One of the most celebrated foods grown in the Pioneer Valley is asparagus, and the annual crop that comes from Hadley, Massachusetts is considered some of the best in the world.
Known by many as “Hadley Grass,” the speary crop is prevalent at farm stands, restaurants, and dinner tables this time of year — it can even be found in ice cream!
Join Producer Dave Fraser as he visits some local farms famous for their asparagus crop, including Flavors of Cook Farm, Plainville Farm, and Waskiewicz Farm, just in time for the return of the NEPM Asparagus Festival on June 4th!
Learn more about Flayvors of Cook Farm, one of the farms featured in this story, in a digital exclusive interview.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: One of the most celebrated foods grown in our region is asparagus, and the annual crop that comes from Hadley, Massachusetts, is considered some of the best in the world.
Known by many as Hadley Grass, the speary crop can be found at farm stands, restaurants, and dinner tables this time of year. And as producer Dave Fraser found out, it can even be found in ice cream!
Debby Cook, Flayvors of Cook Farm: All right, some good stuff!
It is a unique flavor, and when people first hear about it, they’re like, “oh, I’m not so sure.” But it works.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point : Mixed with asparagus and almonds, Hadley Grass ice cream is an annual tradition at Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley. The family-owned ice cream stand will make several gallons throughout the 6-to-8-week growing season.
Debby Cook: Mid to late April, we start getting phone calls asking if it’s ready. We have people come from Boston, from New Hampshire — all over — asking, do we have it yet?
Dave Fraser: Asparagus or Hadley Grass, as it is still called in these parts, was once a mainstay of the local economy and an important source of community spirit. During the annual harvest in May and June, young and old would join forces to help pick, sort, and trim and bunch a total of about 50 tons of the vegetable by hand each day.
Allan Zuchowski, Lazy Acres Farm: Number one, we’ve got the soil. Our soil produces delicious asparagus. Another thing, we’ve got the broad open fields. You don’t have to go very far from where we are right now to have hilly, gravelly soil.
So, we’ve got that alluvial plain along the river, the old floodplain.
Wally Czajkowski, Plainville Farm: When I was a kid, asparagus was huge in Hadley. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres.
As a matter of fact, when we went to school in the morning during asparagus season, school would start later. Instead of starting at 8:00, it started at 9:30, and that’s so all the kids could go out and pick in the morning.
Dave Fraser: Wally Czajkowski’s Plainville Farm is the largest asparagus grower in town. A third-generation farmer, he grows on what he calls some of the best land in the world.
Wally Czajkowski: Right now, the crowns are sending up shoots, because it’s time to grow. And every time they send up a chute, we come through and we cut it off. And they send up another one! And we cut it off. And they send up another one and we cut it off. This goes on for six weeks.
Dave Fraser: Six weeks of harvest means up to 40 rounds of cuttings from each asparagus plant. The root system of the plant is known as the crown.
Throughout the summer and fall, healthy asparagus plants pump nutrients down into the crown. Once spring hits, the healthy crowns are ready to send shoots skyward. Czajkowski’s crew will typically harvest from the same asparagus plant for up to 14 years.
Wally Czajkowski: There’s nothing that eats like asparagus. It’s the first thing of the season. And there’s something about being first, it’s a good thing.
Dave Fraser: Tom Moskovitz is a lifelong Hadley resident and third-generation farmer who is not only continuing the tradition of growing asparagus, but also spearheading a mission to make Hadley the official asparagus capital of the world.
Tom Waskiewicz, Waskiewicz Farm: I called up Michigan, Minnesota, California and New Jersey, all big growers of asparagus — they all knew of Hadley. It was amazing to me.
All of these states and offices knew of Hadley asparagus and they said, “No, no, that is Hadley’s claim. It’s all yours.” So, we’re really proud about that.
People want it fresh, just picked. They know that. They want to cook that lunch or dinner that night because it’s got so much flavor.
So ideally, if you can eat it 12 hours from being harvested, you’re golden. You’ll love it.
Dave Fraser: Back at Flayvors of Cook Farm, time is running out if you want to try this year’s Hadley Grass.
Debby Cook: We usually have it through probably the first or second week of June, probably second week of June, we still have it. Once the growing season stops, we have it until we’re out.