The Tri-County Produce Auction Coop is a wholesale produce auction supplied with fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and bedding plants by local growers.
Harley Bontrager, the coop's first president of the five-person board of directors, and other area families formed the cooperative as a way to increase sales of the produce and goods raised on their area farms.
Wisconsin is blessed with many flower, fruit and vegetable growers like the Bontragers. They who are really good at what they do, but even though they maintain a very high quality, often the weak link in the chain between the grower and the consumer is the farmer's inexperience in the marketing arena.
The coop built an auction barn in the winter of 2009 that is set up to make it convenient for potential buyers to look over the offerings and for area growers to bring their products for sale.
The steel building is 60x148 feet with a 12-foot overhang all along the side. There are loading docks and over-head doors on the sides. Now the cooperative auction has been so successful that they are adding on to the building.
They have also changed the layout and the auctioneer winds around the building, auctioning off lots. Instead of sitting in rows of chairs near the sales ring, buyers move from one lot to the next to make their purchases.
Those who use the coop auction see it as the fairest way to purchase fresh produce as prices are controlled in a true supply and demand environment. It is a great market for wholesale buyers such as roadside stands, grocery stores, and restaurants. Small lots are also sold for anyone interested in household consumption or canning.
Anyone who grows produce within 100-mile radius of the auction barn, whether a large commercial grower or just a gardener with surplus produce, is considered a local grower. Other growers are welcome to consign but it will not be promoted as "local."
Last week the auction was filled with buyers looking for potted plants to market in their convenience stores and roadside stands. It was the first auction of the season and temperatures were cold but the buyers were enthusiastic, knowing warmer weather will come soon.
The cooperative has set and enforces packaging to keep the product as uniform as possible. Consignors are assigned permanent numbers, enabling buyers to buy more consistency. Now that the cooperative is in its fifth season, many of the consignors have earned a reputation among buyers who come to seek out their product.
Regular auctions continue on Tuesdays and Fridays in May, then move to three times a week in June, July, August and September. They decrease in frequency in October with the final auction October 29.
To get a complete schedule and learn more about buying or selling through the cooperative, contact Marty Griepentrog, order buyer and contact person, at 608-617-9924.