coated with olive oil and roasted, which leaves them firmer, nuttier and sweeter than steaming. I also like to peel the larger sizes into thin strips for a raw salad or piled on top of a pizza. Asparagus is high vitamin C and K and folic acid and contain less than 50 calories per 6 oz serving.