Courtland farm provides asparagus for Eastern Kansas market

Depot Market purchased a special asparagus harvester from Michigan. The implement has been dubbed the Kackley Asparagus Combine, but allows harvesters to drive through a field and cut the individual asparagus spears off at the ground.

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

Come rain or come shine, harvest will be in full swing on one Republic County farm over the next month.

That’s because the asparagus crop is ready, and asparaguCourtland farm provides asparagus for Eastern Kansas markets doesn’t keep, says Dan Kuhn, owner of Depot Market.

“Chefs love asparagus,” Kuhn says. “It’s an amazing crop.”

Depot Market is one of the few asparagus producers in Kansas. All this year’s crop-Kuhn hopes about 5,000 pounds off of four acres next to his home south of Courtland– is already promised to a wholesale grower in the Lawrence area.

Kuhn and his wife Kathy are best known across the United States for their pumpkin production. They also ship semi loads of watermelons from the Depot Market, and in June and July, their 10 acres of zucchini supplies all the demand for Dillon’s grocery stores.

This year they will market their first crop of asparagus, although the project has been in the planning for several years.

“The first year after you plant, you just let the asparagus grow,” Kuhn explains.

The first roots were planted in 2016 and 2017. Another four acres was added this spring.

Asparagus was one of the first crops the Depot Market planted in the 1980s, when the Kuhn children were small.

“It’s a great crop with kids, because they don’t have to bend over very far to harvest it,” Kuhn laughs.

Today, Depot Market employees use a specially-designed asparagus harvesting machine that allows them to sit and drive through the fi eld while cutting the stalks off at the ground by hand. Three people will harvest 600-800 pounds of 7” asparagus stalks a day. Kuhn makes several trips a day to put the produce in the Depot Market cooler “because asparagus is the most perishable vegetable there is. It’s only good when it’s fresh.”

The Kuhns will make two to three trips a week to Lawrence to deliver the asparagus to the buyer.

More diversity

Asparagus is a hardy crop grown in some of the hottest–and coldest–regions of the US, Kuhn says.

The asparagus eaten by many US customers is likely grown in California, Michigan or Washington State, or Peru or Mexico.

Kuhn expects to harvest his current plantings for the next 15 years. “You can still fi nd asparagus growing around old farmsteads or in grader ditches,” he says. “It’s so resilient.”

A hail storm might wipe out some crops, but with asparagus, if the stalks above ground are destroyed, new ones will keep growing, Kuhn says.

While most local customers know the Depot Market at the Courtland corner on US 36 that operates in the summer and fall, that outlet is only about 10 percent of the company’s business, Kuhn says.

Traditional farmer’s market crops like tomatoes and sweet corn share space with some unique products like the blackberry bushes the Kuhns recently planted east of the market.

“(The Depot) is what we do for fun,” Kuhn says. Kuhn says the couple probably isn’t done experimenting with new products.

“The more diversity you have, the better,” he says. “You can’t have enough different products.”

Some local asparagus is available for sale at AnTeaQues in Courtland.

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