Situated in the scenic Wye Valley, Cobrey Farm benefits from a special micro-climate that enables grower John Chinn to extend the traditional asparagus season by six weeks, making M&S the first and last major retailer to sell UK grown asparagus each year.
John was first inspired to start farming asparagus after studying the strawberry industry, which had made use of innovative growing techniques to extend the traditional season over time from six weeks to six months. John felt that rather than trying to play catch-up with the strawberry growers, he would turn his knowledge and passion to a different crop: the delicious British asparagus. His pioneering work has helped us to reduce our reliance on Central and South American asparagus imports, saving an estimated 600 tonnes of CO2 a year.
"Right from the start in 2003, M&S have encouraged and supported me. More than that, they have challenged me to think outside the box!"
John Chinn, M&S asparagus grower
Speaking of thinking outside the box, John is now aiming to extend the UK season further still, and by 2012 he plans to have his delicious Wye Valley asparagus in M&S stores from early March through to late October!
Over and above growing asparagus, John and his family see themselves as guardians of the small part of England they farm. They collect surplus rainfall in a reservoir to be used for summer irrigation and use composted green waste to improve the fertility of their fields. They also plant trees and hedges to establish wildlife corridors and have installed grassed waterways in their sloping fields to prevent soil erosion.
Did you know?
- An asparagus spear can grow 10 inches in 24 hours!
- Every year we trial 5 new varieties to find you the best tasting asparagus
- There are 8 million asparagus plants in the Wye Valley producing asparagus for M&S
- Asparagus is a member of the Lily family
Day-to-day John spends much of his time evaluating new varieties of asparagus from around the world and designing growing systems to get the best out of the varieties that he grows on the farm. One of his new varieties is particularly sweet and tender and is sold exclusively through M&S as 'Royal Crown'. Another great variety is 'Pacific Purple' which is so tender and pretty that John thinks it is best eaten raw in a green salad.
Also on the farm...
John also grows rhubarb and blueberries for M&S and here again his innovative work is extending the seasons, saving food miles, and doing its bit to help reverse the trend that has seen around 95% of the blueberries we eat in the UK coming from abroad.
Asparagus Nutrition Facts
- High in folic acid
- A good source of potassium, fibre, vitamin B6, vitamins A & C, and thiamine
- Fat free, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium
- 6 tips = 1 of your 5-a-day
John Chinn's Recipe Tip
"My favourite asparagus recipe is either Purple or Royal Crown, tossed in olive oil with a little salt and pepper. Then onto the barbecue, the oven or even a frying pan for literally a few minutes. The olive oil draws out the nutty sweetness of the asparagus. Gorgeous, and it is so quick and easy!"