Duo Find Their Niche In Asparagus

By Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

Corn, soybeans, and asparagus: not the crop combination that you normally hear about, but for one Iowa family, it is proving to be a successful one.

Twenty years ago Jackie Eibs and Ricki Eibs Tuttle (sisters in law) decided to plant two acres of asparagus. Those acres near Laurel have now turned into three acres, and they grow 10,000 to 14,000 pounds of fresh asparagus every year for their business RicJac Farms. 

“When we first started I would drive from business to business in the area asking if they wanted to buy asparagus,” Ricki said while driving down a dusty road to their asparagus fields. “Now we are supplying to farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores.”

The miles of driving and talking with business owners has paid off for the duo. Their work has landed them on plates in some of the most popular restaurants in the metro. Restaurants like the Latin King, Centro, Greenbriar, 801 Grand and Tumea & Sons, to name a few.

Their asparagus can also be found in the aisles of Marshalltown Hy-Vee and Gateway Market in Des Moines. They also have a regular presence at the Ankeny Farmers’ Market.

“The asparagus is picked every morning, washed and bundled in the afternoon and then we deliver it to Des Moines and Marshalltown two times a week throughout the season,” Jackie said. They are also selling fresh asparagus bundled in one-pound increments to the Marshalltown Hy-Vee and are licensed to sell pickled asparagus.

RicJac Farms is an example of an ever-changing landscape of farms across the state. Many farmers see great opportunities in niche markets that range from fruit and vegetable production to fine meats.

“There are small plots out there with a large demand,” Greg Eibs, Jackie’s husband and Iowa Soybean Association member, said. 

He went on to say that the profit margin in asparagus can be higher than traditional crop production, but the drawback is how labor-intensive vegetable farming can be.

“We’ve seen crazy demand the past few years, but we’ve also about killed ourselves picking in the fields for five hours and processing for four hours — all after working our day jobs,” Ricki said.

That’s why they hired a crew of workers to help them pick the asparagus in the morning, and they also pay high school students to help wash, weigh and bag the veggies in the afternoon.

Both women hope to continue the business for the next few years, but already have several ideas for the continuation when they decide it is time to retire. In the meantime, they shared with us a couple favorite recipes to enjoy throughout the summer season!

Asparagus Salsa

  • 1 Lb of finely chopped asparagus—small, thin stalks work best (Microwave for 2–3 minutes and let cool)
  • 5–6 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1C onion, chopped (more if desired)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (more for heat)
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp of vinegar
  • 1–2 T. fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Mix together and chill. Serve with chips of your choice. (Diabetic exchange is a free food.)

Asparagus and Crab/Seafood Casserole

  • 2–3 cups of chopped 1” pc asparagus (steam or sauté in mix below till tender crisp and set aside to cool) Sauté
  • 3 T butter or olive oil
  • 1–2 C of fresh mushrooms
  • 1 heaping T garlic
  • 1–1/2 C onion

Just at the end of sautéing, add ½ C white wine.

White Sauce

  • 3 T butter, melted
  • Add 4 T flour, stir vigorously to mix
  • Add 2 C cold milk slowly, heat gradually and stir till thickens
  • ½ C of fresh, shredded Parmesan cheese when thickening

This will be really thick* Add sautéed items and seafood below.

  • 1 C crab, cooked
  • 1 C Shrimp, cooked (Or any other cooked seafood)

Fold all these ingredients in slowly and easy pour into casserole dish. Bake for 30–45 Minutes at 350° F until bubbly. Add slivered almonds and broil until lightly browned, just a couple minutes. Remove, cool slightly and serve.