This past Friday I experienced something unlike anything I’ve ever had the privilege to experience before. I was a bidder at an Amish produce auction in Cashton, Wisconsin, and what a wonderful chance to see a completely different side of life. The mission was simple: give the people the gourds they want! Last year around this time, customers at both Willy Street Co-op stores were asking if they could buy the decorative pumpkins we had purchased for display throughout the stores. We should have guessed that our wonderfully unique customers would want unique decorative gourds and not just your run-of-the mill carving pumpkins. So this year we thought ahead. We decided to buy a bunch of “funky pumpkins” to help satisfy that desire. And what better place to acquire said gourds than at a produce auction. So Megan Minnick (our Purchasing Director) and I hopped into a delivery truck and headed to the auction.
The Growers Produce Auction is “a wholesale produce auction supplied with fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, and nursery stock by local growers.” It just so happens that the majority of local growers are Amish families. The ride up to the auction was beautiful. Once we turned off of Interstate 90, we saw fewer and fewer cars and tractors and far more beautiful countryside free of giant industrial water sprayer systems and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Cows were grazing freely on rolling hills and horses were pulling freshly picked goods to the produce auction. The Growers Produce Auction states that “produce is picked fresh, just hours before the sale by growers within a 100 mile radius of the auction.” And we saw that in action.
Once we arrived at the auction, it became clear that this was the place to be for the locale. In the middle of Amish farmland was a small warehouse with about eight garage doors on either side. The parking lot was jammed full and one side of the building was full of Amish carts with the horsestied to a long hitching fence. Some large flatbed carts, complete with metal wheels and wooden frame, were lined up with their goods just outside the garage doors.
How it works
Once inside, we discovered that the warehouse was full of produce bins and numerous carts with a variety of goods on them. We walked around to eye up our desired items. There were obviously some seasoned bidders in the house and it was a little intimidating. The only bidding I’ve ever done was on eBay! The auctioneer started the bidding and I was blown away. This guy was the real deal. The blur of words from his mouth took time to figure out what exactly he was intending to say. Once I warmed up and got used to it, it became quite a rush.
We sat down on something like bleachers with the auctioneer straight ahead of us while the goods to be auctioned were wheeled up from our left. The garage doors opened and the large flatbed carts, horses and all, came into the auction house. That was perhaps my favorite part. I was so impressed with restraint, strength and calm of the horses.
When the auction came to an end, we paid for our goods and loaded up the truck. We came away with quite a few good varieties of funky gourds. Everyone at the auction was very helpful and friendly and the systems they had setup were quite impressive considering the lack of modern technologies. The Growers Produce Auction states “the auction method is the fairest way to purchase fresh produce as the prices are controlled in a true supply and demand environment. The suppliers range from large commercial growers to small gardeners with surplus product. The auction is a great market for wholesale buyers such as roadside stands, grocery stores, and restaurants. Small lots are also sold for anyone interested in household consumption or canning.”
The hardest part was getting the goods out of Cashton. Having your horses pull a fully loaded large cart even 50 miles is quite a feat. Now try to get those goods to Madison or beyond and you run into some challenges. This is where organizations like Keewaydin come in to help distribute organic Amish goods to places like Willy Street Co-op, where we can sell their goods to the greater Madison area. So if you ever get a chance to visit the Growers Produce Auction in Cashton, be sure to take you time to relish in the simple life and support our Amish neighbors. Also, check out our funky gourds at either store while supplies last!