After auction season ends, we start crunching the numbers. Our community of growers and supporters want to know – How did we do this year compared to last? What were the top selling items? How many new buyers and sellers did we gain? As a social enterprise, we are most concerned with how well we served our farmers and food access in the region. This year we were particularly concerned with how the pandemic affected our community and how the auction fared under such difficult circumstances.
The news is good! Despite widespread shutdowns and rapidly changing public health recommendations, we only had to cancel two auctions in 2020. Our total sales remained consistent with prior years’ totals during a year when many small businesses went completely under. In fact, average sales from individual auction days actually grew by 3% this year. Our online ordering system became more important as a way to get produce to community members who did not feel safe coming out in person. And our Buying Club grew tremendously this year, allowing us to purchase over $40,000 in local produce for weekly shares to over 150 members.
“Local food was in really high demand this year,” said Tom Redfern, Director of Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture program. The pandemic exposed the volatility of our country’s industrial food system as restaurants closed, butchers filled up, and farmers were stuck with excess perishable products. In stark contrast, the Chesterhill Produce Auction is part of a short supply chain that holds up during crises like the pandemic. Our growers were still able to sell all of their produce at similar (and sometimes higher) prices as last year. In fact, we gained 54 new sellers last year and 493 new customers!
So here are some numbers from 2020! Check out the average price of all produce items in the charts at the bottom.
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.