A Trip to the Elmira Produce Auction

What do you get when you combine the quaintness of a country auction with the dynamics of purchasing food for a large institution? Another way to bring more local food into school cafeterias and kitchens!

Auctions have been around since 500 B.C., but the idea of selling food this way is not common. The Elmira Produce Auction has only been around for 10 years, and is one of only a handful in the entire country. For Mark Kenny at the University of Guelph, the model has been working so well, he often comes every week, purchasing skids of fresh produce for the weekly student and catering menus.

So when St. James High School in Guelph started their Local Food Challenge project, it only made sense for Mark to take Culinary instructor Mary-Kay Weiler out to the auction and show her the ropes, and what is available on any given day.

In early May, the selection is still a bit sparse, but the variety is amazing. The day we went, we spotted fiddleheads, asparagus, greenhouse tomatoes, rhubarb, fresh herbs, and even saffron. As the season progresses, the warehouse is filled with every fresh product grown in the Waterloo area, as well as fresh flowers and baskets.

Mary-Kay and Mark had a great time browsing the lots, imagining the recipes that could incorporate ruby-hued rhubarb or different ways to use #2 tomatoes, priced to sell at a mere $5 per box.

We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

The auction is open to the public, and is free to join. For more information, visit Foodlink.

- Kelly Hughes, Education and Outreach Specialist

In these photos:
Mark Kenny, Purchasing Coordinator, University of Guelph Food Services, and LFC 2014 grantee
Mary-Kay Weiler, Cooking Instructor and Teacher, St. James High School, Guelph, LFC 2014 grantee