Loveville Produce Auction makes for interesting daytrip
The recent string of hot days has kicked our garden into overdrive.
This year we tried growing something completely new to us — several varieties of beets — and every so often I’ll pull one up to get a feel for their progress.
The good news is the beets are almost ready, and one day soon I’ll be spending the entire day in the kitchen pickling, packing and putting them up. My husband likes to joke that no matter what time I start canning, “it always takes till 8 o’clock.”
My fingertips will be stained pink for a couple of days and the neighbors a few doors down will wonder what the smell is (pickling spices smell pretty good if you ask me). I’ve got a daughter who loves pickled beets, but not the kind from the grocery store. Can you blame her?
Put anything from a home garden in a matchup against its grocery store counterpart and homegrown always wins. I’ve never had a particularly good tomato from the grocery store, but any day now I’ll be enjoying the first of many delicious vine-ripened tomatoes picked from my garden.
When I first started canning, back when I was pregnant with our first child, I could spend an entire Saturday scouring the farmer’s markets and roadside stands looking for deals on boxes of “seconds” or trying to negotiate a bulk price on whatever was in season.
Those days are over for me now, though, since I’ve got four kids, a husband and henceforth a full schedule on the weekends. I still make my rounds of the local spots each week to load up on freshly picked fruits and veggies, but when I need a couple boxes’ worth, I head to the Loveville Produce Auction.
I’m not sure how I found out about the auction, but I wish I could remember who told me because I’d like to thank them. During my travels, I’d seen the large concrete and metal auction house plenty of times while driving down Loveville Road, but I’d never paid much attention to it because I always thought it was open only to people whose preferred mode of transportation is horse and buggy. Actually, while the auction is run by local Mennonite families, it’s open to the public and anyone can purchase items.
It’s a friendly place, a business that operates primarily on the honor system, where just a handshake can seal a business deal and a person’s word is equal to their signature on a contract. When you’re done bidding and ready to go home, just walk up to the office window and settle your account with old-fashioned cash (credit cards are not accepted).
First-timers have to check in at the office with ID to get
a bidding number, either a permanent number if you plan on attending frequently or a temporary number for only that day.
There’s an old-timey feel to the place. You won’t see a lot of cell phones and there are no computers behind the office clerks’ desks. It’s a quiet, peaceful place. That is, until the auction gets underway.
I have to admit I was mighty nervous the first few times I held up my number to make a bid. But as I brushed up on my multiplication skills (Mrs. Bender, my second grade teacher, would be proud), I have gotten pretty good at quickly calculating the price of a pallet of pickling cucumbers or half-a-dozen sacks of ears of corn.
I’ve also learned the protocol for being the next bidder on leftover items in a lot the highest bidder didn’t want. And, in instances where I accidentally bought more than I meant to, I’ve learned there’s always a friend willing to split the goods.
But buying that much bulk is not for the lighthearted (or people with small vehicles), and unless you are planning to stay up past 8 o’clock to finish canning, you might want to check out the small lot auction that starts a half-hour after the regular auction.
Several years ago, someone in charge had the brilliant idea to start a separate small lot auction for sellers and buyers who didn’t want to deal in pallets and sacks, and came up with this alternative, which is perfect for the small-batch canner or someone interested in buying food in amounts just
right for a family.
Truth be told, those first few years I wanted to keep the produce auction my little secret, but it seems like word has gotten out because nowadays the place can get packed.
I’ve met grocery store buyers who drive all the way from Alexandria, Va., for heirloom tomatoes and mom-and-pop farm stand owners looking to augment their offerings and gotten to know the regulars who are there like clockwork every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
It’s standing room only for the large auction, but seats are set up for the bidders on the small lot side. Some days are more crowded than others, but it’s always a good idea to get there a little bit early if you want to get a chair.
On the small lot side, most of the options reflect what’s in
season for that time of year: potatoes, salad greens and spring bedding plants during the beginning of the operating season. As summer progresses, the offerings get more diverse.
The first year I attended the auction I was as much a student of figuring out when to bid as I was figuring out exactly what kind of fruit or vegetable I was looking at. I’ve never seen so many tomatillos, okra and ground cherries before.
No two days are ever the same at the auction. In early spring, horse-drawn carts line up and drive through an opening in the loading docks showing off carts full of hanging baskets of all sizes and colors that are auctioned off to the highest bidder. In the fall there are “parades” too, only this time the goods are mums and pumpkins. It is a beautiful
sight to see.
The Loveville Produce Auction would make an interesting daytrip from anywhere in the tri-county area. If you have youngsters at home this summer, they are welcome at the auction and can see firsthand exactly how locally-grown food gets from the farm to the grocery store or farmer’s market and then to the kitchen counter. And there are always a few young boys sporting straw hats and suspenders who would be more than happy to help you transport your purchases out to your car for a small tip.
The auction is open at 11 a.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays from May through October. For the full schedule and additional information, go to www.visitstmarysmd.com/ documents/2017_loveville_produce_auction_brochure.pdf.