A good friend called me up last weekend to ask me if I wanted to go with her to a produce auction. Knowing that she is in the beginning process of starting up her own pie-baking business, she is constantly on the lookout for places to source her ingredients, especially the expensive ones such as berries and cherries. She told me that the sister of a friend of hers had told her about a market in rural Ohio where the atmosphere was like a farmer's market crossed with an auction. Having nothing really better to do and given that it's free just to go and experience it for myself, I agreed to meet her there. She indicated that she would forward details so that I could look it up on-line for myself.
What she sent me was a link to the Homerville Wholesale Produce Auction which is held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday promptly at 5:30 PM near the small town of Homerville, OH, just west of downtown Lodi. I've written before about supporting your local farmer's markets as it is a win-win situation for both parties involved. You get farm fresh produce that is generally cheaper than you would pay for it in the supermarket and the farmer generally gets more for his/her products than they would if purchased by said supermarket. However, the HWPA takes it even one step further, allowing the farmers to truly maximize their profits through the use of the auction process.
As I arrived at 5:15 PM today, I snapped a photo of the sign marking the entrance to the auction:
It became pretty obvious as I drove down Spencer Road that I was getting close as there was a large Amish contingency pulling their horse-drawn carts onto the same property. The cars mostly parked on a grassy area to the right and the carts that the Amish had brought were mostly lined up on the left of the property:
After parking, I walked up to the main venue:
As it turns out, there were really two auctions that happened here. The area of the building in the above photo was for consumer-sized lots; i.e., a couple of quarts of maple syrup, four pints of freshly picked blueberries, a peck of green peppers. The other side of the building where the Amish carts had been lining up was also home to an auction, but at the wholesale level. Here was where you could bid on a box containing 75 heads of cabbage or an entire flats of berries. The consumer auction started promptly at 5:30 PM while the wholesale auction started a bit later and proceeded concurrently with the consumer version.
As I mentioned before, it was absolutely free to go and browse around. But if you were here to buy or sell something, there was a large list of rules posted up on the wall that everyone must abide by:
While waiting for my friend to arrive, I started walking up and down the three very large tables of produce snapping some photos:
What really surprised me the most was the incredible variety of produce that was available for purchase here today. When you ask most people what Ohio is known for, they can usually only point to a couple of items: sweet corn, tomatoes, and apples. Here you had a virtual rainbow of colors and flavors all grown by local farmers.
Besides produce, other items were also available for sale:
There were many baked goods such as breads, pies, and cookies available for purchase, too. What I found out from my friend was that it is legal in Ohio to sell baked goods out of one's own oven without the need to have your kitchen certified.
Once the auction started, it was interesting to watch (and listen to) the auctioneer's chatter as they sold lot after lot. The man running the consumer auction was a bit easier to understand than the woman running the wholesale auction, but it was interesting to hear the differences in their respective talents. I stayed for about an hour and a half after the auction started and the auctioneer only managed to get through one of the three tables allotted for the consumer lots. Apparently they start at 5:30 PM and can go until 9:30 or 10:00 PM, were you to be unlucky enough to have something you of interest at the end of that third table.
Before I left the auction, I was encouraged to try out a little food cart that was located directly to the right of the auction building. "Kathy's Kitchen" sprawled across its marquee, they offered a few very basic items:
And a shot of the limited menu:
While my friend had suggested I give the hand-dipped onion rings a go, I decided to make an entire meal out of it and ordered one of their giant steakburgers and a half-order of the onion rings. When asked if I wanted cheese on my burger, I agreed. After a few minutes, this monstrous burger showed up:
I was surprised to learn that "cheese on it" actually meant melted cheddar cheese sauce, the same kind you'd find with your nachos for dipping. I was a bit disappointed by this and wouldn't have ordered it had I known beforehand. Adorned with some ketchup and mustard, this burger was enormous. It tasted alright, but was definitely a challenge to eat. I should mention that there are no tables to sit down at, so I had to juggle the burger and my freshly fried onion rings. Had I been smarter, I would've ordered my burger first, finished it, and then gone back for the onion rings.
Speaking of the onion rings, each batch is battered and fried to order. Here is a shot of my half-order:
These were extremely fresh tasting, but a little bit oily. If I had to guess, I think that the oil might not be hot enough and the batter ended up absorbing just a bit too much oil. The onions used for the rings were clearly freshly cut, but because they weren't uniform in size, some of the smaller finished onion rings were a little overcooked while others had a still-raw crunch to them at their very centers. The friend who had suggested the onion rings to me admitted that today's version was a bit greasy. When she had them the previous time she was there, they had been flawless. I'm willing to give them another try.
Regardless, between the enormous steakburger and my half-order of onion rings, I was completely stuffed. I ordered a bottle of water for the road, hopped in my car, and headed out of Homerville back towards home. While I hadn't actually purchased anything at the auction, I did take the memory of an interesting way to spend an evening home with me. If you want to connect even closer to the farmer than your local farmer's market, I'd suggest giving the Homerville Wholesale Produce Auction a gander. It's a nice way to spend a free evening reconnecting with how food in this country should work.