Nestled in the heart of Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley is the quiet, agricultural town of Hadley, perhaps better known as the “asparagus capital of the world.” Locals and visitors alike packed its historic town common for the annual WGBY Asparagus Festival to celebrate this unique New England community, all things agriculture, and of course, “Hadley grass.”
Note! This year’s festival takes place on Saturday, June 2, 2018!
Hadley’s town common – the longest town common in Massachusetts at just over a mile – was the perfect site for the festival. Hadley selectman Gerry Devine told stories of generals from the Civil War staying in Hadley homes, and the local legend of British General Burgoyne who stayed in Hadley as a prisoner of the Revolutionary war. Burgoyne presented Hadley’s townspeople with his sword upon the war’s end as a token of thanks for their humane hospitality and kind spirit in unkind times.
Devine said that the festival, during the year I attended in 2015, was expected to attract 4,500 visitors. He was particularly excited about the sense of community the festival brings to Hadley, and has loved watching the new ideas and the enthusiasm of volunteers help it grow. Also, he added with a laugh, as a long time resident of Hadley, he loves any extra excuse to eat asparagus. “We love making it, we love eating it,” he said.
Claudine Pépin, author of the family cookbook, Kids Cook French, was at the festival signing copies of her most recent publication. Pépin was very excited to attend the festival, which combined her love for fresh, seasonal cooking with her passion for supporting local television. She frequently appeared throughout her childhood alongside her father, Jacques Pépin, on his public television shows on PBS and KQED San Francisco. Jacques Pépin is also known for his work with famed chef Julia Child.
Pépin said that she was inspired to cook by her father’s influence and the draw of culinary culture. Wherever you go, she said, either at home or in travel, cooking is paramount. She loves talking with local farmers and always makes an effort to cook with ingredients that are in season. Of food and cooking, she said, “it’s such a huge part of your life… It just makes people happy, and hopefully healthy.”
In addition to games and stories for kids, live music, great food and even a visit from Curious George himself, over 80 vendors graced the common with their locally-made crafts. Artisans from all over New England, many from Hadley and its surrounding communities, kept visitors entertained with their beautiful and diverse displays. Here’s a quick sampling.
Hadley Grass at the Whole Foods display, where kids made healthy salads to learn about eating fresh and local.
A common sentiment presented at the CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) tent.
The Hadley Park and Recreational Department table was full of information about its upcoming summer programs, which include art classes, movie and animation workshops, science, and soccer programs. The flowers decorating the display were from Smiarowski Farm in Sunderland, MA.
Plainville Farm provided this fun game for kids to celebrate the art of asparagus harvesting. Children tried to beat the clock as they gathered asparagus-shaped wooden rods to simulate how schoolchildren in Hadley years ago would pick their families’ crops before school.
All natural soaps and body products from Delights of the Earth in Westhampton, MA, smelled wonderful enough to entice a variety of visitors into this tent. These unique products are hand-mixed, hand-poured, and hand-cut from natural, preservative-free, oils and herbs.
Ornamental hand-crafted flower plates from the Timeless Treasures tent captivated festival-goers with their unique shapes and colors.
These cotton table runners from Bewoven Studio’s tent were designed and hand-woven at the studio in Belchertown.
Hand-sewn journal covers from Material Rebellion in Great Barrington, MA, celebrated the festival’s spirit of sustainability. All of Material Rebellion’s products are made from re-purposed fabrics.What would the festival be without local agriculture? Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA, was one of many local farms to partake in the festival, and provided this beautiful display.
Bling it On! showed off hand-made crystal creations, including earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and more.Ashfield Tools in Ashfield, MA, handcrafts all their products to ensure customers a quality gardening experience.
Odyssey Book Shop of South Hadley provided a collection of books for all ages. Cookbooks offered recipes and cooking tips for eating clean, healthy and local. Claudine Pépin stopped by to sign copies of her book, Kids Cook French.If you were anywhere near the festival and wondered where the to-die-for sugar smell was coming from, this was it. The North Hadley Sugar Shack was cooking up donuts and kettle corn to satisfy any and all sweet-tooths in the area. If you didn’t get a donut, you can still visit them for breakfast on River Drive in North Hadley. Lucia Pottery from Greenfield, MA, decorated the tables at the festival’s luncheon.
A festival highlight has always been its dinner, made by area chefs using local products. This year, the planning committee opted for an outdoor luncheon instead, which was incredibly well-received by those in attendance. The “Farm-to-Table ‘Spearit’ Luncheon” was the perfect pairing of casual community culture and high-end culinary cuisine. All of the dishes featured Hadley-grown asparagus.
Guests were encouraged to try local craft beer from Valley Malt in Hadley upon their arrival. Valley Malt uses natural brewing ingredients grown on its own farm. Coffee was provided by Esselon Coffee Roasting and Café, and wine was expertly paired with each course by State Street Wines and Liquors.
The first course featured chilled smoked asparagus in a tasty bath of potato soup, made by O’Brian Tomalin of the Sierra Grille in Northampton, MA.
The second course, made by Chef Aaron of Esselon Café in Hadley, was poached monkfish with grilled ramps and asparagus over sunchoke puree and roasted native foraged mushrooms.
The entrée, cider-brined pork roulade stuffed with peppadew pesto and served with asparagus farotto and tomato-bacon jam, was prepared by Brent Menke from The Farm Table restaurant in Bernardston, MA.
For dessert, Mary Reilly of Edible Pioneer Valley used Claudine Pépin’s recipe to make Crepes a la Pépin with strawberry-rhubarb-asparagus jam and lemon crème anglaise.
All in a good day’s work.
Have you ever been to the WGBY Asparagus Festival?
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.