Box after box of sweet luscious bright red strawberries await the next bidder.
“This is the season,” says Noah Gingrich, manager of the Elmira Produce Auction Co-operative.
It doesn’t take long for these freshly picked delectable delights to sell, as eager buyers gather around auctioneer Dave McCormick, as he makes his rounds from one box of fruit and vegetables to the next.
Farm fresh new potatoes, all perfectly ripe and ready, catch the eye of a buyer.
The auction is held three times a week during growing season from the auction building on Reid Woods Roads Drive in Elmira. It was developed as an opportunity for Old Order Mennonites in the area to sell their freshly picked produce and flowers.
“Our growers were in need of a wholesale outlet, so this is what came out of it,” Gingrich said. “Anyone is welcome. It’s open to everyone. It’s a live auction, so you just bid if you want it.”
Buyers include wholesalers, market owners, independent store owners, produce stand owners, hotels and individuals who are simply interested in the freshest produce for their families.
“Two big supporters are the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo,” Gingrich says.
All buyers seem to share one thing in common, they want to support local farmers. “It supports our local growers, it’s revenue for them, that’s the whole reason behind it,” Gingrich says.
EPAC is a locally owned corporation established in 2004. Owned and operated by members of the farming community, it continues to support local growers by creating a new market for regional produce. The goal according to the cooperative, is to increase family farm revenue by encouraging local farms to diversify into higher value crops like seasonal fruit and produce.
EPAC says the regular wholesale market provides a consistent sales outlet for local farms willing to invest in fruit and vegetable production. The produce must be grown within a 120 km radius of the auction, to be included in the sale. “It’s seasonal in terms of what’s available,” Gingrich says.
A buyer from a local charity group has her eyes on a bag full of large ripened cauliflower. “I come every two weeks,” she says. “The fruit and vegetables go to single moms and their families so they can have something fresh on their tables,” she said.
For others, it’s a normal outing as they place their bids, pack up the fresh produce and take it back to their various businesses for resale.
“The auction has grown over the years,” Gingrich says. EPAC members must pay 10 per cent of all sales to help cover overhead costs and buyers must purchase three or more boxes of produce.
Since opening in 2004, sales have risen 600 per cent. And as a result, Gingrich says that local farmers are growing 10 times more produce than they were five years ago. “But the auction idea isn’t as new as everyone thinks,” he says. “There have been about 50-60 of these auctions running weekly in Amish and Mennonite communities in the U.S. We just thought we would try it here.”
EPAC members use produce boxes, marked with the auction logo, which meet grocery standards. They also attend regular workshops on how to wash, grade and pack, so they are better able to provide consistent quality to potential buyers.
Buyers, with clipboards in hand, continue to follow the auctioneer along his rounds until all is sold. It’s obvious too, that the auction allows for a bit of social time, as buyers and sellers get together to catch up while kids run around and enjoy the hustle and bustle around them.
A sign on the wall reads,” A fair price for both buyer and seller. Artificially high prices discourage the buyers. Artificially low prices discourage the growers. Let’s strive for a healthy price for all!”
And all is sold for another day.
Buyers pack up their goods and are off in their vehicles.
Local Mennonites prepare their horses parked outside the auction building.
“Buying fresh, buying local”…it seems to be working.