Celebrating one good spring veggie (video)

An Innisfail-area farm doesn’t just grow asparagus — it celebrates the spring vegetable. And plenty of people joined in at Edgar Farms’ third annual Asparagus Festival, held Saturday and Sunday.

Megan Parry

Megan Parry

An Innisfail-area farm doesn’t just grow asparagus — it celebrates the spring vegetable.

And plenty of people joined in at Edgar Farms’ third annual Asparagus Festival, held Saturday and Sunday.

The farm has 17 acres of asparagus. Picking has just begun and will continue until the end of June.

Elna Edgar said asparagus is not commonly grown in Central Alberta and people come with a lot of questions about the veggie that has been savoured throughout history.

“It’s a perennial plant. We planted it years ago. We wanted to do something a little unique. We had a little patch growing in the garden and it tasted absolutely amazing.”

Asparagus lovers agree.

“It’s the best. It’s a family favourite,” said Dianne Rae, of Innisfail, who likes to support local farmers.

Edgar’s daughter Keri Graham said their crop is sweeter compared to asparagus that comes from South America or even British Columbia.

“The more purple the tip is, the sweeter. We have the purple tips here because we have the nice, cool nights,” Graham said.

“We get way better quality, but less yield. But it’s so worth it,” said Graham about her family’s asparagus that can be purchased at the farm and at market gardens in Innisfail, Red Deer, Calgary and Edmonton.

Visitors to the festival could take a hay ride, snap off a tasty shoot in an asparagus field, and ride an asparagus picker. Children’s games and a petting zoo were onsite along with craft and food booths featuring asparagus and more.

The Asparagus Festival was a featured activity during Springtime Country Drive, the first of four special weekends through the year to introduce tourists and locals to 26 participating farms, museums and rural businesses.

Edgar Farms has been a long-time member of Country Drive, which provides a map for self-guided tours to the Central Alberta sites that stretch north to Lacombe and south to Crossfield.

“There’s lots of great things to see and do in the area and we just have to get the word out,” Edgar said.

Country Drive member Susan Manyluk, owner and operator of HolmeHus Antiques and The Farm with Good Food, said Country Drive developed out of the BSE crisis that prompted people to look beyond traditional farming activities.

She said it’s attracted visitors to come out and see what Central Alberta has to offer, as well as help encourage operators who are new to agri-tourism. Strong anchors, like Ellis Bird Farm, have kept it going and made Country Drive a prototype for other regions.

Manyluk said her large array of antiques draws people to her Red Deer area shop. But life on the farm, including free-range chickens, also intrigues visitors.

“People just marvel at the fact that they wander around and peck at your shoes. The roosters fly up to the fence post and crow because someone new is in the yard. There is usually a horse sticking its neck over the fence.

“I’m sure the new kitten will get shown off endlessly.”

This year more than 20,000 Country Drive maps were printed for distribution. But visitors who have experienced the sites are the best advertisement, she said.

“It’s like tossing a pebble in a pond. The ripples just spread and spread and spread. You can’t beat word of mouth,” Manyluk said.

Country Drive member Anna Rasmussen, artist and owner of Gammel House Gallery and Pottery Studio, said a lot of Central Albertans are unfamiliar with areas and sites on the Country Drive map.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get out and explore the countryside and see what’s in their backyard,” Rasmussen said.

All the work at her gallery in Dickson is handmade by her and other Canadians. She expects to offer tours of her studio during the Summertime Country Drive, Aug. 6 and 7.

Visit www.countrydrive.ca for maps, descriptions of participating sites, days of operation, and hints for visitors.