Chesterhill Produce Auction Creates Community and Economic Activity

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Welcome to the Chesterhill Produce auction in Morgan County. It is about a thirty minutes drive from Athens. It is one of 14  in Ohio and organized by Rural Action, a non-profit organization working to revitalize Appalachian Ohio. Director for sustainable culture Tom Redford is busy making sure everything is ready. He says the auction brings much needed economic activity into the area.

“It means they can purchase food here, sell things here,” says Redford. “It means they have an economic resource. Other business around have a reason for people coming up here as well. It is bringing economic activity to this area.”

Twice a week, more than 1300 registered bidders have the chance to bid on a variety of produce. Tracy Patton owns a street produce stand in Nelsonville and likes to come to the auction. He stands at the side of the auction, kneeing down and checking the quality of the produce.

“Sometimes prices get a little bit high, sometimes a little bit low,” Patton says. ” And you have to have an idea in your head, what you want to pay for it. Cause you can caught up in excitement and then you can pay way too much for it.”

Patton isn’t the only business owner at the auction. Becky Clark chats with other bidders while waiting for the auction to start. The young woman is butcher and owner of Pork & Pickles in Athens and is here looking for produce to pickle.

The space is divided in two areas. On one side whole pallets of produce are auctioned, which are used by restaurants and shops. And on the other side local residents crowd around pumpkins, onions, potatoes, or whatever else the farmers are offering. An auction helper presents the produce. Then, the winner decides how many items he or she wants. And if there are any items left, the next highest bidder can get them for the same price.

Vicky Ball-Sneider lives nearby but doesn’t come by every week. Instead, it’s an opportunity for her to be social. She stops by different people, chats with them while waiting for the next auction offer.

“I just come over once in a while to catch up with my friends and to see if there is something I might want to preserve,” Ball-Sneider says. “Last time I got cauliflower. Cause I don’t have that in my own garden.”

Some Amish farmers even offer baked goods in one corner of the hall in Chesterhill. That social aspect to the auction is important according to Redford.

“People come here for the food and they also come for community aspect,” he says.  “It’s a rural community center. They all substantially Serve horse and buggy farmers. Its suited to those communities.  People who don’t have access to suburban markets. So it creates a destination. So it brings people to the markets.”

Prices vary, depending on how many bidders participate and what produce is offered. Because people are buying directly from the farmers prices are often lower than most grocery stores

But buying produce here is not like going to a grocery story. There is a certain tension in the air, when the announced price goes lower until someone decides to bid. After that there are usually more people interested and the price goes up again. In 25 cent increments, the produce mostly stays affordable until  the auctioneer announces the highest bidder.

It takes about an hour to sell all the produce, bidders then take their number and pay at the office. Both Becky and Tracy are happy with their haul.

This years season is over, but Chesterhill Produce Auction will start back up again in May. It’s open to everybody who wants to make shopping a little more exciting, get some local produce, and experience community.