In the mid 2000s, a retired couple by the name of Jean and Marvin Konkle had a vision. The couple had recently retired to the town of Chesterhill in the impoverished, rural area of Morgan County, which was filled with farmers and vegetable growers.
It seemed to Jean that simply selling their products individually at farmer’s markets and at stores was not giving the farmers the income they needed. She knew they needed to sell their products in bulk to bring in enough to stay afloat.
She developed the idea of a produce auction. In 2005, the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) was born under a few tents, selling produce from owners of small farms, as well as Amish and Mennonite farmers.
In 2010, a local non-profit organization, Rural Action bought the CPA from the Konkles, under the conditions that Rural Action would keep the auction moving forward.
“We knew we could really grow the business,” says Rural Action auction manager and sustainable-agriculture coordinator Tom Redfern. “The CPA has become another local food institution, one that really stands alone in the greater Athens area in its ability to bring people from all walks of life together.”
Fast-forward to 2015, business is booming and it is not hard to see why.
According to a 2014 story from the Columbus Dispatch, Rural Action, in the 10 years of operating the CPA, has brought in close to $2 million in revenue for the local farmers, with business growing each year.
In 2005, the auction worked with about 20 different sellers and 200 buyers, Redfern says, and the CPA grew to over 960 buyers and 121 different sellers in 2014.
“This growth has happened because of committed buyers, sellers, and institutions,” Redfern says, “along with a core group of community volunteers who are dedicated to its success.”
While many of the buyers at the auctions are local residents, others are often restaurants and food industry workers, supporting the trend of customers wanting local and fresh items.
One of those is ‘Not Guilty’ food cart owner Jay Wamsley, who had the CPA in mind when he started the cart in 2012.
“That was a part from the start, using as many local products as we could,” Wamsley says. “It’s so doable in a place like Athens. There’s just so many local producers, it would be kind of silly not to use the local products.”
One interesting feature the CPA has is allowing business owners like Wamsley buy produce without even being present on the day of the auction.
“They arrange it so that you can place an order, and tell them what you’re willing to bid up to,” Wamsley says. “By the time I get shut down [with the cart], it’s hard for me to get there on time.”
Chesterhill Produce Auction operates on Mondays and Thursdays opening at 4 p.m. from May through October at its location on 8380 Wagoner Road in Chesterhill.