After the sun rises on a Monday or Thursday during the growing season, farmers begin harvesting, cleaning, and packaging their produce for the day. All around the county, farmers set off to deliver their items to the auction house, to be sold and displayed in bushels and pecks across the auction floor. A few hours before the auction begins you’ll find farmers, Rural Action staff, volunteers and AmeriCorps service members moving pallets full of tomatoes and onions, carrying flats of ground cherries, arranging dozens of mums, and throwing pumpkins from trailers. As 4 pm approaches, the flurry of produce and people grows. The final items are carried to their place on the auction floor, the auctioneers sit at their podiums, and the bidding begins.
When you step onto the auction floor, you step into a community. The CPA draws folks from near and far — from right here in Chesterhill to Athens, Parkersburg, Columbus, Marietta, and neighboring states. This diverse community of farmers, local residents, restaurant-owners, college students, food access organizations, young people, and seniors share one thing in common: a love of good food.
Many individuals enjoy bidding on “small lots” where produce comes in household-sized packages like a half-peck of mixed vegetables, a couple of pumpkins, or a flat of concord grapes. They bring produce home to be cooked for big families, preserved into jams and jellies, canned for the winter months, or displayed decoratively. Institutions like Ohio University and restaurants find better luck bidding on “big lots.” Here they can buy bushels of apples, 50 watermelon, or bins full of pumpkins. These bigger buyers help to bring large quantities of local produce to consumers in college cafeterias, restaurants, or hospitals.
The next three hours fly by with fast-talking and many side glances between competitive bidders. As we jokingly remind each other, there are no friends at auctions. Inevitably, a few customers run to the office in a panic to ask what they just bought. Those who bought more than they need donate items to Community Food Initiative’s Donation Station to be delivered to local food pantries. The last pecks of produce are sold, cars and buggies are loaded, and everyone drives off as the sun sets on another auction day.
The beauty of the auction comes in many forms: bright pink radishes, the smell of apples when Wagner’s Fruit Farm makes his delivery, the sound of Grandma Peggy’s laugh as she cooks sausage sandwiches, familiar faces setting up lawn chairs, cars packed to the ceiling with fresh produce, the short journey this food takes across the auction floor from the farmer’s hand to the consumer’s.
Right now as temperatures plummet into the teens, we are reveling in the memory of these sights and smells from the auction. We hope you are finding warmth and beauty this winter too.
Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.