Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 16, 2014

Cold spears festival for local grower

TRAVERSE CITY — Keil Moshier already has his menu worked out for this weekend’s Empire Asparagus Festival.

But one little problem confronts Moshier, who owns Bay Town Kitchen in Traverse City: the festival’s usual asparagus supplier, Harry Norconk of Norconk Farm, doesn’t have an asparagus crop yet.

“I’m not sure where it’s going to be coming out of at this point,” Moshier said. “Last year it was abundant up here and the price was great. This year nothing is available and the price is horrible.”

Regardless, Empire’s annual ode to the green shoot will take place this weekend to highlight the region’s first crop of the year.

A long winter and cold spring conspired to slow northern Michigan’s asparagus crop, so ample local produce won’t be ready until around May 20th, Norconk said. His farm is three miles south of Empire and he usually supplies the festival’s chefs with his fresh asparagus.

He also sells freshly picked asparagus to festival-goers.

One year he sold as much as 500 pounds of the spears at the festival, he said.

This year he hopes some — any, really — might be ready by Saturday.

“We thought yesterday it was pretty warm in the morning (Wednesday), but now I don’t know. There’s somewhat of a chance,” Norconk said.

The festival will go on despite the lack of local asparagus, and some local chefs are waiting to see if asparagus from downstate will be ready in time.

Last year Norconk had plenty of asparagus leading up to the event, but a last-minute frost kept him out of the field during the festival.

The event will still highlight local food regardless of the asparagus, said Paul Skinner, Empire Chamber of Commerce chair and event organizer.

“I think basically any farm product, if it’s being picked this morning and you’re eating it for dinner that evening, that is the big thing,” Skinner said.

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