When we were planning a stay with our friends Mark and Kathy at their Grand Oaks Air B&B, they said that they had something special for us to see and that we had to stay until Thursday. This was intriguing. We didn’t ask questions and did not attempt to do any research to find out what the surprise might be.
One Christmas when I was about seven years old, my sister and I went hunting to see if we could find any Christmas presents. We searched high and low in every room of the house and at last in the back of the very top shelf in the linen closet I found a watch case…inside was the Cinderella watch of my dreams. We put it back, put the ladder away and quit searching. That Christmas Day was the second most miserable of my life when I had to feign surprise and delight with my gift. The joy was gone and I learned to wait for the good things life would bring.
On Thursday morning, we left Grand Oaks and rode with Mark and Kathy down narrow country roads, over and around hills and past impressive and tidy farms, most of them owned by Mennonite families who settled in this area generations ago.
The land flattened out and larger farms spread before us with the hills and mountains rising in the background…then we pulled into a field with well-populated parking lot.
We had arrived at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction (SVPA). As their website declares it is the largest such auction in Virginia and the place “WHERE QUALITY MEETS QUANTITY.” The auction was formed in 2005 by some local producers who had seen the success of similar operations in Amish and Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio. This Virginia facility has grown to “over 20,000 square feet that stands in the heart of Rockingham County’s Old Order Mennonite community.”
“The auction provides a central location for area growers to sell their harvest in bulk from early spring to late autumn.” The products consigned to the auction are grown by commercial growers and gardeners within a 100-mile radius of the SVPA. Their website also gives the auction schedule and a list of the types of produce that could be offered in each season. The list is an overview of what comes to market during the seasons and not specific to what growers will be bringing on any given date.
When they arrive, auction items are “graded and packed in standard containers (by box, pallet or bin lots).” The morning we arrived there were pumpkins, squash and gourds in every variety, shape, and size up for bidding.
And fresh vegetables…
And bedding plants and succulents…
And seasonal specialties…plus so much more!!!!!
These lots were loaded onto flatbed wagons then the drivers waited in line until their turn came to pull into the separate auction shed.
Buyers stand on a raised platform in the center of the shed and observers can stand on walkways on the outer sides. Two people climb aboard the flatbed…one of them holds up a sample of what is being auctioned and the other waits and records the hammer price on a tag attached to the container. The auctioneer describes the lot then the fast-paced bidding begins until we hear the familiar…“All in and all done”…and seemingly without a breath the auctioneer moves on to the next lot.
“Although the auction is directed to wholesale buyers such as grocery stores, roadside stands and farm markets, anyone who uses fresh fruits and vegetables for canning, freezing and preserving is welcome to buy.” There is a 20% buyer’s premium for those who don’t meet the wholesale buyers’ guidelines.
I was sorely tempted to bid on a couple of the colorful lots, but I knew we couldn’t put anymore into our already loaded little Honda FIT; and I couldn’t bring myself to get excited about the work that canning and freezing would require.
Flatbed after flatbed loaded with pumpkins, squash and vegetables rolled through the auction shed and then wagon loads of mums arrived. One of the sellers chose to hold her own full-bloom plants for buyers to observe. After the bidding closed, the woman used her elbows to make space for the displayed mum and carefully put it back into its place on the wagon. Her extra care was recognized and worth it. Her plants brought in more than the next lots that had not been as well handled for they had plants with some broken stems.
After the bidding was done, the flatbeds lined up back at the large shed area where they waited to be unloaded. The buyers settled their bills then transferred the day’s purchases into their vehicles, which ranged from old long-bed pick-ups to 18-wheelers.
FOOD!!! Sadly, we had eaten a full breakfast and weren’t yet ready to taste test the hearty burgers and sandwiches that were on the menu or the generous slices of peanut butter, apple and banana-topped coconut cream pie…but after seeing these little boys, we found room for a shared ice cream cone.
Mark and Kathy had certainly found a unique auction for us to see and a delightful way to conclude this visit to the Shenandoah Valley.
We drove away marveling at the wonderful time we had enjoyed and already looking forward to exploring more of the Shenandoah Valley on our next visit!