Bright spot for Ontario County farmers

On this damp Tuesday morning, Ontario Produce Auction came to life with farmers from across the county bearing bounties.

Shiny orange pumpkins, squashes of all stripes, grapes aglow in purples and greens and peppers so vibrant they could take your breath away arrived in pickups, buggies and flatbed trucks. Mums galore, bursting in autumn fullness, were ready to be sold at area farm markets and roadside stands.

Matt Olmstead came to buy flowers for his stand, Matt’s Farm Market, on Routes 5 and 20 in West Bloomfield. He considers the auction barn that opened one year ago on Yautzy Road in Gorham a savior of sorts. A fourth-generation farmer with a dairy farm background, Olmstead set his sights on produce. Prices farmers have been getting in recent years for dairy and many other commodities are so low you can’t survive, said Olmstead, who plans to get out of farming in the next few years. But for now, the produce auction gives him the chance to stay afloat in produce by buying from other farmers what he doesn’t grow at his own small farm, at a good price, and without traveling far.

The auction saves farmers time and money, with a central location to buy and sell their produce and go home with what they need to fill their stands. “In an hour they can be out the door and back to work,” said John David, the auctioneer and nearby farmer.

“Vegetable prices are holding steady,” said Jeff Werner, a produce farmer from Rush.

While prices for dairy and other products have dropped, “demand for local, fresh produce remains strong,” said Werner, whose family sells at an onsite farm market and garden center and at farmers markets in the Rochester area. Werner, who is also vegetable product manager for Rochester-based Harris Seeds, said the auction helps the local economy by helping farmers.

“Growers can manage their inventory here,” said Ken Wasnock, Harris Seeds president and CEO, who was also at the auction. Wasnock, who lives in Canandaigua, said about half of the produce sold at the Rochester Public Market comes from the Ontario Produce Auction and similar auctions in the region.

“A lot of growers are coming here,” Wasnock said.

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