During the gardening season, you will see it. Gardens are all around, and many are producing wonderfully, tasty treats already. You have heard of a Farmer’s Market, but have you ever been to a Produce Auction? Here are some tips and tricks on how to survive a produce auction.
The basic gist is this: the farmer grows the produce, picks it, then brings it to the auction to sell. You bid on the produce, and the winner is the highest bidder.
Easy enough, right? Well, there ARE some tips and tricks to getting the most out of it
Upon arriving, you will check in at the office. You will need a picture ID (usually a driver’s liscense) to register, and you will fill out a form with your name and address. You are then issued an auction number, which is the number you give when you win a bid.
Let’s talk about the people. There are four people who are the “ringleaders”; the auctioneer, two spotters, and a person who writes the winner’s number, amount paid, and what was bought. These are the people to get to know. You’ll spot them right away, as the auctioneer will have the microphone and the spotters will be right beside him. The recorder will be the one holding the pen, paper, and clipboard and writing like crazy.
Then, there is the auctions. Each row of the auction will have a flatbed, and many will be rolling carts. On that bed, is the produce for sale. Let’s say there are 5 boxes of tomatoes, and each box weighs 25#. That is one auction. You will often find rows and rows of these carts, and this is where it can be tricky.
The auctioneer will start, and he’ll do what’s called “fishing for the bid” to get the auction started.Let’s say he is auctioning this flatbed of 5 boxes of tomatoes, and the bid starts at $10. If you want to bid, you simply raise your hand, or show your auction number. The spotter will let the auctioneer know there is a bid, and then the auction is ON! He will be speaking his “auctioneeze” quite fast, and it’ll take a bit of practice to keep up. If you have a problem, the spotters WILL help you know what the bid is at. That’s part of their job.
Here’s the tricky part.The auction is for ONE box of tomatoes, but you pay that for all 5 boxes. What that means is, if you win the auction for $10, you will get all 5 boxes, but the total amount due is $50. So, you will need to keep that in mind as you are bidding. If there are 10 items, the total would be $100. It can add up quickly.
Most items are sold in boxes, like tomatoes.However, there are some exceptions. Corn is sold by the dozen, rhubarb is sold by the pound, beets, radishes, carrots, and lettuces are sold by the bunch. Strawberries are sold by the flat, and flowers are sold by the pot, flat, or individual. The spotter will announce what the auction is for, the quantity, and if it deviates from the above rules, what the unit per item is.
The auction goes rather quickly from cart to cart, with each one lasting less than 60 seconds normally. Payment is taken care of when you are finished for the day, and all your items have been loaded. That is up to you to load them, but usually there are farmer’s kids waiting around to help. A dollar or two tip will ensure you get remembered and helped first next time.
The whole thing can be a rush, and if you are not careful, you could easily spend over $200 without realizing it.It is quite helpful to keep a pad of paper and a pen with you at all times and write down what you won, how much you paid per item, and the total amount due.
Other things to remember:
- Arrive early, and check out the carts before the auction begins. You’ll get to see what’s on there, and you are allowed to touch, and taste a sample before you bid.
- Ask to see the listings for the previous auctions. This will tell you what sold last time, and the range of prices it went for. For example, you can find that strawberries sold for $30 a flat last week.
- If you have questions, ASK, and do it BEFORE the auction begins. You’ll get the best answers when they aren’t busy reconcilling numbers, or in full swing of the auction. The office personnel have heard every question under the sun, and they are there to help you understand what you are doing.
- You will have lots of people who want to split an auction. If someone wins the auction you were bidding on, don’t be afraid to ask them to sell you some of the items. They might say NO, but in many cases will be more than willing to share.
- Bring cash, especially if you think you might be splitting an auction. The office has no way of doing that for you, and it just makes it easier on everyone.
- Know in advance what payment forms are accepted. There’s nothing worse than having the strawberries you wanted, with only a debit card on you and finding they only take cash.
- If you are unsure of what the bid amount is, and are afraid to go over your budget, WALK AWAY. Once the auction is over, the winner is liable for payment, regardless of whether or not they can afford it.
- You’ll need to be aggressive, but know your limits. There will actually be people who bid just to make the auction amounts higher, get you to spend your money, and have the final auctions to themselves. Generally, the earlier the auction, the higher the price.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO WALK AWAY, IF YOU NEED TO. THERE WILL BE OTHER ITEMS! It’s always better to not get a box of tomatoes than to overpay, or not be sure of what you just did.
- Don’t look directly at the auctioneer and smile and move your hair. Even if you are just being nice (like I was), he’ll think you are bidding and you’ll be taking home 30 watermelons you hadn’t planned on. Lucky I got them for only $.25 each!
To find an auction near you, check out AuctionZip.