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Spargelzeit Spargelzeit
by Prof. Michael R. Czinkota
2020-06-11 09:11:02
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In Germany, there is now an important season highlighting the special value of white asparagus. Anyone who visits Germany between April and June will certainly remember a truly national food specialty: white asparagus together with melted butter and ham.

German food culture is quite precise when it comes to timing. The Spargel season has been long established as a seasonal spring product from April to June. This is the framework outside of which it is considered inappropriate to consume white asparagus. One famous example is the consumption of white sausage (weißwurst) in Bavaria. Whether eaten at home or in a restaurant, a consumer of this sausage will be looked down upon for eating it once the noon Church bell has rung.

aspar001_400One important deadline issue often surrounds the harvesting of asparagus. In the 2020 asparagus season, the white gold must be harvested, distributed, and consumed. All prepare for the season, but circumstances like healthcare problems can severely disrupt the harvest. The product was there, but the harvesters were not. To outrace the time of product availability, many efforts were undertaken. Since the season ends on June 24th, and all consumers and producers say goodbye to their favorite stalks, it is crucial to do the digging when the timing is good. This time around, the federal government was implored by asparagus farmers to help with the harvest. A major effort was made to attract volunteers among students and teachers to dig up the asparagus (which is why the vegetable is white rather than green). Alas, no success. In spite of good pay and substantial enthusiasm for agricultural processes, many of the “volunteers” did not return on day two of the exercise. The strain on the lower back was just too great. I sensed a major culinary conflict coming about: would good Germans miss out on one of their favorite foods just because academics were incapable servants of agriculture? What would come next in the cultural loss – perhaps the abandonment of the Leberknoedelsuppe (liver dumpling soup)? Or might it even be the sacrosanct Schweinshaxe (pork shank with Kraut)? For a time, German (particularly Bavarian) culinary choice was downtrodden. But the cuisine of asparagi was saved by the bell.

In spite of overarching migration, of which one might have expected limits to the inflow of agricultural workers, a solution was found. 40,000 special work visas were issued for Polish workers. It is simply too risky to leave asparagus harvesting to the asparagus growers. We know the task must be completed. Politically, the issue is a crucial one because asparagus appears to contribute remarkably to German contentment. Let us not run afoul of national expectations, particularly since in Poland itself, domestic harvesters were standing ready and able to distribute the goods. Bureaucratic flexibility brought on the visitor visas. This year’s harvest of asparagus is again secure. If a country needs a helping hand, it can often be found outstretched in the international market.

Polish workers are encouraged to use their forte while critical for the agricultural impact. Already at this time, new technologies like those produced in California and Hungary, may very well take over for harvesting by hand. But then, German asparagus may be too sacred to be conducted by machines. Time will tell.


Professor Michael Czinkota teaches International Business and Trade at Georgetown University. He has served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce. His most recent textbook is International Business 9th edition.

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