Finding peace and joy

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Auction in action.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Most folks go there to either buy or sell. I go for peace and joy.

The Farmers Produce Auction west of Mt. Hope, Ohio is heaven on earth for me. Given the size of the crowds and the non-stop activity, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that sentiment.

This little spot of paradise, located dead-center in the prettiest township in Ohio, bustles with business. That’s especially true in fall, the summit of the harvest season.

That it is so raucous this time of year should come as no surprise. The skid loaders, the bins, the baskets, the boxes, the trucks, the wagons, the carts, the pallets overflow with all of Creation’s botanical creativity.

Though they may not look like it, the auction grounds and buildings are the Garden of Eden April to November. Fall is its horn of plenty.

Growers of all delicious fruits and vegetables and eye candy fall flowers gather their goods and come to the auction. As diverse as the produce varieties, attendees represent a microcosm of society. Men, women, children, black, brown, white, young, old and in between, workers, buyers, sellers and admirers harmoniously intermingle.

Once the auctioneers’ voices begin to resound, all eyes and ears swivel to attention. Buyers from small urban markets, major grocery stores, and mom and pop stands along country roads stay glued to the rhythmical cadence of the hucksters.

They want to make sure they’re going to get the best produce for the best possible price. They know what their customers want and what they’ll pay for quality fresh food and flowers. It’s entrepreneurship at its finest.

Finer still is the paint pallet of colors of the gourds, squash, pumpkins, mums, watermelon, tomatoes, plums, apples and cucumbers. Together they create a biological masterpiece.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I wander through the grounds absorbing this end of the rainbow experience. The raw aromas of the fruits and veggies mingle with those of the resting horses and the scrumptious offerings of the beckoning lunch stand.

As if this ever-changing live landscape painting weren’t enough, the singsong crackle of the auctioneers’ voices over the loudspeakers lead the melody of the moment. The hum of the electric loaders, the dozens of sidebar conversations, and the hailing of one person to another across the way sing in harmony.

I glide through as those around me keep to their appointed tasks of loading and unloading, of buying and selling. I am unhindered as I zigzag my way up and down the aisles careful not to interfere or offend.

When I stop and admire the artistry in the earthiness of the individual brush strokes of this organic collage, I come alive. I am at peace. I find joy in the natural patterns of the speckled, striped, plump, oblong, elongated brightness nestled in this temporary harvest home.

The scene could be a Monet or a Rockwell with one exception. It’s real, and it’s all around me, intoxicating all who partake.

Once the bidding ends, a patented rush begins in two directions. One is to quickly but carefully load the delivery trucks to ensure freshness to the awaiting customers miles away. The other is to the food stand, where the chefs are generous with their portions and their geniality.

From still life to landscape to abstract renderings, this produce market offers much more than edibles. In the course of the procurement, peace and joy surreptitiously enrich the colorful treats.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Full view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Enjoying summer’s homegrown bounty

blackraspberriesbybrucestambaugh
Black raspberries. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is there a healthier, more palatable compound word in the English language than homegrown? Not when it comes to fruits and vegetables there isn’t.

For someone whose daily diet requires at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, summer’s bounty is heaven on a plate. When most of what you eat is homegrown, it tastes even better.

That’s probably due in part to the freshness. There’s also great gratification in keeping a vegetable garden. Gardening takes patience and faith, along with the joy of hard work and the hope of happy harvests. A little gardening wisdom doesn’t hurt either.

Since the 1988 drought, we gave up general gardening, and have specialized in growing heirloom tomatoes. Once they begin to ripen, I relish the chance of picking a plump, juicy tomato from the sinewy vines. I can eat it right there or enjoy a plate of fresh slices drizzled in olive oil, and sprinkled with basil and a little salt and pepper.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy the many seasonal options available to us from local produce markets selling fresh-picked offerings. We’ve already marched through the strawberry fields together, enjoying the succulent berries. They seemed extra sweet this year.

Early sweet corn is already beginning to show up. I’ll wait for August’s Incredible cobs myself. It’s a culinary delight to hold a steaming, tender ear of cooked or grilled sweet corn, melted butter dripping onto the plate. I savor that first corn taste of the season, lightly salted of course.

Summer has many other garden gifts to give. Plump, sweet-tart black raspberries add rich color, pleasing texture, and tangy taste whether plopped on cereal, eaten with milk or enjoyed right off the bush.

Crisp green beans and glossy ivory onions beg to be adored and ready to accent any main dinner course. Huge heads of lettuce, spinach, cabbage and leafy Swiss chard boldly display different shades of green.

Red beets, radishes with bity white centers, prickly pickles, yellowy summer squash, and purple plums enhance the fruitful paint pallet. Redskin potatoes, luscious watermelons, yummy cantaloupe, peppers that run the complete color chart can’t be forgotten either.

I guess I gained this vegetarian affection for all things homegrown early in life. My folks kept a large garden a couple of miles from our suburban home. We children helped till, hoe, plant and pick the wide variety of veggies Mom and Dad chose to grow.

cauliflowerbybrucestambaugh
Colorful cauliflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I enjoy the rainbow of colors of the fruits and vegetables as much as their wondrous tastes, whether eaten raw, grilled, cooked, steamed or baked. It’s all good, as long as the onions and peaches don’t co-mingle on the grill.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide healthy and nutritional meals, along with a natural dose of flavorful fiber. Those old enough to appreciate a 1957 Chevy will understand what I mean by that.

Fruit and veggie colors, aromas, and flavors brighten up our lives right through October or the first frost here in Ohio. Of course, Ohioans aren’t the only folks invigorated by produce.

People all around the world, rural, suburban and urban alike, appreciate the many benefits of homegrown food. I’ve seen productive gardens on the mountainsides of Honduras, and in the front yards of brownstones in Brooklyn, New York.

Whether you grow or buy homegrown, the multi-sensory rewards are the same. I’m grateful the fruit and vegetable harvests have begun in earnest.

rainbowofflowersbybrucestambaugh
My wife works hard to keep her flower gardens vibrant and beautiful. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.