Haggling and bartering are hardly a pastime, and the familiar auction noises of the bang of the gavel and “sold” are the sounds of hope for economic revitalization. At least that is the intention of Ohio Appalachian famers who replaced the traditional farmer’s market with a good old-fashioned produce auction.
While many famer’s markets are located near major cities, making them too far for many farmers to travel — especially when there’s no guarantee that the produce will sell. In contrast, produce auctions are more accessible to farmers.
The way a produce auction works is simple: On the day of the auction, farmers roll up with cars full of their produce, the auctioneer begins the auction, potential buyers bid on the goods, and famers return home with empty cars. Although the process is long, both growers and buyers leave satisfied.
The first produce auction sprouted in Ohio in 1992 with the help of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation and founders Jean and Marvin Konkle. Today, though, the government barely plays any role in it. The auctions are community funded, as the people sell shares locally to generate the money to start a new auction. Originally operating with a net loss, the past five years have seen an increase in profits for famers. Chesterhill, one of the poorest parts of the Ohio – Appalachian region had a profit of $223,000 for 130 farmers in 2013, while the largest and most cosmopolitan Mount Hope Produce Auction grossed a whopping $10 million in 2011.
Economics isn’t the only benefit, though, as educational classes for the farmers are also part of the deal. Rural Auction, who owns and operates the Chesterhill Auction, offers classes, which train and instruct farmers on how to clean their produce for direct sell as well as to how to improve agricultural processes, which, in turn, has boosted sales and the economy.
The quality and freshness of the food has attracted the attention of the community at large. In addition to the 1,300 registered buyers at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, are 35-40 commercial buyers — including Ohio University. Making the auction more appealing and easier for buyers is the ability to order produce remotely.
Bottom line, both commercial buyers and the community are eager to participate. But why? “At the very basic, basic level, it’s because the food’s better,” said Chef Matt Rapposelli of Ohio University told Dowser. “If you have an opportunity to support a neighbor rather than a corporate entity, you should support the neighbor.”
That support is being felt in a region facing high unemployment, particularly in agriculture. Produce auctions are continuing to pop up across the country, with the number currently at 50. In time, however, these fun community gatherings could be the needed impetus to rejuvenate the agricultural industry nationwide.