For a mild-mannered software engineer, Wayne Schettle wields a wicked knife.
Plunging the 15-inch, double-pronged blade into the wet soil of his Green Bluff farm, Schettle snips spears of asparagus faster than some people mow their grass.
With harvest of the state’s highest-elevation asparagus farm beginning this week, Wayne and Christine Schettle can’t waste any time getting their green crop to market.
Asparagus quickly turns to seed if it’s not cut, and unleashing U-pick customers - even on Green Bluff - is impractical when they’re brandishing knives.
“My wife and I cut it all,” said the 46-year-old redhead as he made last-minute preparation for the vigorous six-week harvest.
A newcomer to the growers’ hill near Mt. Spokane, Schettle sells tons of asparagus shoots to those who pickle, can, saute and eat the round spears raw. He already has commitments for 1,000 pounds of fresh asparagus from customers answering a newspaper advertisement and plans to make regular wholesale deliveries to Spokane produce stands.
Schettle charges 70 cents a pound for his crop, and could produce tons of asparagus before harvest ends in early June. By then, Green Bluff’s earliest crop will yield to ripening strawberries, cherries, raspberries and other U-pick fruits and vegetables grown on neighboring fields.
Asparagus has never been tried on Green Bluff, and some believe it will be short-lived. Beetles, frost and labor-intensive harvests have ruined the dreams of others before Schettle.
“I had 10 acres up here, worked my fanny off and didn’t make any money,” said Lefty Lewis, a Pleasant Prairie farmer. “Tell this guy that he has to pick it every day, sometimes twice a day, whether he likes it or not. He had better have another job. “
He does. Schettle contracts during the off-season as a software engineer to Honeywell, Boeing and other manufacturers. Christine Schettle is a software engineer for Olivetti North America, a position that first drew the couple to Spokane six years ago.
Schettle’s farm, which also grows garlic, cucumbers and wheat on sites east and west of the Green Bluff store, is unusual in many ways.
For one, Schettle has no name for his farm and has spurned membership in the Green Bluff Direct Marketing Association, a group of 25 farmers who use hay rides, clowns, fiddlers, espresso counters and other gimmicks to attract customers.
For another, Schettle’s dryland asparagus farm is one of the few outside the Columbia River Basin where irrigation and hot summers produce high-yielding crops. The Washington Asparagus Commission knows of no one growing asparagus higher than 2,300 feet above sea level, Green Bluff’s elevation.
“I don’t know how they do it,” said Margaret Webring, spokeswoman for the Pasco-based commission.
Rather than struggling, the Schettles seem to be prospering. With little fanfare, the couple in four years has planted 120,000 asparagus crowns and expect to double that next year when they add another 20 acres of asparagus.
“People who don’t like asparagus think I’m crazy,” Schettle says, gnawing on a raw stalk. “But I’m just a farmer who happens to be a software engineer.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Green Bluff bounty Green Bluff farms produce more than 15 different crops available to the public. With the exception of peaches, crops are expected to be bountiful this year. Harvests vary depending on the crop and farm, but the Green Bluff Direct Marketing Association suggests the following gauge of the earliest month when certain crops are ready: June: strawberries. July: cherries, raspberries. August: apples, apricots, peaches, plums, carrots, corn, cucumbers. September: pears, cabbage, potatoes, pumpkins, squash. November: Christmas trees.