A new strain of giant asparagus may transform Blacktip Island from a sleepy tourism spot to a regional food supplier if local agricultural and business leaders have their way. (photo courtesy of Redd Birch)
An agricultural experiment gone awry has produced a strain of giant asparagus that Blacktip Island scientific and business leaders said Friday has the potential to transform the Caribbean island’s economy.
“We were working on a genetically-modified asparagus that wouldn’t make people’s urine smell,” horticulturist Redd Birch said. “The gene splicing went wonky somewhere, and we ended up with these 10-foot monsters. We didn’t solve the pee smell problem, but the stalks are tender and tasty.
“This strain thrives in the mix of rocky earth, intense sunlight and high salt levels of our bluff-top farm,” Birch said. “It’s a fast grower, too. We did our first large-scale planting at the end of June, and we already reaped our first crop. This could revolutionize the region’s food supply.”
Island business leaders agreed.
“We can feed every resident and every resort guest with just one stalk a day,” said Chamber of Commerce president Ham Pilchard. “Redd’s got so many of those things growing now, we’ll be exporting a ton, too. This is a game changer. Blacktip’s not reliant just on tourism for income anymore.
“It’s created jobs, too,” Pilchard said. “Folks are lining up to tend and harvest the stuff. They may be freakish mutations, and there’s no telling what they’re doing to the people eating them, but so far it’s been a win for everyone.”
Island resorts were quick to embrace the new crop.
“It’s a the perfect island-based farm-to-market food source,” Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula said. “It’s totally renewable and totally green. Literally. And fresh as you can get.
“The guests love it, too,” Catahoula said. “Yeah, we get the occasional complaint about the odor, but no one’s turned down a serving of asparagus risotto or crepes yet.”
Not all locals are happy with the crop, though.
“The stench coming from the resorts just about knocks you out,” long-time resident Helen Maples said. “The entire west coast reeks of asparagus micturition. This new crop may provide inexpensive food, but long term, that odor can’t be good for business.”
Some tourism workers agreed.
“You think peed-in wetsuits smell bad? Come on the dive boat and get a whiff of post-giant-asparagus-at-lunch peed-in wetsuit,” said Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase. “We’re begging people not to pee in their suits. Two divemasters quit just this morning because of the stench.”
Birch said he and other growers plan to further refine the crop.
“We have plans for underground farming, too, to get giant white asparagus,” he said. “Our first crop in the old airplane hangar were fairly successful. It wasn’t completely dark, so we ended up with pale, lime-green stalks.”
The new crop has also resulted in an unforeseen real estate boom.
“Used to be, that bluff-top land was worthless,” local fisherman James Conlee said. “Now, those property values are jumping. Kind of like with the ‘worthless’ beachfront land in the 60s and 70s.
“Daddy and Granddaddy were fisherman,” Conlee said. “Now, there’s more money to be made farming. It’s tough work, but chain sawing asparagus is a lot more fun than hauling in snapper in eight-foot seas.”