Farmer buys motorized carts to help harvest labor-intensive crop

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Middleton Six Sons Farms bought 15 carts for its workers

The asparagus served at several Tri-City restaurants likely features spears picked by experts at Middleton Six Sons Farms who have worked in the fields for more than three decades.

It’s a lot of work to get the springtime favorite from field to plate.

That’s why the Middletons have invested in improved accommodations for their workers.

“The average age of our asparagus cutter is mid-50s,” said Keith Middleton, operations manager and co-owner of Middleton Farms with his parents, Bill and Cinda Middleton.

The farm, which has fields in Pasco and Burbank, grows 275 acres of green and purple asparagus, which require about 130 cutters to complete the annual harvest.

“Picking asparagus is one of the most physically demanding jobs there is because you’re constantly bending over,” he said. “That really affects people. In the orchard, people are standing straight up, which isn’t as hard on the body.”

The farm tried out a special motorized cart built for the first time last year called “The Mantis” in Ontario, Canada. It worked well, so the farm bought 15 carts for about $6,000 each for this year’s harvest.

He described the machine as a “motorized cart with ATV tires, kind of like a backwards go-cart, made specifically to harvest asparagus.”

The Mantis features trays on either side to hold bins. Operators control the cart with their feet, which leaves their hand free for cutting the spears.

“A lot of farmers want to be more efficient but I’m the next generation asparagus farmer and we’ve come to realize that these people are about as efficient as they can be. They’re skilled; one person cuts an average of 300 pounds of asparagus per day,” Middleton said.

Washington ranks third in the nation for producing the most asparagus, harvesting 3,400 acres last year valued at $18.6 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Audra Distifeno

Audra Distifeno

Audra Distifeno has been in the “news” business for more than 20 years. She is passionate about writing, and is also an educator with the goal of igniting young minds so they might discover their potentials. She lives in the Yakima Valley with her children, two mini schnauzers, two lizards and multitudes of fish. She enjoys camping, kayaking and breathing in the ocean air. She hopes to one day be a published novelist and see her work being read by the masses … or even by just one who is moved by her story.

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