HEREFORDSHIRE farmers are celebrating as the first British asparagus of the year hits shelves.

Wye Valley Produce, run by the Chinn family in South Herefordshire, has harvested its first quantity of commercial asparagus for the year, which will be stocked by retailers such as M&S, French Garden, Wellocks and Mudwalls.

The Chinn family have long been involved in the asparagus industry, developing sustainable growing methods and experimenting with varieties to extend the season.

The ‘official start’ of the asparagus season is usually viewed as April 23, St George’s Day, but Wye Valley Produce has managed to put asparagus on the shelves in early March for a number of years as the light, sandy soil and south-facing slopes of the Wye Valley create a microclimate where some of the first produce of the year can be grown.


This year, however, Wye Valley Produce have begun harvesting even earlier than their usual month-long head start, with their asparagus already being stocked in Hereford's M&S store this week. 

The early start has extra significance for the Chinn family, as they have a long tradition of auctioning off the first boxes of the season, with full proceeds being donated to charity. This year they are supporting the Oracle Cancer Trust in memory of Damian Fowler.

Mr Fowler was a supporter of Wye Valley Produce, and very popular in his role as managing director of Gilgrove, a wholesaler at New Covent Garden Market. He fought a short battle with head and neck cancer and died in January.

Chris Chinn said: “This especially early crop is the product of innovative methods, and environmental sustainability is a key concern with us utilising only the sun’s heat, and on-farm compost.

“We are absolutely delighted to be first to market with British asparagus once again, and for the continued support of our enthusiastic customers.”

The Chinn family planted their first asparagus crop in the spring of 2003, and the Wye Valley brand has since expanded to include rhubarb, blueberries, fine beans and peas. 

Their asparagus is hand-harvested and hydro-cooled down to two Celsius within the hour, ensuring that it retains maximum freshness and flavour, a spokesperson said.