Produce auction sets spring opening

SALEM, Ohio – Hauling produce an hour to sale wasn’t cutting it.
Amish farmers around Knox County were hiring drivers to take their berries and sweet corn to wholesale auctions across Ohio. Affordable and convenient, it wasn’t.
So they decided to build their own auction right at home.
After lots of talk and lots of thinking, the Amish community members formed a limited liability corporation, purchasing shares in the business to provide capital. The group purchased ground, construction started and now Knox County’s Owl Creek Produce Auction plans to open this spring.
Trend. Owl Creek Produce Auction is the eighth one of its kind in Ohio, and all of them started within the last 13 years.
What’s driving this trend? That’s easy, says an Ohio State horticulture specialist.
“There’s a big demand for fresh produce and this is as fresh as you can get,” Brad Bergefurd said.
What other way can wholesalers get large quantities of fresh, local produce, he asks.
Producers gather each week with the tomatoes or peaches or pumpkins they just picked two hours ago on their farm 5 miles away. Many times the produce is on the buyers’ shelves within 12 hours from when it was picked, said Bergefurd, who’s had his hand in all eight projects.
There aren’t even coolers at the auctions, he said, because the fruit and vegetables aren’t there long enough.
Wholesale. Buyers aren’t customers just wanting vegetables for their dinner salads. Instead, the buyers are independent grocers or even roadside stands or retail farm markets who need extra produce to fill in the gaps of what they don’t grow.
Normally, a single farmer doesn’t grow enough to sell to these types of customers.
That’s where the auction comes in.
About 35 growers have shown an interest in selling at the Owl Creek Produce Auction. As a group, they can offer larger quantities and appeal to the bigger stores, such as Kroger, Bergefurd said.
Success. The other seven produce auctions in Ohio have been successful, Bergefurd said, and there’s no reason to think it will be any different for the Owl Creek sale.
The key, said sale manager Kelly Brown, will be to have enough produce to attract those big buyers.
“A large volume of high-quality produce will make or break this auction,” said Brown, who has a grain farm and raises heifers in Fredericktown.
“Our main focus will be on quality produce. We’re not interested in leftovers.”
But getting consistent, high-quality fruits and vegetables isn’t always easy, especially when some of the interested farmers haven’t grown produce before.
That’s why this group of Amish and non-Amish farmers turned to Ohio State Extension for help.
Many of them are successful at growing row crops, like field corn and soybeans, but need to change their mindset to make it work for sweet corn and tomatoes, Brown said.
Extension is offering that link by providing research and technological information. (See related side.)
Room for all. Even with an increasing number of successful produce auctions across the state, Bergefurd said there’s plenty of room for them all to coexist and, most importantly, remain profitable.
Each time a new sale opens, he said, demand for fresh produce increases; that means even more market opportunity for farmers.

Get the details

Find out more about the Owl Creek Produce Auction at a meeting by Ohio State University Extension Jan. 24 at Waterford United Methodist Church in Waterford, Ohio. Cost is $15. It is open to all producers.

Owl Creek Produce Auction plans to open in late March or early April with hay sales. Produce and possibly flowers will follow.

Construction is ongoing. The building is located on the Morrow/Knox County line on Waterford Road in Fredericktown.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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