People attend Amish sale for food and fellowship
ARTHUR – On the north side, the SUVs, pickups and farm trucks park.
On the south side are Amish buggies, carts and horses, swishing their tails at pesky flies.
In between, in the shade of a large metal pole barn, the two cultures meld into a friendly group of bidders and sellers as the Arthur Produce Auction gets under way.
The auctioneer and staff are Amish, while most of the buyers come from hours away to buy produce for their roadside stands or farmers' markets.
Every Tuesday and Friday during the growing season, the sale starts at 10 a.m. in the barn southeast of Arthur. The produce is grown by Amish farmers as well as by growers from the region.
"The quality's always good, and the prices are good, too," said Keith Cooper, who drives 120 miles from Stilesville, Ind., for produce to sell in front of his hardware store.
"And I just like everybody over here," he said. "I like to come."
Last Friday, the pallets were loaded with boxes of cabbages, eggplants, blackberries, bing cherries, sweet corn, summer squash, green beans, blueberries, onions, tomatoes, the prolific zucchini and more.
About 70 bidders bought the items in bulk – 50 cantaloupes, 30 pounds of tomatoes, 50 pounds of sweet corn. But small lots of produce were also offered at the end of the auction for those who wanted a couple pounds of tomatoes or a box of cucumbers to pickle.
Giant iced cinnamon rolls and other treats, including hot sandwiches, are sold, so it's not surprising that many of the "buyers" admit to being regulars who come for the socializing as much as for good deals on produce.
"See ya Tuesday," Elfrieda Brieschke of Sadorus called to another regular who left with just one melon.
Elfrieda and her husband, Eberhard, attend every Tuesday and Friday, largely for the fun of it. Eberhard is a German native who likes to talk in his native tongue with the Amish farmers, and the couple has made friends with the other regulars. The Brieschkes buy items from the small-lots part of the auction, such as six pints of cherries, and they will divvy them up with senior citizen friends later.
"Oh my, you should see this place right before Mother's Day," Elfrieda said. "The floor is covered, just full of flowers. Any kind you could want, just like you see in any nursery. And they have beautiful hanging baskets. Even some little pine trees and shrubs and things."
Doug Jurgens and his wife, Marcia, of Arthur were amazed at the selection of bedding plants they found at the produce auction this spring.
Marcia said they got flats of annuals and perennials at bargain prices and as the planting season came to a close they got flats of plants for $1 or 50 cents.
They attended last Friday even though they knew plants would not be included.
"We got addicted, I guess," Doug Jurgens said.
Bill Snyder comes up regularly from Charleston because he and his wife like the prices and quality, and they can buy enough to can and freeze. Friday he bid on tomatoes and cantaloupe.
"They go cheap sometimes," he said. "Quality's good."
Cephas Yoder of rural Arthur is one of the two Amish auctioneers and also one of the local growers who supplies the auction. He also grows fruits and vegetables for his own Shady Crest Orchard and Farm Market, a half-mile south of Arthur.
Yoder and his wife and sister keep 13 acres devoted to sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, green beans, and they tend a 5-acre apple orchard.
He'd like to see even more Amish in the Arthur area dedicate their land to vegetables and fruits to supply the auction. Similar Amish-owned auctions in other communities have become big businesses, supplying restaurants and wholesalers. The Arthur Produce Auction is only into its third season, so it holds potential for that kind of growth.
About 20 shareholders, mostly Amish, own and operate the business. Each year a couple from among the shareholders acts as managers. Emma and Leroy Gingerich are this year's managers.
Emma Gingerich said the auctions run from May through October, when the barn is filled with pumpkins, squashes, mums and asters.
At the end of the season, the shareholders and other Amish regulars invite all the buyers to join them for a potluck dinner. They set up tables in the auction house, and the Amish women bring in hot casserole dishes while others bring desserts.
"Oh, it's wonderful," said Eberhard Brieschke of the food and the fellowship.
Emma Gingerich agrees. The auction has sold a lot of produce since it opened and created some great friends.
"It keeps us busy," she said, during a short break away from the auction office.
"And the next day is always the bookwork," she said. "But we meet a lot of nice people."
If you go
The Arthur Produce Auction is southeast of Arthur on County Road 100 E.
Directions from Arthur: Go east out of Arthur on Illinois 133 and turn south on 100 E. The auction house is about a mile and is clearly marked.
The auctions are from 10 a.m. until 11:30 or noon every Tuesday and Friday, from May through the end of October.
While most of the items are sold in bulk, a small-lots auction is held at the end of the sale for smaller purchases.
Buyers are available on site for wholesaler buyers who cannot attend.