Because I Do NOT Have To Do It All – Produce Auctions

produce auction collage

You can not do it all.

Maybe that is not exactly accurate.  Perhaps it should say that “Usually every gardener can not grow everything all the time”, or even “Most gardeners do not want to grow everything all the time.”  For various reasons, most gardens contain a few key things or a variety of things along a theme.

Growing up, my mom had a fairly large garden.  Even there, she did not grow everything.  Melons did not do well in their soil, so those were never grown.  Berries, while room for them, were not found in the garden or anywhere in our yard.  I am not sure if this is because it was not something we ate a lot of or due to lack of time.  Blackberries could be found wild and were always a nice treat.

One of my first gardens was found in a community garden, about 20 minutes from my work, in the opposite direction from my house, on a large plot that had not been planted for a few years.  (Read, “weeds”.)  To help make use of space on the back half, and to cut down on weeding, I planted watermelons among the corn.  I also tried an heirloom variety of tomato … {gasp} it was not red.  🙂

I learned that this was not only way too large of a plot for me, but also there was a lot of sun and lack of water.  It did not help that the area was entering a drought.  None of my beets or onions grew.  The tomatoes turned out a very low harvest, the cucumbers were eaten by something, and the corn did not produce anything.  I was surprised by some watermelons that were hidden away.  What did abound were weeds, weeds, and more weeds.  At one point I gave up on weeding half the plot and focused on being able to get to the tomato plants.

Then we moved.

After having put so much work into a garden plot that really did not return much for all the effort, I was not ready to do a large garden again.  It was about this time that I first heard of raised beds and was learning more about them.  If this method did not turn out, I was ready to give up on gardening.  Yup.  You read that right.  Not only had the community garden been a trial, but my very first garden had been literally eaten by a dog.  Not kidding.  I was starting to feel like it just was not meant to be.

View of raised garden bed boxes before redo

So, I set out to build a two 4.5 feet square raised garden beds.  I was not going to try and grow everything, mainly the things we loved.  Tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce and beets.  While the beets did not turn out, and I would later go on to figure out growing onions, the result was enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Additionally, I began to look for other sources of produce that would not break the bank.  A few things appeared, one of which was a local produce auction.  At first, I was not sure I had understood the person correctly, as I was actually eavesdropping on a conversation.  Was there really such a thing as an auction where they sold produce?  Turns out, there was and I have never looked back, though at times I have questioned my sanity.  🙂

I no longer have to worry about having a large garden to grow all the beets we need for a year.  I can usually get it at a very reasonable price, if I am willing to wait.  The same goes for tomatoes.  Toward the height of tomato season, I can usually find 25 lb boxes for under $5 each. That is $.20 per lb if you were not sure of the math.  At that price it is almost cheaper not to grow them.

A produce auction is exactly what it sounds like – selling of produce (and plants) in the method of an auction, where the price is set by the consumer through a system of bidding.  The set up is usually aimed at wholesalers, but the public is welcome to participate.  Be aware, though, that this means you will end up buying in bulk.  If you are looking for 5 lbs of tomatoes and 2 lbs of green beans, this is NOT your place.  Plan on getting more along the lines of 60-75 lbs of tomatoes, 2-3 bushels of beans/peppers, and 36 pints of berries.  Or you might come home with 5-10 hanging baskets of flowers.

The good thing is that you can go in with a group of others so that you do not have to handle all the produce yourself, unless you need or want that much.  Alternatively, you could buy what you want an ‘gift’ the rest to others as you drive home.  Who wouldn’t love to arrive home to a bag of excess garden produce that contains more than zucchini?

Over time you may also get to know some of the other buyers and may ask if they will add a box to their purchase, then you pay them back for that box.  There have been times where I bought a lot (perhaps a bin of pumpkins or 3-4 boxes of something) for a good price, knowing that I really did not need all of it.  Afterwards others would come up and ask if I would be willing to sell x amount to them.  Usually I am, so it never hurts to ask.  Just know, there are certain buyers who never are willing to sell what they bought.  They really do need all that they bid on.  So, pay attention to those who are there and get a feel for who may be more approachable.  If I am not willing to sell, I try to direct them to someone else who might be.

tomato transplants from auction

Depending on the source you find, there are between 43 and 47 produce auctions across the USA.  According to the “What is a Produce Auction” slide show on the University of Missori’s AGEBB , there are about 45 produce auctions across the United States. Most of the ones I have found are located in the Midwest and a few neighboring states to the East.  These run on various days, usually during harvest season, but not always.  Some charge a fee for the buyer number, while others do not.  Make sure you go a few minutes early, 10-15 at least, your first time so you can ask question.

The majority of items at the auctions are local, meaning grown or from a source within 100 miles.  If they are brought in from further, it is noted either on the tag, the box, or by the auctioneer.

Many of the auction will be starting in the upcoming weeks.  I thought this would be a good time to gather together a list of as many of them as I could find.  If you live near one, you may be interested in checking it out.  A friend of mine even visited one while on vacation in a different state.  You never know what you will find.


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