Have you ever been to the grocery store and seen the rows of red peppers, the piles of pumpkins, the bounty of beans and wondered who grew them?
Unless you're getting your produce from a farmers market, it can seem like those fresh fruits and vegetables just magically appear from some amorphous Giant Corporate Farm. Some of them do. Others may come from a Mennonite auction house in North Central Iowa.
The Cedar Valley Produce Auction is located near the tiny, tiny town of Elma, Iowa (pop. 534). I was invited to visit the auction house by one of our hosts in Charles City, Randy Heitz. When I visited the town with a few other Midwest Travel Bloggers Randy was the consummate host, even inviting us into his home. I'm still craving his wife Marilyn's potato sausage soup!
Because I stayed over an extra night, I was able to visit both the Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and the auction, which takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the growing season. Randy and Becky, another one of our hosts, and Sara, from Travel With Sara and Midwest Travel Bloggers, said this was a must-see. "The pumpkins! You won't believe how many pumpkins there are!" "The mums! You'll never see mums that big!"
Hyperbole? You tell me.
See that forklift and the tracks it's leaving? Those are because it has steel wheels. Mennonites in this area, and many others, are not allowed to use rubber tires. This helps ensure that self-propelled farm vehicles are only used on the farm. Otherwise they may be used for transportation, which would then lead to the use of automobiles, which is forbidden.
The biggest mums you'll ever see!
SERIOUSLY! THEY'RE HUGE.
and there are a LOT of them.
Since I'd never been to an auction I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I guess I figured the auctioneer would be stationary and the pallets would come to him (or her). You can see by the sheer size that isn't a practical way to handle it. Instead, the auctioneer walks down the rows of produce and the buyers follow along. Each bin is marked with information about the produce as well as the grower's number. The latter makes sure that if someone gets a bum deal the buyer will know who sold it. More often, they'll know who to thank and who to bid for on the next visit.
So who buys all of this produce? When we were there we ran into the produce manager from the local Hy-Vee who was looking for pie pumpkins. Others were individuals, and still others were smaller grocers. Lined up along the dock was a row of semis from larger stores that had pre-purchased large orders, including a grocery chain in Chicago that bought a bunch of those palettes. This auction house, which was started by a group of local farmers in 2001, now sells over $3 million annually!
I didn't buy any of the green beans or peppers or Kirby cucumbers that day, but I could have. Anyone can attend, get a number, and take home some of the most beautiful plants and produce you've ever seen. You'll just have to make sure you bring a truck and friends who want to share.
Want to learn more about Charles City? Check out more of the places and people the Midwest Travel Bloggers experienced during our visit.