Spear factor

Our writer gets up from the table to visit Capay Organic farm during asparagus season

Capay Organic co-owner Thaddeus Barsotti (right) chats up a tour group.

Capay Organic co-owner Thaddeus Barsotti (right) chats up a tour group.

Photo by Kat Kerlin

The next farm tour is Saturday, May 12, at Capay Organic, 23808 State Highway 16 in Capay; $4-$6, kids under 12 are free.
Join Capay Organic for Cinco de Mayo. Mexican food and drinks, strawberry picking, live music, dancing and more on Saturday, May 5; $20-$25 per car; www.farmfreshtoyou.com.
Kat Kerlin blogs here.

Asparagus is not for commitment-phobes. If you are looking for instant gratification, perhaps lettuce or radishes will be more your style. Those come up in just a few days.

I waited until we bought our first home before planting my first bulbs of asparagus. I mounded up beds of soil and tucked them in. Then I waited, patiently, until slender stalks poked skyward. When they looked mildly edible during the first year, I withheld every gardener instinct to cut them. Then I did the same thing again—sigh—the next year. Waiting, waiting. But on that third year, they were ready. (We moved that summer, but let’s not talk about that.)

Ever since, my attitude toward asparagus is nearly reverential. It takes three years to grow, and then it’s here for just a brief time—the season, by the way, is now—to grace our plates and make our pee smell funny.

That’s why I felt almost like a thief recently while standing in a field of asparagus at Capay Organic, slicing off spear after tender spear. My family came to this farm in the Capay Valley, about an hour west of Davis, for its monthly farm tour.

Many visitors, particularly the kids, had likely never seen asparagus grow. It’s one of the more curious vegetables around. The spears shoot straight up through the soil—like hands buried alive or, less morbidly, green fingers pointing at the sun with a shape that would make some women blush. I was amazed.

Farm manager Thaddeus Barsotti told the group lounging about how his parents, Kathy Barsotti and Martin Barnes, founded Capay Organic in 1976 and turned it into the valley’s first organic farm. Martin helped found the Davis Farmers Market as well and was instrumental in starting the Davis Food Co-op.

After 15 years on the farm, he and Kathy divorced and she took over Capay Organic until her death in 2000 from breast cancer, leaving the farm to her sons.

The farm delivers to grocery stores, farmers markets and restaurants such as The French Laundry in Yountville, Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and Grange Restaurant in downtown Sacramento. But a key component of its business is its community-supported agriculture program, Farm Fresh to You, which comprises 450 acres in Northern California and 150 acres in Southern California, with about 500 year-round employees.

Kathy began the home-delivery service in 1992, a time when most CSAs had a you-get-what-we-grow program. At other CSAs, customers signed up for a season or year-round commitment. Sick of too much kale in the winter? Too bad—subscribers chose to support the farm, with the idea the farm would make it up to them with more variety come spring and summer.

Today, Farm Fresh To You makes about 25,000 deliveries per week and grows roughly 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Several of its members made up the farm tour’s participants.

“Our vision is not that this is a small, quaint system for an elite group of people,” Thaddeus said. “This concept is something everyone can have access to.”

Farm Fresh to You invites its customers and the general public out to these farm tours, which are held monthly March through October. Arts and crafts, a big bubble station, hula hoops, a petting zoo for the kids, wine tasting for the adults, live music for everyone—they know how to do these farm tours right.

But the highlight was the food—walking delicately past spears of asparagus, so as not to smash them, and slicing their ends off with a knife. Or wiping off my daughter after inevitable slips in the mud. I did feel a little guilty picking the delicious little stalks, which took years to get here. But now that they’re established, they’ll be back next year. And with thoughts of asparagus frittatas, pizza and creamy soups in my head, I know I will put every spear to good use.