Alberta farm eager to dish out asparagus

The Edgar family grows 50 acres of asparagus on their farm and opens up to the public three weekends every spring

INNISFAIL, Alta. — It takes courage to be the first and largest asparagus grower in Alberta, but that’s what Doug and Elna Edgar, their daughter, Keri, and her husband, Randy Graham, have done on their sixth generation family farm west of Innsifail.

Their farm of 11 quarters raised beef cattle and grain since 1907.

“In 1986, we planted one acre of asparagus as a means of farm diversification. At the time this was totally unheard of,” said Doug. “We hid it in the back of our farm, so the neighbours would not see it and think we were crazy.”

Today, Edgar Farms grows 50 acres of asparagus and host huge crowds at its asparagus festival held for three weekends every spring.

“We wanted to highlight the value of consumers shopping locally for their food,” said Elna. “In addition to the asparagus operation and with the help of our 20 excellent staff members, we grow and sell garden peas, rhubarb, different kinds of beans, grass-fed beef and a large selection of preserves and pies at our country store and at local farmers markets including the one in Calgary and Edmonton.”

She said the farm has 30 acres of garden peas and beans, 140 head of beef cattle and 1,000 acres of grain crops. It regularly sells at 20 farmers markets in central Alberta as part of Innisfail Growers, a group of five other local family farmers.

She said establishing a field of asparagus takes time. It takes six years after the first planting before the crop is ready for a full season’s picking.”

“We snap the asparagus spear off rather than cutting the spear as most other international producers do. This means that the tough part of the asparagus spear is left in the ground making our product very sweet and tender.”

Asparagus is a perennial and the root sends up spears for eating each spring. Picking is done in May to late June, and the plants are then left to rest the remainder of the year.

The spears are hand-snapped by workers sitting on a specially designed “aspara-buggy” that Doug built. There are three pickers per buggy and the centre person steers with their feet.

Twelve people pick and another three weigh, bundle, wash and pack the fresh spears for market.

Asparagus grows best on sandy, well-drained soils on the Edgar farm. The roots can go as deep as 10 feet. Worldwide, more than 300 different varieties of asparagus are grown.

Edgar Farms also has a big on-farm commercial kitchen where it produces pickles and related products from produce that doesn’t sell at markets.

During the asparagus festival, many family activities are featured and a large number of local craft vendors set up shop in the farmyard. Guests can taste different asparagus recipes, children can play in a play area and everyone can take a wagon tour out to the asparagus fields and learn about the plants and the industry.

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