Spring Watchlist: Strawberries, Rhubarb, Asparagus

As I write this, fluffy flakes of snow dance past my office window. In late April, this isn’t completely unheard of, but it does make me wish even more for sunshine and farm stands packed with fresh produce! Despite this hold Winter has on my Northern Michigan home, sunny Spring days are almost here, and with it, the first harvests of the season. 

I’m not the only one thinking of these first growing season crops! Farmers across the state are preparing for farmers markets and more. I had the chance to check in with a few about their upcoming harvests: 

RHUBARB

As a low maintenance plant and a perennial, rhubarb is grown at North Harvest CSA of Calumet because it’s a great addition to their early season share. In fact, after experiencing a high demand, they brought in additional plants of the MacDonald Strain variety, which will give them more tender stalks to add to this early harvest. 

Ashley TenHarmsel, the farmer there, says that harvesting rhubarb is “really fun!” She says that she pulls a ripe stalk directly from the plant, trimming the inedible leaf, and leaves a certain amount behind to be sure the plant is healthy enough for another harvest the following year. If they grow enough to keep for themselves, she likes to chop it up, freeze it, and add it to smoothies. 

While they may be on course to harvest in Mid May, if the snow cover in the UP doesn’t melt, they may be a couple of weeks later. Folks on the hunt for rhubarb in the Western UP can find it at their stand at the Main Street Calumet Farmers Market

ASPARAGUS

This steady Spring weather does have a silver lining – a good May harvest of asparagus! At Slow Farm in Ann Arbor, they believe the weather is keeping us on track for an on-time and plentiful harvest of these favorite spears, as opposed to last year, which had an early Spring thaw, which then froze the asparagus that popped up. 

A small organic, diversified farm, Slow Farm grows asparagus because it’s dependable as one of the earliest Spring harvests, and as a plant, it’s a perennial that can return for up to 30 years. It grows straight out of the ground like a pencil, and they snap it off at the base, guaranteeing a tender and delicious product that’s “very different from what you can find at the grocery store.” 

So where can you find these special organic spears? They’ll post on their social media when it becomes available at the farm, but you can also happen upon them at Argus Farm Stop (both Packard and Liberty locations) and at local restaurants, like Spencer in Ann Arbor, or Warda Patisserie in Detroit. 

STRAWBERRIES

For the optimists out there, we can even look ahead to strawberries. Some of the first fruit to become available in Michigan, strawberries herald the end of finicky Spring and onto warm, sunny Summer! At Bardenhagen Berries in Leelanau County, strawberries also mean heritage – their farm has grown the red treat for three generations, starting in the 1950’s with grandfather Edwin Bremer. 

Pam and Steve Bardenhagen now run the farm and grow June-bearing Earliglow and Jewel varieties for their full flavor. June-bearing strawberries generally mean a three-week harvest starting in mid-June in Northwest Michigan, as opposed to the “ever-bearing” varieties grown in California and Mexico. But after traveling thousands of miles, these versions of the same fruit don’t hold a candle to the taste of local, in-season strawberries. 

The biggest challenge of strawberry season for a farmer? Finding hands to help. While the pay can be good, the season is short, and it’s hard work. Every strawberry at Bardenhagen Berries is picked by hand and delivered to the customer the same day. So far, it’s too early to tell if the season will be on time, or if May proves to be cold, later than normal. 

To take part in this special season of strawberries, make sure to follow Bardenhagen Berries on social media for updates – folks can purchase flats of strawberries for pickup at the farm online. You can also find them at Gallagher’s Farm Market, Leland Mercantile, Hanson Market and NJ’s or on the menu at Leelanau county restaurants like The Bluebird, the Riverside Inn, and the Cove, Blu and The Tribune. They also attend the Northport, Glen Arbor and Sara Hardy Farmers Markets with their strawberries. Pam recommends freezing or making jam out of your strawberries to be able to capture that Summer flavor all year long. 

Interested in finding these favorite firsts in your area? Our Find Food and Farms Directory is searchable by product and zip code! Find strawberries, rhubarb or asparagus in your neck of the woods. 

Claire Butler is the Content Strategy Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected]

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