The 'King of Vegetables' Retains Its Throne in Washington

Washington’s crop is pumping big money into the economy after years of decreased production

This article appears in the May 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Washington state is the reigning king of the “King of Vegetables.”

The state, known for its apple and cherry exports, also is the top producer of asparagus in the United States, according to a new report. Washington is No. 1 for the second-straight year, besting California and Michigan.

Asparagus growers produced 23.5 million pounds of the fiber-rich, cholesterol-free vegetable last year, contributing $50 million in economic impact after several years of decreased production. Peak asparagus harvest season runs from April to June. May is national asparagus month.

About 5,000 acres of asparagus are grown in the state, mostly on 100 family farms within 60 miles of Pasco, according to Washivore, a website that monitors the state’s agricultural sector. Asparagus is known as the “King of Vegetables” because it has a crown on the tip.

For most of the year, Washington retailers import asparagus from Mexico and Peru. During peak season, however, locally grown stalks provide a cheaper and fresher alternative. Because of decreased distance, shipping rates are significantly lower. 

Growers must cut each individual asparagus stalk from the field, making it a labor-intensive crop to harvest. High imports from Mexico in previous years, as well as labor shortages due to an overlap with the start of cherry season, left Washington farmers with unharvested crops. Last year, an upswing in innovation — with drip irrigation, denser planting and changing plant varieties — made significant impacts on growth and harvesting.

“Buying just an extra bundle of Washington fresh asparagus positively impacts local growers, packers and their families, and sometimes it’s as simple as asking for Washington asparagus from your local produce steward,” Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, says. 

Flat blue rubber bands mark Washington asparagus bundles in most grocers and farmers markets.

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