Countryside Produce Auction - A Community Owned LLC Working for Its Growers
August 04, 2017
AgChoice helps a Somerset county produce auction grow through unique LLC arrangement.
Nestled in the highest elevation point in Pennsylvania, Countryside Produce Auction, Salisbury, Somerset county, has connected local growers and buyers with produce and flowers for 15 years.
“The auction is known for quality and service,” said Albert Yoder, local grower and auction general manager. “We’ve heard that our elevation and its cooler nights contribute to our higher quality products,” echoed Moses Yoder, local grower and owner.
“Many of us have sold produce to the auction since it opened in 2003,” said Albert. “Five years ago, it was time to expand,” he continued, “but it was not financially feasible with the existing ownership plan.”
With the help of Jeff Moser, AgChoice Farm Credit loan officer, Albert, Moses and other local growers formed an LLC to assume community ownership of the auction in 2013.
“Jeff gave us advice to start the LLC. He’s been extremely valuable to us,” said Albert.
“Legally, we needed to list owners on the LLC, but we have investors from the community in the business,” said Paul Yoder, chairman of the board for a three-year term. “We have a fixed rate of return for our investors,” he shared.
“Any profit at the end of the year goes back to our growers,” Moses explained. “We’re working for the growers. Growers make the business move forward.”
The six-member board includes an order buyer and administrator who coordinates facility and business logistics such as interest payments and property taxes. The board meets monthly and informally, as time allows, after each auction. “I wouldn’t know how to change this LLC plan,” said Eli Yoder, local grower and owner. “It’s working well for us.”
“We are produce and flower growers, trying to provide benefits to other growers through this auction,” said Moses. “We want to take care of the growers. Without buyers, the growers can’t survive, but without growers, the buyers couldn’t survive.”
After assuming ownership, the LLC made “major investments,” Moses recalled. “We expanded the parking lot and improved the driveway. It was a big improvement to make the auction a customer friendly business,” he said.
“Today, we are actively seeking new buyers,” said Menno Yoder, local grower. “We now have a marketing director who works with and under Albert, our general manager,” Menno noted.
“Our marketing director stays in touch with our buyers and gathers feedback,” said Moses. “It helps us know where we should be looking for future products.”
The market attracts wholesale and retail buyers from a surrounding 100-mile radius including Clarksburg and Morgantown, WV; Ebensburg, Uniontown and Washington, PA and western MD. “Our buyer focus is wholesale,” noted Menno.
“For us, volume is key,” said Eli. “It’s hard for anyone to visit the auction and just buy one box of produce.”
Food safety also is key. All growers participate in annual Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training and certification. “We make sure we get all our growers here (the auction), and Penn State Cooperative Extension provides the three-hour training,” Paul explained.
Open from April through October, the auction hosts sales every Tuesday and Friday with auctioneer Jesse Maust, who has served the auction since it opened. “We have a great relationship with Jesse,” Albert noted. “He’s part of our success.”
Approximately 35% of sales is flowers from local greenhouses, and the balance is vegetables and fruits. “We sell everything from A – Z, including apples to zucchini,” said Albert.
There is one sale schedule exception. The third Wednesday in September is the auction’s extra fall sale. “We only sell pumpkins, fall decorations and mums that day,” said Moses. “We typically sell 700 – 1,000 bins of pumpkins and gourds. It’s a very long day.”
On off-auction days, the venue occasionally hosts benefit or estate auctions. During the winter, the facility is boat and RV storage.
As board members consider growing Countryside Produce Auction, “we take it year by year,” explained Paul, “and see if there is a need for expansion. Serving the community needs is our ultimate goal.”
“We think we could expand with additional auction days, rather than expanding the building,” Albert said.
“I think we have more potential to expand with growers, too,” continued Moses. “The next generation of young couples in this area grew up with produce and want to start in the business.”
“Our children are the reason we are in this business,” noted Menno.