Farmers Produce Auction - Providing Top Quality, Fresh Produce

by Diana Barnum
The Farmers Produce Auction at Mt. Hope, OH has basically the same type of building as the 30 plus other wholesale produce auctions spread across 16 states. However, each auction tends to carve out its own niche to fit the area buyers and sellers.
With Farmers Produce Auction being in the heart of the largest Amish Population nationwide, the many growers can sell what they sow in an efficient way. “This one is patterned after one in Pennsylvania, but took on a character of its own,” said Fred Finney. Finney’s role is an advisory board member at Farmers Produce Auction along with selling fruits and vegetables he grows on his Moreland Fruit Farm, in Wooster, OH.
Finney explained how a few local produce growers visited the Pennsylvania auction in 1994. Interest was sparked in this area to get an auction up and running to help sustain farming. Milking cows and raising hogs no longer paid the bills for the area farmers.
What started out as a meeting of 12 farmers around the kitchen table of a grower’s farmhouse in 1994, has evolved and grown to a building and market for many farmers to help them survive on the family farm. The auction building is easily accessible from State Route 241 and also County Road 235. This provides easy routes for buyers as well as growers. The auction floor space has grown from 7,200 square feet in 1995 to 24,000 square feet in 2003 to accommodate the lines and pallets of fresh produce brought in each sale day. A drive-thru platform situated between two lanes of wagons, trucks and trailers loaded with produce is used by all growers that prefer to have their produce sold from their vehicle instead of putting it in rows on the auction floor.
Every item is tagged with the grower’s identification number and amount of product in the lot. Buyers learn to know each grower number by his quality. Buyers also have a permanent number so a grower can demonstrate his concern and follow up after auctions by approaching past buyers and asking how they liked their produce purchase. Growers can then make adjustments to meet customers’ future needs.
The number system also helps the buyers. For example, if fictitious seller #422, placed rotten apples in the bottom of his bushels and layer his best fruit on top, the buyers would find out after their purchase. Since they know this seller’s number, they wouldn’t place future orders or buy auction items from that seller.
Notable differences between the Pennsylvania produce auction and Mt. Hope’s produce auction revolve around the buyer. At the Pennsylvania auction, all produce items were loose. After the auction, sellers were responsible for placing their produce in the buyers’ packages. However at Mt. Hope’s auction, all produce must be packaged in standard containers, and placed on standard 4 way pallets. All packing and pallets are sold by the Mullets to the growers.
The Mullet family shares the work load getting outside help as needed depending on the amount of produce in season. Running and managing the Produce Auction is only natural as the Mullets also own the Mt. Hope Livestock Auction.
This advantage makes it easier for buyers to buy, get loaded and leave. “Remember, these buyers have stores and farm markets; they want to get this load to the market or warehouse and sell it.” Finney says, “We have lots of pallet jacks, dock spaces and forklifts to speed up the loading and unloading process.”
“Our buyers love to buy from the drive-thru because they know the produce is fresh. As a matter of fact, on a rainy morning, the horse drawn wagons loaded with sweet corn can be tracked back to the muddy field where they just picked corn.”
Sellers are mainly from a five county area. Buyers travel from largely a five-state area; Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Auctions generally begin in Mid-April, one day per week. Frequency picks up in May with auctions two days per week. From Mid-June through September auctions are held four days a week, then back to two days a week in October, and one day a week in November, before closing down for winter around Thanksgiving. The schedule can vary with holidays; calendars of auction dates are available upon request.
A daily market report is faxed to all participants listing produce by codes, lots and prices, logged in high, low and average columns.
This year Finney reported a bad year for diseases in a lot of vine crops. But overall prices were reported pretty good, especially with the hurricane knocking out a lot of produce in the East Coast region.
“That’s one of the bad things about farming,” explained Finney. “We have a good year when someone else in the country has a bad year. An ideal situation would be basic, moderate pricing ranges across the board.”
Members of Farmers Produce Auction Advisory Board meet with buyers and growers on a regular monthly basis. With Finney as their liaison, the group focuses on one of their top concerns: how to help make things more efficient for buyers in providing them with top quality fresh produce.
For more information, contact Farmers Produce Auction, P.O. Box 101, Mt. Hope, OH 44660, 330-674-7661 (ph) or fax inquiries to 330-674-7665 (fax).