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The "Fruits" of their labor

"If it is Amish grown, you know they care"

By Catie Noyes • Editor Published: July 1, 2015 12:00 AM
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"We have a very vibrant produce and fruit industry here in the county,"

said Rory Lewandowski, Ohio State University Extension Educator. And by vibrant, he is not just referring to the bright reds, yellows and greens of the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season, but the sheer volume of produce that passes through the Wayne/Holmes County area.

"The Amish have really gotten into vegetable farming. The Amish community makes up the majority of the vegetable and fruit production in the area," said Lewandowski.

Why is produce so popular among the Amish?

Jim Mullet, sales manager for the Mt. Hope Produce Auction in Mt. Hope, Ohio, says 80-85 percent of the growers are Amish. "They are not afraid to work," he said. Having large families, it is particularly easy to create assembly lines when it comes to picking produce. "They want to keep their children at home to help work on the farm."

Andy Yoder, of Yoder Acres Produce (located at 5274 Fredricksburg Rd., Wooster), said produce farming is "something that includes the whole family. The Amish like working in the ground and in the fields with their family."

For the Amish that attend the County Line Produce Auction in West Salem, Ohio, auction manager Bruce Imhoff said, "In our area the produce industry is growing. The Amish in this community are limited to how they can make their income. They are not allowed to travel as much."

The produce industry allows Amish farmers to maintain their family lifestyle and make a living off of the family farm.

Wayne and Holmes Counties are particularly fortunate to have two very high profile produce auctions right in their own backyard: The Mt. Hope Produce Auction, which has been continuously growing for 20 years and the County Line Produce Auction, which has grown tremendously in the last three years it has been open.

Probably one of the most recognizable produce auctions in the area is the Mt. Hope Auction facility. The produce auction was started in 1995 and has been growing steadily ever since.

"We are big enough that big grocery chains like Buehlers and other wholesalers find it worth their time to come and buy produce here," said Mullet.

The open air building is 70 feet wide by 325 feet long and is usually full to the brim with fresh produce at peak season. Mullet explained, the building started out at just 125 feet long and was reaching max capacity at its first sale.

"A lot of local people that buy here sell the produce at farmers markets and local groceries, like Rhode's IGA in Millersburg and the German Village Market in Berlin purchase fresh produce for their stores," said Mullet.

"Every year there is more demand for locally grown produce," he said. "They have to get it somewhere."

Auctions are great ways for growers to sell their produce and consumers to find great deals on produce. The beauty is, the buyers have the option to buy what they want. If they don't see something they like with one grower, they can move on to the next. "The selectivity of the consumer has helped bring in quality growers and a wide range of growers," Mullet said.

County Line Produce Auction, Ltd. was established just three short years ago, but has become a local success story. The auction barn came together as a community effort with the local Amish community playing a large role in its incorporation.

"We started out with just a few boxes of zucchini, strawberries, asparagus..(etc.) and expanded to around 50 wagons full of produce," said Imhoff. During the peak season every inch of the auction facility is piled high with fresh produce, and some produce is sold straight off the wagons as they pull through the barn.

"90 percent of the produce is grown within a 15 mile radius [of the auction] and 90 percent of it is Amish grown," he added. "Most of it is not certified organic, but the Amish practice methods that use the least amount of chemicals necessary to grow the product."

"The buyers are here because of the fresh, local-grown produce," said Imhoff. "When the movement is fresh and local, they seek out places like this where they have a quantity to pick from."

Paul and Hilda Campbell, of Rittman, had never been to a produce auction before but were looking for some fresh strawberries. "We are excited to see what we can get for a good price," said Paul.

Tom and Jim Pycraft, of LaGrange, Ohio, are locals who come to the auction every year. "We are always looking for anything that is in season," added Jim. "The people here are nice and the produce is good quality."

Tom explained, in a setting like local auctions, "you get to know the growers" and where your food comes from.

"It's a good time; better than sitting around the TV," he joked.

John Keim, a local Amish grower, raises 6-7 acres of produce and has been attending the auction since it opened. He sees the "want" from the consumers when it comes to the locally grown produce. Another local, Amish grower (who asked to remain anonymous) said, "I like to come down here. If it wasn't for the big buyers, we couldn't do it."

Produce auctions, farmers markets and Amish roadside stands are great ways to get fresh produce and get to know the people that grow the foods you enjoy most. "If it is Amish grown, you know they care about how their produce is grown and people's health," said Mullet.

The Mt. Hope Auction is located at 8076 SR. 241, Mt. Hope Ohio. The Farmers Produce Auction takes place Mondays at 11 a.m. and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. For more information call 330-674-6188 or visit www.mthopeauction.com.

County Line Produce Auction, Ltd. is located at 11701 Jeffrey Road, West Salem, Ohio. Auctions are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4 p.m. For more information call 419-853-0123 or visit www.countylineproduceauction.com.

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