By Bruce Stambaugh
For inspiration this time of year, I love to frequent the local produce auction located just two miles north of my home. It’s a carnival, traffic jam, town hall meeting, commerce hub and art museum all rolled into one.
I like to arrive midmorning just as the auction is about to begin. When it’s peak harvest time, the place is abuzz. Men, women and children seem to have caught the same exciting spirit.
Vehicles of all sorts line up to empty and to load the produce and associated items. Box trucks, pickup trucks, and pickups with flatbed trailers, tractor-trailer trucks, tractors with loaded wagons, horse drawn wagons, vans, cars, carts and bicycles all congregate at the Farmers Produce Auction west of Mt. Hope, Ohio.
Their drivers are there for one of two reasons. They arrive to sell their fruits, vegetables and flowers or to buy them. A few of us, of course, show up to simply admire the proceeding. The exuberant energy and shining beauty are both contagious.
Amish men and teenagers steady their team of horses, standing patiently in line under the strengthening sun. Most have traveled miles with their cargos of colorful produce, neatly packaged and ready for the sale.
The assortment of trucks carries interesting payloads, too. The season’s last sweet corn and melon, huge boxes of the season’s first pumpkins, bright red and yellow peppers, and flat after flat of budding burgundy, gold and crimson mums are just some of the offerings.
The syncopated rhythm of the auctioneer echoes from the open-sided building, announcing the sale’s start. Buyers quickly abandon the food stand and squeeze in to catch any bargain they can. The pace is quick, and if you snooze you lose. People pay attention.
The buyers themselves are a joy to watch. Young and old, male and female, they represent their own produce stand, local restaurants or a supermarket chain. This is their livelihood. They are daily regulars, and the astute auctioneer knows them well. A wink, a nod, a twitch and particular hand gestures signal bids and it’s on to the next lot.
Soon the drive through auction simultaneously begins outside. Double rows of boxed and packaged produce or flats of hundreds of flowers are sold straight from the wagon or truck on which they arrived. They pass by the canvas-covered auctioneer’s stand two-by-two until the last one is through.
Sellers know they have to be on time. Despite the disjointed configuration of vehicles, the sale runs efficiently, making buyers and producers both happy. To be first in line, one driver arrived at 6:15 a.m. for the 10:15 a.m. sale. That’s the dedication of effective and productive commerce in action.
Hand-printed tags on the purchased commodities tell the tale. The number in black indicates the producer. The red number is the buyer. As soon as the lot is sold, young men and boys transport the goods with tow motors to designated stations where the merchandise is parked until claimed. Once the buyer is all in, the purchased containers are loaded into his or her vehicle.
By lunchtime, teamsters mull their successes on the slow, rattling ride home. Truck drivers secure their load, and head to their predetermined destinations where the fresh goodies will be sorted, washed and prepared for consumption.
The fascinating organization, the polished production, the gregarious people and the artsy produce combine to create one rousing show. What an inspiring performance to start the fall.
This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012