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Gourds galore

gourds, produce auction

Gourds galore.

There is no place I’d rather be this time of year than the local produce auction. I find its sights, sounds, smells, colors, textures, excitement, energy, people, and the variety of produce invigorating and inspiring. This box of mixed gourds is exemplary of that.

To me, they are much more than a cardboard container of seasonal produce. The various sizes, shapes, colors, and kinds represent all that is right about the farmers’ auction. The sale provides a means of income for growers, most of whom are Amish families. Young children to teens to adults help with the gardening throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting processes. The buyers, a mix of Amish, English, and representatives from large grocery stores, purchase boxes, crates, flats, and pallets of produce to be resold at roadside stands or offered in local supermarkets. Local restaurants and residents even buy food items for their customer and family meals.

The buyers and workers at the auction are also a mix of folks from near and far, some Amish, most not. Just like these gourds, some colorful characters are among them, too. That’s a subject for another time.

“Gourds galore” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Inspired at the produce auction

Colorful lineup by Bruce Stambaugh

The lineup of produce waiting to be auctioned was colorful in more than one way.

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.

Produce trucks by Bruce Stambaugh

Trucks of all sizes back up to the loading docks to both deliver for the auction and to load produce purchased.


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.

Lining up by Bruce Stambaugh

The drive through auction creates an unusual traffic jam.


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.

Produce auctioning by Bruce Stambaugh

Buyers and sellers alike gathered around the auctioneer as bids were taken.


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.

Two auctions by Bruce Stambaugh

So much produce arrives each day that two auctions, one inside, one outside, are held at the same time.


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.

Sold produce by Bruce Stambaugh

Amish teens help move the sold produce to staging areas until the buyers claim their purchases.

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.

Loads of produce by Bruce Stambaugh

Growers are taught how to package their produce to ensure both quality and higher prices.

Rows of produce by Bruce Stambaugh

The produce is neatly lined up in rows as it arrives to be sold at the auction.

Double rows by Bruce Stambaugh

The outside auction is done by selling the produce in double rows that slowly pass by the auctioneer’s stand.

Decorative produce by Bruce Stambaugh

Seasonal decorative produce like these gourds and pumpkins add to the auction’s peak season success.

Amish worker by Bruce Stambaugh

Besides the Amish farmers, the auction employs several Amish men and women to help with the sale.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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It’s beginning to look a lot like fall already

Oats shocks by Bruce Stambaugh

A field full of oats shocks before being gathered for the thrasher near Berlin, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.

Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.

The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.

The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.

In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.

Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.

Fall webworms by Bruce Stambaugh

The homes of fall webworms shine in the sun.

In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.

In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.

Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.

Well-worn butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh

A well-worn tiger swallowtail butterfly took advantage of some wildflowers.

The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.

Butterfly on phlox by Bruce Stambaugh

A butterfly enjoys late blooming phlox.

Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.

Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.

Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.

There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.

The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.

Cows grazed at sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

Cows grazed on a hillside at sunset.

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The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh

The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh

Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh

Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

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