Your NPR news source

It's Spring. It's Asparagus.

SHARE It's Spring. It's Asparagus.
It's Spring.  It's Asparagus.

The farmer’s market season in Chicago is underway. And we thought it would be a good time to launch an occasional series on the foods we eat and the stories they tell.

One of the first crops to show up in markets is asparagus. Some claim the green stalks are an aphrodisiac. And they can have a malodorous influence in the bathroom.

But asparagus is also a harbinger of spring and the beginning of a new food season. Chicago Public Radio’s Adriene Hill reports.

***
When stalks of asparagus are really fresh, and you rub them together, they sound like this.

Squeak, squeak, squeak.

DAVID CLEVERDON: They squeak. Laugh.

That’s farmer David Cleverdon.

CLEVERDON: Squeaky asparagus, some say squeaky clean. You should also look at the bottoms to make sure they aren’t yellow, they aren’t dried out.

David owns Kinnikinnick Farm with his wife Susan. On the first day of the Green City Market in Chicago his stand has a regular stream of chefs and home cooks.

He says his asparagus is special.

CLEVERDON: It almost tastes like a different vegetable.

How different? IC:

CLEVERDON: Just sweet wonderful asparagusy taste, it tastes like asparagus, but like sweet asparagus.

Asparagus is just one of dozens of vegetables and herbs that David grows organically on his farm in Caledonia, Illinois. The day I’m there, he’s gearing up 4 old Maytag washers to serve as salad spinners for baby arugula. Greens go from 150 gallon tubs filled with water, to a fisherman’s net, to the spin cycle on the Maytags. They spin, the water is pushed out, and viola, clean arugula. It’s headed to the cooler.

CLEVERDON: This is our cooler.

REPORTER: Can you tell me what’s in here right now?

CLEVERDON: There’s nothing in here right now but onions and asparagus…this is asparagus, we harvest…one woman that comes in here, all she does is trim asparagus for us.

He says the woman has been a part of the farm for years. It’s an operation that requires a lot of helping hands. David takes me on the tour on a golf cart. He shows me rows and rows of hoed beds.

CLEVERDON/REPORTER: This is asparagus…see it…No…look…oh wow…all of the sudden it looks like all of this is asparagus.

Asparagus stalks peak up through the ground. They can grow fast—up to 10 inches a day. And they’ll grow through the month of June. After that he’ll let them leaf out, and because they’re perennials, they’ll pop up again next year.

That ability to re-create and re-make is part of David’s own story. Farming is his third career. He’s worked in state politics, worked on the floor at the Board of Trade, and one day decided he was tired of it. So remade himself as an organic farmer.

David says farming is the most intellectually challenging thing he’s done. It’s always new; the struggles are always different.

REPORTER/CLEVERDON: Are you happy? No…your know farmers don’t know from hapy. You feel good. You feel depressed, you feel elated. If you have a good year, you’ve pulled it off…you’ve changed a little bit of the world where you are and that’s very satisfying.

The new farming season is another chance to get it right. And asparagus is a sign, that the world, as David puts it, is coming around again.

I’m Adriene Hill, Chicago Public Radio.

The Latest