Ever since I graduated from college many years ago, I have been heading to Pendleton’s Kaw Valley Country Market in the spring.
My big hair was firmly starched with Aussie Sprunch hairspray in those early days, and I strutted my acid-washed jean shorts and my faux Ray Bans. My family never missed our outing following Tax Day to handpick asparagus in the fields.
Spending an afternoon on the Pendleton’s farmstead on the eastern outskirts of Lawrence was the closest thing to living out my Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy. So different from my day-to-day city girl life.
John Pendleton, the owner of the farm, drove a tractor with flatbed — “a hayride without the hay,” as he called it — bouncing customers to the fields where they would pick. During that drive, he educated us about every aspect of asparagus, from how long it takes to grow, to how to harvest it, to his favorite recipes.
Each year as I listened to the seasoned farmer’s vast vegetable knowledge, I eyed a machine driving across the back fields. This contraption mesmerized me, and after time, a jealousy of those who drove it overcame me.
This year, since I am accelerating into middle age with no apparent brakes, I planned to start crossing off items on my bucket list, things I must do before I kick the bucket. I thought it would be a decent way to spice up my life, dig up some amazing stories, and perhaps meet royalty while simultaneously increasing my flexibility.
I figured I’d start at the beginning because I’ve been told it’s a very good place to start, so “A” for asparagus came to mind. And that mechanical picking cart had me written all over it!
Recently, I called the Pendleton’s and offered my services as a farmhand to them for a morning. They took me up. After dropping off my kin in the elementary school carpool lane, I saddled up onto the interstate and headed 20 minutes out west, into the tranquil countryside.
As I dismounted my dust-covered minivan, I moseyed up to the market counter, where I was handed some gloves and introduced to the hired hands. I was going to be just “a hand.” That is, if they were lucky I didn’t get in their way and muck something up.
Three handsome farm guys revved up the picker and raced out toward the north field clocked at approximately 0.5 mph. I hitched a ride from their boss on another tractor for my hard-hitting interview.
“On the average day, how many people ask you about ‘asparagus smelling’ urine?” I asked.
I can only assuming Google is doing its job because according to John, the question came up years ago with frequency and urgency, but now it’s trickling off.
We joined with the young men who explained how to correctly harvest the crop. The driver sat in the middle of the picking cart. He steered the machine with his feet, leaving his hands free to pick asparagus. Five feet out to either side of him were two other seats. There another worker would pick the row to the left and I was stationed to the right.
Thankfully, I was dealing with experts because the asparagus rows were planted exactly five feet apart. Even though the foot rests were about six inches too short for my legs, I didn’t let on my concern of toppling forward and turning this show into a circus act.
I’m actually going to do this! I should have worn a different shirt. I hope they can’t see anything when I lean over too far…
I must admit I screamed out a handful of times for the driver to throw it in reverse because I wasn’t fast enough to clear the area. But I’m fairly certain they were laughing with me. Just us three farmhands enjoying the Kaw Valley land on an overcast morning.
As I drove back on the tractor toward the market, I scanned the 20 acres of sandy soil. Off in the distance, although I couldn’t be sure, the workers appeared to be going back over my area.
I’m sure it was to admire my awesome work.
The first adventure down — scratch that one off my list!
On the web
Visit www.pendletons.com for harvesting updates.