Eons before the so-called locavore movement took off in trendy places, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture established the “Jersey Fresh” logo to advertise which fruits and vegetables are grown in the Garden State and encourage us to buy local produce. You can go to the Jersey Fresh website and find out what produce is available in each week or month.
One of the earliest Jersey Fresh crops is asparagus, which is why the latest Jersey Fresh season just kicked off with a visit by Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher and other officials to Katona Farms in Burlington County, where the third generation of the Katona family grows asparagus along with sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon and other produce.
Last year, New Jersey ranked fourth among the states for asparagus production, although far behind the top three. As calculated in hundredweights, Michigan produced more asparagus than anywhere else in the U.S. (266,000 hundredweights), followed by Washington state (209,000) and California (132,000). New Jersey’s output was 57,000 hundredweights. Indeed, total U.S. production of the stem vegetable is insignificant in global terms; the highest production volume is in China, followed by Peru, Mexico and Germany.
While not seeming to inspire as much aversion as some other vegetables — shall we say broccoli? — asparagus is far from a favorite among American veggie consumers, whose average annual consumption of it is a paltry 1.76 pounds. By contrast, annual consumption of tomatoes averages 20.6 pounds. Those who resist asparagus might look at it afresh if they realized, as writer Barbara Kingsolver has pointed out, that “Europeans of the Renaissance swore by it as an aphrodisiac, and the church banned it from nunneries.”