Asparagus tours form part of the annual Ficksburg Cherry Festival in November, when 30 000 visitors arrive in town to enjoy a host of outdoor activities including cherry picking, essential oil tours, steam train rides, beer festivals, car shows and much more.

Did you know?

Although they are different varieties, white, green and purple asparagus are derived from the same plant.

It seems incredible when you look at a spear, but asparagus contains six times more vitamin C than citrus fruit, yet its popularity through the ages probably has more to do with its reputed aphrodisiac properties than its nutritional content.

Asparagus is something the farmers of Ficksburg know a lot about. Every November this small eastern Free State town near the Lesotho border comes to life for three days when 30 000 visitors arrive in town for the annual Ficksburg Cherry Festival, which includes asparagus farm tours, essential oil tours, horse riding tours, helicopter and steam train rides, beer festivals, auto shows and live music.

A tour of the asparagus fields takes place from the Imperani Tourism and Training Centre, on the corner of McCabe and Lang Streets, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only. Each tour includes an asparagus-based meal, prepared with a special Ficksburg flavour. You’ll also learn about asparagus cultivation and receive a punnet of fresh asparagus as a memento.

While Italians favour purple asparagus and the French swear by white, it’s the dark green asparagus that is most popular in South Africa. One of the earliest recorded asparagus farmers in South Africa was William Joughin, who imported the plant in the early 1900s and grew it in the eastern Free State.

Joughin also supplied the Anglican mission at Modderpoort, near Ladybrand, who shared their stock with their Catholic brothers at the local mission. In the 1960s a priest named Tony Rademacher introduced stock to the then Transvaal. Today the eastern Free State and Gauteng remain the only commercial growers of asparagus in South Africa, half of which is exported to Europe.

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