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The scaled pointy tops of asparagus popping up through the surface of the earth is often one of the first signs of spring for growers—and for veggie lovers alike. Here in Colorado, April kicked off the growing season, and the cooler-weather-loving crops will be in season for the next six weeks or so. We spoke to fourth-generation grower Kyle Monroe and his partner and farm manager, Samantha Caplan, of Monroe Organic Farms in Kersey, to find out what makes Colorado asparagus growing season unique and where to find (or pick) their fresh spears this spring.
What Makes Asparagus So Delicious?
Asparagus is known for its distinct balance of earthy, nutty, vegetal, and buttery sweet flavors, making it a beloved vegetable to steam and throw in pasta salads or serve grilled atop a bed of rice. Asparagus grows well in areas that have long, cold winters and ample sunshine (eight hours per day minimum), making Colorado an ideal climate for the perennial crop, which pushes its way through the soil year after year once the ground thaws and soil temperatures rise above approximately 50 degrees each spring.
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The first harvest began at Monroe Organic Farms in mid-April, and the season typically lasts up to eight weeks, until about mid-June, when the spears become too thin. According to Monroe, one of the biggest challenges to asparagus season in Colorado is water supply, which he notes can be variable from year to year. The crop requires up to two inches of water per week in the first two years of growth, with mature asparagus still needing one inch. Luckily, this winter provided the farm with sufficient water, which it receives via runoff from the mountains.
Asparagus can be planted by seed, which takes two to three years to harvest, or by crowns (tiny roots planted 12 inches beneath the surface of the ground) that are ready to harvest more quickly. Once planted and ready for picking, asparagus beds can be productive for up to 20 to 25 years. When harvest time begins each spring, the shoots continue to crop up and are picked daily, making for quite a busy and active season. “Asparagus that was one inch in the morning can grow to six inches by the end of the day,” Monroe says. “On a hot day, you can almost watch it grow.”
Monroe Organic Farms grows a Jersey variety of the veggie, which have mostly green shoots with purple pigments in the tips. The asparagus grown at the farm is not overly thick or fibrous, making it ideal for cooking after snapping off the shoots’ woodier ends. Monroe’s favorite way to cook asparagus is to give it a slight char on the grill, while Caplan prefers to steam or roast her spears, garnishing them with Parmesan cheese. “Really, you can eat asparagus picked fresh out of the field, so there’s no wrong way to cook it,” Monroe says.
Meet the Growers
Monroe and Caplan have a three-year-old daughter, and are looking forward to continuing family farming traditions with her, including this asparagus season. “I’ll be going out to pick asparagus in the fields with my daughter, the same asparagus fields I helped plant when I was a boy, the same fields that my father and grandfather picked,” Monroe says. “So, the generational aspect—there’s really nothing like it.”
The Monroe family started farming in Colorado in the 1800s and have been farming on the current property in Kersey near Greeley since 1936. After starting the farm, Monroe’s grandfather left to serve in World War II, and upon coming back, he was affirmed in not using chemicals on the farm after witnessing the toxins used in war. The farm continues to use chemical-free practices, is fully organic, and has long been dedicated to being stewards of the land.
One way Monroe Organic Farm helps connect Coloradans to each other, the land, and to eating locally and seasonally is through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which the farm started in 1993 when it was one of only three CSAs in the state. Today, Monroe’s is the oldest CSA in Colorado and currently offers both winter and summer shares. Bags of produce shares can be picked up at the farm for those who live nearby, and the farm also delivers shares three evenings a week (Tuesday through Thursday) to different members’ homes, which serve as distribution centers throughout the Denver metro area and the Front Range.
Through CSA pick-ups, members can socialize and get to know each other (some even host small gatherings at the end of the season). “What sets us apart is really that community involvement,” Caplan says. “You’re going to people’s houses to pick up your share, and [you] can exchange recipes. If you don’t like a vegetable in your bag, you can trade with someone for something else.”
How to Buy Asparagus This Season or Pick Your Own
Each year 200 to 300 CSA members come out to the farm to pick their own fresh spears straight out of the soil—an act of reciprocity that gets customers out to the farm and also helps with the rapid growth of asparagus throughout the season. The farm also offers U-pick farm visits for strawberries and pickling cucumbers for its CSA members (check the website for more info on how to sign up for a share). It currently grows 130 varieties of crops and is starting to grow flowers this season, too. If you’re not interested in the CSA, Monroe Organic Farms’ asparagus is sold weekly at the Boulder County Farmers Market, which currently takes place every Saturday, and Denver’s City Park Farmers Market, which will begin in May.
25525 Country Road 48, Kersey