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The grass is coming up green

The first green in the Yakima Valley is often shoots of asparagus popping up in open fields of dirt each April. Asparagus is a perennial, sprouting in multiple years once it takes root. An asparagus plant can last up to 30 years if properly tended. Asparagus has been used for millennia as a vegetable and a medicine...a recipe for asparagus appears in the oldest known cookbook: peel, wash and dry, then immerse the stalks in boiling water and allow the heads to cook by steaming. Asparagus has long been part of the Sunnyside identity, with many of the locals remembering a time when school started a little later in the morning so the children could participate in the harvest and “cut grass” before heading to classes. Celebrate asparagus in Sunnyside this coming Saturday at the first ever Asparagus Festival to be held at the Sunnyside Museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

Asparagus plants are perennials, sprouting in multiple years after being planted. Later in the season the plants will grow tall and fern-like with a bushy appearance. The asparagus that people eat is actually new shoots that emerge in the spring.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

Sunnyside Asparagus, freshly cut and packed, stands ready to be shipped to markets around the state.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

When a cutter’s bucket is full, he or she loads the asparagus into bins that are carried back to trucks and taken to the processing plant. In Sunnyside, Johnson Fruit processes the fresh cut asparagus for market.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

Workers at Johnson Fruit prepare asparagus for packing. The asparagus are cut to a uniform length, sorted by width and passed along to be banded and packed.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

Starting early in the morning, asparagus cutters work to collect the green grass in buckets. A small group each takes a row and works it until the end, harvesting good sprouts and leaving damaged ones in the field.

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Photo by Laura Gjovaag

A long knife and deft hands are required to quickly move through the asparagus field collecting the precious crop. The sprouts are cut off near or slightly below ground level by workers who spend hours bent over rows of plants.

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