I’ve been growing asparagus on our family farm at Sand Hutton in North Yorkshire for almost 15 years. It’s a passion of mine, but something that I stumbled on by chance.
It’s true what they say, that children certainly change your life, there is no question about that. But I had no idea of the impact they would have on my career.
I’d been happily pursuing a career as a manager in a department store before leaving to have my first baby. After getting back on my feet, I realised that I needed to work again to provide an income but wanted to be at home as much as possible to care for my child.
Initially, I started working on the family farm which grew arable crops which mainly involved heavy machinery. As the work wasn’t really suitable, I decided to look for something different that I could incorporate in to farm and family life – I was determined to make something work.
My first thoughts led me to contemplate a pick-your-own strawberry business, but after consideration it appeared that the local competition was too strong. Much to my surprise, I was advised that the farm had the perfect land for asparagus growing, so I decided it try it. With little idea of what I was doing, I planted my first acre in 1997. Only a few bunches were produced to start with and I put them in a toy box on a table outside the farm gate to see what happened. People snapped them up and were asking for more. My passion for asparagus was born.
The business grew from the early days of selling at the farm gate and taking the left overs to local greengrocers who loved the fantastic freshness of our asparagus. Everybody wanted the spears straight from the field. Greengrocers started ordering more and more, so we kept planting acre after acre. We now have 12 acres of asparagus and still can’t produce enough. It’s been an incredible journey.
I was surprised to realise that experience in my previous career helped with a farming business. I knew how to approach the asparagus business professionally and I understood marketing – for example how to present our asparagus through good signage and packaging. Experience of budgeting helped ensure that my costings were correct. I’m completely passionate about our product – I fiercely believe in attention to detail in every way and will only accept our asparagus going out to the public in pristine condition.
We now employ 25 staff at Low Moor Farm and amongst my other roles, I look after all of them. The asparagus is still sold at the farm gate, where we operate a post card system for the public to fill in their details so that we can let them know when the spears are ready for sale. I love the interaction with our local community that the asparagus season creates – the start of the season is hotly anticipated and I love being able to spread the good news each year that the crop is here! My husband, Richard, also enjoys this aspect of growing asparagus – farming can be a lonely life, but we really engage with the customers, and that is the best part of the story.
In addition, we sell to a wholesaler who supplies hotels and restaurants and also a very well know local restaurant called the Star Inn at Harome.
This season has been the earliest we’ve ever known – the beautiful hot weather has meant our asparagus was ready to be harvested almost a month earlier than usual. The early bumper crop has been great for our customers, but logistically it’s been a bit of a challenge! It’s been all hands on deck, but the fact that the end product is so greatly appreciated makes it all worthwhile.
The thing I love most about growing asparagus is eating it every day in the season! The best way to cook it is roasted with a little olive oil and some sea salt. It just needs to be popped in the oven whilst you pour a glass of wine, relax for ten or fifteen minutes and then tuck in with a bit of butter and parmesan. Make sure that it’s the freshest asparagus possible. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, then I can recommend trying the following recipe:
British Asparagus, Chilli, Lemongrass and Lime Leaf Stir Fry with King Prawns
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
a small knob of ginger, peeled and grated
1 stalk of lemon grass, bashed and finely chopped
4 lime leaves, thinly sliced
4 tbsp fish sauce
1-2 tbsp palm sugar or light muscavado sugar
1 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil
10 raw king prawns, shells off but with tails on if you can
1 small onion, cut into thick slices
1-2 small red Thai birds eye chilli, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 spring onions, cut into thumb length pieces
1 bundle (approx 250g) British asparagus, chopped in half lengthways then cut into thumb length pieces
Steamed Thai rice to serve
Fresh coriander and/or Thai basil to serve
What to do:
Mix together the ginger, lemon grass, lime leaves, fish sauce and sugar and put to one side.
Meanwhile heat a wok on high and when it’s really hot add in the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add in the king prawns and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until the prawns have gone pink with slightly golden edges. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Throw in the onion and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the chilli, garlic and spring onion and stir-fry for a further 4 minutes until the onions have softened. Add the prawns back in and the British asparagus and stir fry for a further minute.
Finally pour over the sauce which was prepared earlier, and cook until the sauce becomes sticky (3 minutes).
Serve immediately, topped with the fresh herbs and with the Thai rice.
Low Moor Farm,
North Yorkshire YO41 1LH
To learn more about British asparagus visit the website: www.british-asparagus.co.uk
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