Farm Horizons, Aug. 2016

One of region’s only asparagus farms grows sustainably

By Brianna Mathias

From the top of the hill, it may be hard to see the plants emerging from the ground. But with a closer look, it’s easy to see the hundreds and hundreds of asparagus that have changed the land they grow on.

The start of something new

Six years ago, Kevyn Herdklotz of Dassel began growing asparagus on his land. Originally, the 300 crowns were planted along with a large garden full of other vegetables.

“It’s perennial,” Herdklotz said. “I don’t have to till and it grows really well here.”

Because of how well the plant grows in the area, Herdklotz eventually planted more and more, until, three years ago, the farm became exclusively asparagus.

“We have 16,000 crowns of asparagus planted,” Herdklotz said. “The amount of asparagus each crown produces really varies. In full maturity, each one produces 2 to 4 pounds a season, depending on variety.”

Future of the farm

Herdklotz plans to expand the farm in the future by putting in another 15,000 crowns of asparagus, as well as other plants.

“I’m going to be putting in garlic, and more fruit trees,” Herdklotz said. “We’ve mostly just been working on getting all the asparagus in, which takes a couple of years.”

Friends and family

Because of the growth, Herdklotz has had help with both the planting and the harvesting of the crop.

“I had a planting party with friends for all the new crowns we put in,” Herdklotz said. “Friends and family help with harvesting.”

Since asparagus pop up out of the ground, picking it requires a lot of bending over, which Herdklotz said can be a pain.

“This year, my nephew, Kenny, came up from Kansas and lived with us for a few weeks to help pick,” Herdklotz said. “He’s the real MVP.”

Each morning, whoever was going to pick had to get out into the field early, according to Herdklotz.

“Picking in the heat is dreadful,” Herdklotz said. “When we tried picking in the afternoon, the mosquitos were out, the sun was beating down on us, and the asparagus was harder to snap.”

Despite these challenges, Herdklotz said he loves asparagus for many reasons.

“There’s a need for asparagus in the local market,” Herdklotz said.

One restaurant the farm sells to is Smack Shack, a seafood restaurant in Minneapolis. Herdklotz also said he sells to the East Side and Litchfield co-ops.

Though Herdklotz sells most of his asparagus, he said there are plenty of plants that are too thin, too seedy, or are partly eaten by the asparagus beetle. These, he gets to keep.

“We eat a lot of asparagus around here,” Herdklotz said. “There are so many different things you can do with it.”

Luxury vegetable

Green asparagus is grown on the farm, but the majority of the field consists of a purple variety of the plant, according to Herdklotz.

“Purple asparagus is less fibrous and has a higher sugar content so it is highly desired by chefs,” Herdklotz said. “All of our asparaus has been very successful. It grows really well here and, in a lot of places, it’s considered a luxury vegetable so it is very lucrative.”

Sustainable farming

Herdklotz said the money is awesome, and definitely a necessity, but he believes sustainability is equally as important.

“For me, a lot of it has to do with the health of the planet,” Herdklotz said. “A lot of people focus on the health of the human. I try to keep in mind how I can help people seven generations ahead of me.”

Natural predators

In order to fulfil his goal of keeping his plants natural, Herdklotz said he lets the asparagus grow how nature intended.

“I like growing asparagus because it feels like it’s part of a natural environment, rather than something you’re forcing nature to do,” Herdklotz said. “I don’t weed the fields in order to keep plant diversity, which creates an environment for frogs, spiders, and other natural predators to the asparagus beetle.”

Instead of using chemical pesticides, Herdklotz relies on natural predators. This year, he released thousands of ladybugs into the field to protect the crop’s health.

“I ordered ladybugs online and they came with a little water sprayer,” Herdklotz said. “It was a really fun time trying to disperse them into the asparagus. I had ladybugs all over me.”

The Bees Knees

Ladybugs aren’t the only insects Herdklotz said are welcome at the farm.

“This is definitely a bee-friendly farm,” Herdklotz said. “If we kill the bees, we kill ourselves.”

Herdklotz explained how the bee population is at risk.

“Essentially, bees are dying off in huge numbers because of neonicitinoids, a harsh chemical and main ingredient in many pesticides,” Herdklotz said. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.’”

Herdklotz said even average people can help to stop the collapse of these pollinators.

“Buy organic, buy local, plant flowers, and use natural pesticides,” Herdklotz said. “Any small effort to help our friends is worthy and important.”

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