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A cool snap briefly interrupts asparagus harvest at Eastern Fresh

When Tom Sheppard, president of Cedarville, NJ-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., spoke to The Produce News on May 8, he said that the company was not harvesting asparagus that day.

“At this point in a normal season we would not have missed a single day,” said Sheppard. “But we had a cold snap and had to stop for a day. That aside, the weather has been OK this spring.”

Asparagus, he explained, is harvested as it comes out of the ground. When the temperature is high the ground is warm, and product grows much faster. When the thermometer drops the ground cools down, slowing down growth.

“It’s almost as though you can watch asparagus grow,” Sheppard noted. “Unlike the joke about being so bored you would rather watch grass grow, you really can just about watch asparagus sprout and grow.”

On the flip side of the cold snap, he said that earlier, on Sunday, April 30, the company had the biggest asparagus yield it ever had in a single day, thus proving that Mother Nature doesn’t come with an explanation and she keeps growers’ expectations in-check.

In a normal year, Eastern Fresh Growers produces about 12,000 packed-out boxes of asparagus. It focuses on supplying the strong and growing local demand.

Sheppard pointed out that the increasing demand motivated the company to install a new asparagus line in time for last spring’s harvest.

FullSizeRender 1One of Eastern Fresh’s New Jersey asparagus fields.“And with our hopes high, we put in a second line,” he said. “Asparagus is a long-term investment. We wait for three years to harvest a commercial crop, but once it’s in the ground it lasts for about 20 years. We remove old crops and replant new ones on a rotating basis.”

Fran Hancock, a sales representative for Eastern Fresh Growers, spearheaded the machinery installation, and he oversees its operation.

Over the years of being in agriculture, Eastern Fresh Growers has aligned with other local growers, adding to its increased growth.

“This helps to increase our menu and fulfill contracted sales,” said Sheppard. “As farmers being at the mercy of nature, the more farms that are involved, the more likely customers’ needs will be filled.”

Sheppard said he is aggressively seeking an additional sales representative to join the company, and he invites inquiries from experienced people who are looking for long-term employment with a company that has a solid background and a very good reputation.

Eastern Fresh Growers’ New Jersey cucumbers were in the ground in early May.

“As soon as the weather warms up a little we’ll get the peppers in the ground,” he noted. “Cucumber harvest will start by mid-June and peppers will start mid-July.

“Holding off until the weather is perfect for a crop not only insures a good crop, it also keeps us in our lane so we don’t run into North Carolina or Georgia’s movement,” he continued. “We’ll start Iceberg and Romaine lettuces about mid-May, but we do have Romaine from North Carolina now.”